It's Friday – End of Tech-Ed

Preston Maritime Festival

Well it’s Friday and soon I will be on my way home from Tech-Ed Europe. Has it been good, yes. has it been exceptional, no.

Steve Lamb asked me a if there were some sessions I would recommend: yes, definitely. I need to think about them and digest why I would recommend them first though. David Vaskevitch’s keynote was a great keynote, for instance.

For us Infrastructure people this year definitely lacked a big theme though. It all seemed a bit too incremental. That’s just the life-cycle problem, but I think that a theme could have been made of collaboration rather than the bits and pieces approach. 

I’m not complaining, I’ve had a good time, I just felt something was missing.

Fred Wilson Says it Better Than Me

Derwentwater, Cumbria

Last week I had a bit of a go at the way that we build online communities in exactly the same way we build real communities.

One of my issues was the need to for the ‘Top 100 Lists’. Why is it important how many links a person gets?

Seems I wasn’t the only one having the same thoughts Fred Wilson who probably appears on most of the Top 100 Lists has made his views very clear.>

To paraphrase from the famous Treasure of Sierra Madre line, we don’t need no lists and I don’t want to be on any stinking lists!

He then goes on to say:

And if everybody is directed to read the “A list” bloggers, we’ll miss all the best stuff which is being blogged by people who get maybe 100 to 1000 readers.

But there is an interesting thing here; because he is on the list, people link to him, and in so doing drives the thoughts of the entire community. His list of trackbacks is impressive.

Back to my whole point of the last blog though, why do we need to build hierarchy? Do we hope to get a greater standing in the community if we can demonstrate how popular we are? Our human need to be popular is strong, and so is our need for position.

Productivity through Training (and Technology)


Yesterday I spent some time reading through a couple of Microsoft articles:

Both of these papers  point towards a welcome change in the IT industry; one that drives us away from features and towards exploitation. In Enabling the New World of Work the author(s) write:

Today, the primary challenge is not about IT departments conquering the technology, but rather training and educating the workforce to adopt the technologies that IT deploys. This shift toward an information-worker-centered IT model focuses on the people who render information into action, rather than the technology itself.

And also:

In a recent study conducted by Gartner Research, it stated that the successful CIO will make a strategic transformation, through 2010, from a manager of IT resources to a business leader who uses IT to enable and empower the business. By 2010, 50 percent of Fortune 500 companies will have an integrated business and IT strategy. 

In Helping Employees Use Technology More Effectively at Microsoft they outline the new approach that Microsoft are taking towards training. They call it the Employee Productivity Education (EPE) program and it’s aim is to “to provide Microsoft employees with scenario-based and prescriptive information about Microsoft products and IT technologies.” They then go on to talk about how they are going to do this in a number of different scenarios.

The other day Ernie the Attorney talked about a scenario he had found himself in where the simple use of very old technology made a significant difference to a lawyer friends personal productivity. Ernie goes on to make a valid point:

Figuring out what’s possible is the hard part for most people, especially those who resist technology. People resist technology because they’ve learned that it’s too hard to deal with.

Productivity and effectiveness have become burning issues to me and have written about it a few times (here and here and here). I’ve also been undertaking a semi-scientific assessment of my personal productivity when in my different working environments.

Having worked on many IT infrastructure programmes that have undertaken dramatic changes in the technology base for large corporate customers words like these leave a bitter-sweet taste in my mouth. Having been involved in the initial creation of many of these programmes I have always sought to include significant budget for training in and exploitation of the technology that we were about to deliver. But in every one of the programmes the first victim of programme issues has been the training and exploitation budget. I recoil at phrases like “we’ll deal with that once we get it out there”; “this isn’t that different from the technology we have today”. For each of these programmes the stated requirements may have been met, but the objectives of the business have been severely curtailed.

Perhaps Microsoft have started down a path that others will seek to follow – scenario based training.It’s not that the training ‘information’ isn’t available to all; the issue we need to contend with is connecting people with the necessary information in a way that is relevant to them. I really like the scenario idea because it’s a metaphor that people can connect with – it’s also technology agnostic. It answers the question that is being asked rather than telling someone how a particular piece of technology could contribute.

Yet again the biggest challenge facing IT is the people challenge.

  • How do we teach adults to learn like children? Children love to find new ways of doing things. They love to compare what they do with their friends. They love to learn and learning brings change. They don’t worry about the change. They don’t worry about breaking something.
  • How do we teach business leaders that their role has changed to be one of exploitation rather than one of features?
  • How do we help people to realise that learning IS work?
  • How do we help people to realise that THEIR productivity is THEIR challenge?
  • How do we help people to realise that the productivity of the TEAM is also their challenge?

