Information Age

It’s been a year since I’ve provided an update so this is well overdue. Work gets in the way of blogging, but note to self, must try harder. I’m still very much in the intranet business, just too busy to blog about it.

I’m a subscriber to the paper version (how quaint) of the magazine aimed at IT professionals “Information Age“. Most months I have a cursory glance at it and on rare occasions I may read an article if it interests me.

But I didn’t think I was the magazines primary demographic reader. I’m not technical, am not interested in the kilowattage of an IBM server stack or attending an Enterprise Architecture Summit in the Spring of 2011. But obviously there are people who are interested in these things and thank goodness they are, otherwise I wouldn’t have a job and Information Age wouldn’t have a readership.  But interestingly, Information Age’s editorial vision states “….magazine for all executives,regardless of job title involved in the application of technology.” So that’s me then?

IT departments are considered to be dour places where tecchies scour screens looking for bugs in darkened rooms. This may well be the case in some companies but this is usually a stereotypical view bandied around by some people who have seen “The IT Crowd”; like me. But this isn’t fair.

The technical people I know are intelligent professionals who know their stuff, live ordinary lives and merely choose to spend their work time doing technical things that are simply beyond me. And that’s the way it should be. I shouldn’t need to understand the intricacies of how networks work. They should just work. Network managers? You do your gig and I’ll do mine; without each other we’d be lost. Sorted.

But, and it’s a BIG but……very few companies these days have no IT presence, so it’s vital the people responsible for IT solutions are fully aware of why a business does what it does and more importantly how it goes about doing it. It’s also just as important that the business managers also understand how IT helps achieve the aims of the company.

Whilst this is the nirvana a company can aim toward, the reality is usually very different. As I said at the start of this piece, work gets in the way; and we normally get judged on whether we actually deliver our objectives. It’s normally unusual to be judged on how we’ve actually gone about doing so and stating “after spending three days, I learned how finance balance the books and we need to reduce IT spend” doesn’t garner brownie points at appraisal time. Well not in my experience anyway. Unless your appraisal system acknowledges your behaviour and you receive recognition (or otherwise) for how you go about achieving what you achieve, IT folks behaviour won’t change. We’ll just continue to blindly deliver what we think is right irrespective of what the business needs actually are.

I have a reputation for challenging existing behaviour, which includes my own. I also have a reputation for trying to simplify things. I’ve lost count of the amount of responses I’ve received from IT folks to a suggestion that I didn’t consider to be particularly radical, and which will ultimately benefit the business, which were along the lines of surprise, denial or just plainly ignored seemingly because they’re “off the wall”, like the most recent example which includes implementing a common approach to delivering internet (yes, not “intranet”. I now have additional  responsibilities for the BBC’s corporate internet and they offer similar opportunities to rationalise our approach even further) development solutions which will reduce overall spend on both design activities and ongoing daily support. My stakeholder stated that she was very supportive of such an approach but also said  “we’re different to the rest of the business, so have different needs.” Errr, no you aren’t and no you don’t.

Some people seem to enjoy hanging onto outdated systems to meet localised needs, with little thought to pan company requirements, encumbered by bureaucratic processes that simply don’t meet the needs of the user and therefore hinder the business’ objectives. This is an outdated view. A very outdated view.

All companies should ensure at least one of each of their employees’ objectives, and against which they should all be measured, should include innovation, which will improve a business’ success rate. The innovative ideas don’t necessarily need to be big or particularly ground breaking (though if they are then great) but they should demonstrate how things will be “better” as a result of delivering them, and they should clearly demonstrate how they contribute to a business’ success.  And managers should have an additional objective to make sure their people meet this objective. This doesn’t mean it needs to be an onerous bureaucratic process, but it should encourage employees to think differently. The best ideas come from opportunities that break the established model.

People should be acknowledged for innovation, taking measured risks, challenging the status quo and implementing change (no matter how small). If they choose not to, then they should should be mandated to contribute or encouraged to go and work elsewhere. Maybe for themselves, and then they would understand how important change is.


Conferences in the future

I fear for the future of face to face conferences in this collaborative world.

Whilst there is nothing like meeting people in person and sharing war stories and experiences man to man/woman the current trend for attendees to tweet during the event means that perhaps we won’t all need to turn up en masse any more?

A recent example includes the Intra event in Scandinavia. A number of my former colleagues, plus folks I’ve met during my intranet travels, were either presenting or ensconsed in the audience tweeting away outlining highlights. And the presenters did similar afterwards. Its amazing what you can pick up in messages of 140 charcters or less. I prefer the less is more approach.

Add to this the fact that videos of sessions are readily available and access to the slideshows aren’t hard to come by then I think I’ve already gleaned enough information to warrant my non attendence. I don’t feel I’ve missed out too much. I can also ring people to fill in the gaps.

And when the use of video conferencing and true collaborative systems like webinars become more widely used (I do wish my IT would catch up) then we can all join in from the comfort of our own desks. This is regularly demonstrated with the IBF’s monthly "Intranet Live" virtual sessions of which I’ve co-hosted a few. .

I suppose it’s ultimately going to be determined by human behaviour. We’re social creatures who need to be with others. So whilst new approaches have their place. hopefully they won’t fully replace face to face conferences.

