I was in a discussion yesterday with one of the researchers at the MIT Center for Digital Business. We were talking about automated workflow, tools like adaptive case management . Case management is normally a response to a request for service. For example: I can’t get to this node on the network or my password doesn’t work.
The Pareto principle comes into play when trying to automate - most of these issues are straightforward. As you look at automation, the degree of variability and unpredictability are core concerns about what can be automated.
As decision making processes take advantage of greater sensing and the analytic capabilities enabled by more processing power they can categorize the variability and understand its structure. If the response required remains unpredictable though, human intervention will still be required. When you are trying to perform attention engineering to maximize the value generation of employees, the decisions that can be automated are important. Automation can say:
- It will do the task
- It will not do the task because it shouldn’t be done
- Some one/thing else to needed to address the situation
Depending on how that decisions making process breaks down, significant amounts of work can be automated.
This is the more utopian view of automation that I mentioned last week.
It is the end of another year and since I’ve already done my predictions for 2013, now I’ll emphasize the importance of expectations for the coming year.
One of the most important things anyone can have when entering a new year is expectations. There are a number of components involved in having expectations that we may not think about:
1) Awareness of time – There is only so much time (even in a new year). To have and meet our expectations, we need be aware of how limited time really is. Ask yourself if you really know what time it is and what that really means to you, your business… Expectations can be of the environment, others around us or just ourselves. Be aware of what you can do and how much time you have.
2) Urgency –Having expectations has an implied level of urgency (at least the way I look at it). What are you going to do about your expectations? How are you going to make them happen or prevent them? Don’t let passive decision making define your expectations.
3) Put first things first – Now that you recognize you have expectations -- what are you going to do about it? What’s your plan?
I sometimes talk to technologists about their personal objectives… One of the first things I tell them is they need to have goals and then share them with others. By definition, leaders need followers. If you don’t tell anyone what your expectations are, you significantly decrease the likelihood others will be able to help you bring them to fruition. Attention is a scarce resource, figure out how to focus yours and others to address your expectations.
There was an article in New Scientist that was focused on a topic I’ve talked about before, it is titled: Your next boss could be a computer. It provides another perspective on the issue that the human attention span is an ever more scarce resource for most organizations.
The abundance of computing and the increase availability of more data will help shift our attention on those areas that need our creativity (human augmented computing), but in the process it may seem like we’re working for the machines, instead of the other way around – at least for some.
HP labs has been doing some interesting work in this space as well. It’s been codenamed CrowdCloud. When combined with other research efforts like VideoBook, it can produce a much better result than a manual or automated technique alone.
With the capabilities of software today, its ubiquitous nature and our understanding of human behavior, the business applications of tomorrow can be too compelling and even addictive. There is no doubt that the gadgets of today have become a compelling part of our personal lives. I (for one) can’t do all the technically social tasks I’d like to do every day, and things will likely only get worse.
Is there a risk that business applications will start to permeate our lives more than they already do? We’ve all heard of the Crackberry addict who can’t stop reading their email the instant it arrives. Is there a chance we could get to that point with management approvals or business groupware?
It seems that Facebook stock dropped after the IPO was because it wasn’t viewed as addictive enough by Wall Street. Even if people use a tool, keeping their attention can be a hard thing to maintain. With gamification and other techniques, businesses can keep pushing the boundaries of compelling software.
- Hyper-Awareness – an unquenchable thirst for information or validation
- Socialization – our involvement is an expectation of those we interact with
- Accomplishment – being the first, the best, a dominate factor on-line
- Escape – the on-line world is where we have more control
The lure of constant stimulation can definitely be addictive. Yet, in this world plagued by an attention deficit developers want their solutions to stand out and demand attention.
A recent survey by mobile-services provider iPass states that “91 percent of mobile users said they use their free time, both day and night, to check their smartphones. Among those, almost 30 percent check their smartphones three to five times an hour, and 20 percent check them five to 10 times an hour.” That’s just email. What if we start to make the core business systems more compelling?
This is one reason why a more enlightened view of how systems interact is needed. Business systems need to focus their interruptions on only those who can do something about a situation and allow personalization of the interface to minimize disruption or maximize a positive result. Everyone wants to maximize the productivity of their personnel, but allowing them to tools to make their time off free of work concerns can be a business goal as well.
Mark McDonald over at Garter had a blog post titled: An IT Renaissance is the last thing we need. We need IT Enlightenment that got me thinking… In the post he states that:
“The Enlightenment was fundamentally about discovering the natural sciences and laying the foundation for modern society and science.”
When we think about the needs of future businesses to reduce the time to action, the IT systems will involve some fundamental shifts. All too often organizations look at the problem from the perspective of their existing tooling. The old adage “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” comes to mind. Yet there are many disruptive increases in capability.
Some of the ideas in the post like “Evolve the ‘science of management and business’ in a degree similar to the evolution of natural science that happened during the first Enlightenment.” Made me think about the application of automation and attention engineering to change where and how we apply the human resources. The optimization of automation and attention will shift the whole approach to “management”.
His thoughts on “Value becoming an operational reality” align with the view that in an information rich organization, value can move from an abstract concept that is felt to something that is measured and optimized. The new computing environments available can enable that kind of conceptual shift.
As I have mentioned in the past (at least 5 years ago) “context is king”. There may be more value in the context the data describes than in the raw data itself. This meta-data view will also shift the perspective of decision making. Social computing approaches are ripe with this fruit and yet most enterprises have barely started to harvest it.
As one of the comments to Mark’s post states – we need to question everything. Just because it has always worked, does not mean that it is the approach for the future. On the other hand, there are some foundational elements that we can rely upon. Have expectations, measure against them and then adjust accordingly.