The Portal is a Failure


I can’t imagine there are many people out there who disagree – but I wanted to pin my colours to a mast. The portal as a technology idea is a failure – now move on.

The portal as a view on the world and the place where you go to for ‘everything’ doesn’t exist and never will. I have worked on a number of projects where an organisation had a grand goal of providing a place and portal where everyone could get to everything. Each of these has been lead by a corporate centre and each one has been a failure. This, in my opinion, has not be a technical failure, although the technology has a good way to go. It’s another soft-skills issue. Just because you want to see the data in this way doesn’t mean Sue does, or Jonathan does, or Emily does.

Anyone who does any software development knows this. Write an application and some people will think it is brilliant and another set of people will think it really sucks. This is not because the application is either good or bad – it’s because we humans are massively complicated things and we don’t approach things in the same way.

I personally use hundreds of different bits of technology and will switch between them all day, Sue uses a different set, Jonathan another, and Emily another. So why would I want to dumb down to a single view of the world. I use different technology because I relate to the way it is working. I have a personal thing with the particular portal that my employer uses, it just doesn’t make sense to me. But I know others in the company who think it’s great.

You can’t even say that the desktop is he portal – because I use other interfaces.

lease, please, please find the proper place for the portal – as a point of aggregation and connection.

Search Vanity

Road to ImmeusIt’s great having a name like Graham Chastney, once you get noticed on the Internet you are search-able. In the last two months I have become discovered by all of the major Internet search engines and now you can go to any of them; type in Graham Chastney; and you get ME. It’s great. But not only am I there, I’m there at the top. Of course it would be easy to get big headed about that, but I didn’t choose my name I was given it. Still, it’s nice to exist.

Gates Warns on Information Overload – Structured and Unstructured Working

Beach Stones

So even Mr Gates has noticed that information overload may be a problem.

The news release states:

"It’s overwhelming," Gates said Thursday at the software company’s ninth annual CEO Summit. "Nobody’s paid to do search or just find information. At the end of the day you’re paid for designing a new product, having a satisfied customer and doing that with the minimum amount of time, the minimum amount of people."

And then is goes into doing a little bit of a sales pitch about technology. My own view is that technology has a way to go in order to enable people to manage the mountains of information that is given them every day. For me though the key issue is about training the individual and the team.

Is Technology the answer to the problem?

My last blog was asking a question of technology, whether it was really tackling the right issues when it comes to collaboration. I did go on a bit of a rant about the way that technology tends to devalue a process while automating it, but fundamentally I still think that technology is answering the wrong question.

In either of these two things, information management and collaboration, the real issue is the working practices that individuals go through. People work in lots of different ways, and build their working practices around their personality type.

At present the technology world seems to be really nice to people who are structured in their working, for those of us who are naturally semi-structured workers it’s OK, for people who are naturally completely unstructured in there working the technologies don’t help them at all. As a semi-structured worker I know that I am effective when I follow certain processes which for me have been technology enabled, but these are structured processes and not ones that I do naturally. I need to be told why I need to do a process. Sue is the other way around, she is a structured worker and needs to be told to stop doing a process. I have a friend who is completely unstructured and naturally kicks back against anything that looks like a process.

Email kills the unstructured worker. A structured worker looks at a list of emails and does one of two things. They either starts at the top and work down, or they use a two phase approach whereby they look for the important emails first. An unstructured worker may start at the top and work down but after about five emails will be bored of that method and move to another method, and then to another, and then to another. these people end up with hundred of unread email. Take the way that systems deal with calendaring, for instance. It’s an appropriate thing to give a structured worker control of their diary by enabling them to make a decision on every appointment sent to them. This is probably not an appropriate way to deal with an unstructured worker. It would be much better for the system to tell the unstructured worker what their appointment for the day are, to give them a choice over whether to accept an invitation or not puts them into a place which they can’t handle particularly well.

Why should IT care about unstructured workers?

IT should care about unstructured workers – because they are the future.

Collaboration Overview


I don’t normally do straight link blogs but in this instance I’m going to make an exception.

Michael Sampson has written a great set of notes from “Creating a Collaboration Strategy: Aligning Solutions to Business Needs

Sometimes someone writes something that is music to my ears (eyes), and this is one of them. Collaboration is one of the areas of office productivity that I think IT has a long, long way to go. I think the reason we haven’t got their yet is because we haven’t done enough to understand the soft-skills issues of common office/team activities – meetings, document review, etc.