After all having a post virtual conference ginger ale on your own isn’t much fun.
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Digital litter

Over the past couple of months, I’ve attended two social media courses. “How to make the web work for you parts one and two”. Principally aimed at journalists the courses taught us how to exploit the internet and use it to find facts, figures, people and evidence. The idea being that journo’s would then be able to use the vast resources available to them at the touch of their keyboard, thus saving on the time it would “traditionally” take.

The first course demonstrated how social media is now part of main stream life and to ignore it would be very foolish – especially if you’re a journalist sniffing out a story.

The second day taught us how to obtain information about individuals and how to dig deeper into the web to glean information that people have left in their internet trails. The amount of information that’s out there on you and I is simply staggering; and if you know where to look then you’ll find it.

Our teacher for the second day is employed to undertake investigative work and provide evidence for TV and radio programmes and he knows his stuff. With his tuition we were all able to unearth various pieces of information about anyone we so chose (that could have been you) merely based on very basic web knowledge and a simple understanding of search engines such as Google, and exploiting what information we already had, to find out more.

This digital litter is what we all leave behind us when we surf around the net subscribing to all manner of websites, social networking sites (like this one), buying goods on-line and simply having a nosey around. You may not have realised it, but you have left footprints in the web snow. Well you can’t hover off the ground can you? So inevitably you’ll leave your mark on where you’ve been.

You’re probably aware that Facebook’s decision to open up all their accounts to the public, removes whatever privacy we once had. So in effect Facebook has now become an additional online yellow pages, unless you’ve instructed it to not share your details with people other than who you deem to be “safe”. I bet your privacy settings aren’t as secure as you think they are.

Were you aware that people within my organisation automatically (because of a corporate licence) have access to your name and address, plus what’s listed in the electoral roll or (which also gives access to 200million archived entries)? gives information about people not listed in telephone directories. Please note that these sites will usually charge a fee to access more detailed information; don’t pay it.

Oh and when I did a search on myself I was relieved to see that I wasn’t listed in the deceased list. Phew! But there was loads of stuff out there that I was kind vaguely aware of. But I didn’t find any secrets, but I shall keep on looking.

So I guess what I’m saying is. If you don’t want to be found, don’t use the internet. Oops too late – you’re reading this.

Is it ever as it seems?

Albert Einstein with tongue out

Albert Einstein

How are reputations made and then kept?

In simple terms, reputations are usually earned over a significant time period, based on the delivery of promises and the constant re-inforcement and maintenance of said promises. The promises could be services, goods, facilities or all manner of things.

Reputations help brands become trusted; no matter what your personal view is, McDonalds and Coca~Cola have world renowned brands based on their reputation for delivering consistency. No matter where you consume a Big Mac or a glass of Coke in the world, it’s the same. You know what you’re going to get before you get it. There may be some regional variations to accommodate local tastes but the quality is always there.

Reputations exist in the intranet world too. I could give you ten examples of companies who excel at specific aspects of intranet delivery. Their reputations precede them in these aspects and when I want to find out more about how to improve the things that my organisation is focussing on, I approach an organisation who’s reputation goes before them.

But how are reputations gained in the first place within the intranet business? Some are earned through winning some award or other, whilst others seem to be merely smokescreens for the reality. Word of mouth has a lot to do with it, and if the tale is told often enough it will become fact.

I know of an organisation who has a reputation for being the leaders in one particular aspect of the intranet industry, but the reality is far different. The reputation was earned by two major factors;

1. identify emerging technology and introduce it because you can, with little regard to how it would be managed, supported, paid for or how it fits into any strategic approach. Play with the gadgets and by sheer will of the crowd they become an essential part of the business.

2. continually perpetuate the fallacy that because the organisation is “creative” then it’s ok to continue to do things independently of any other part of the business; just because you can. Then tell everyone and anyone who will listen, about this wonderful new gizmo that’s been around for ages on the internet and how great your organisation is by bringing it in house because it’s “just what the business needs.” This view is usually driven by personal interest.

Bingo! Reputation is formed. Other companies constantly pat you on the back and tell you how good you are and how lucky the organisation is to have such a forward thinking Intranet manager.

Then of course, you clear off to another company or go freelance and jet around the world esposing your innovative and maverick ways to the highest bidder and leave someone else to try and unpick the mess that has evolved around you. The poor soul who’s left has to then integrate, or rationalise, many disparate systems that don’t work together or talk to each other. Whilst also having to negotiate with the business to remove little used toys, that have now become the lifeblood of one small bunch of users, who would rather fight you on the beaches than give up their right to using something “you gave us in the first place.”

The same individual also has to produce numerous business cases to gain budget (because business users won’t stump up the cash) to pay third party suppliers for licences and ongoing support, which in the long term far outweighs any initial preconceived business benefits. Inevitably the more budget that’s used for exisiting technical solutions means less available for any new stuff.

But that’s ok. Because your reputation goes before you.

And for those who still work for the company, you can take reflected glory in the reputation that you’re part of a forward thinking organisation. It takes years before reputations are tarnished or lost; no matter the reality.