Employees are people, too.They just don't look like you. At least most of them don't. To understand what your workforce needs from technology and from you, you have to walk a mile in their shoes.
That's hard to do -- not to mention darn uncomfortable at times! But it is possible to get to know your workforce by grouping them by who they are and what they need from you. There are three techniques that consumer market researchers have developed over the last 40 years to do just that:
Surveys to analyze and segment the workforce. This is step one and something that we'll drill into more detail on over the next few blog posts. Asking good questions, making sure everybody's represented, doing analysis that helps you answer your key questions, this is where the best analysis begins. You'll come up with segments like "technology enthusiasts" and "road warriors."
Focus groups to bring the segments to life. Once the segments are identified, you can invite 5 or 6 people to come in and talk about what they do and what they need from technology. This gives you the "why" and the "how" to go along with the "what" that the survey and segmentation provide. With focus groups, a road warrior starts to look like a real person.
A long time ago (about 35 years), I was the project leader and main designer of what was probably the first true distributed solution. It started with one of the largest bank in Europe, which went through a one month strike of its data center. In what was probably the Jurassic period of IT (which makes me a dinosaur), the centralized mainframe reigned supreme and of course the whole commercial part of the bank ground to a halt, and with it millions of customers who could not get to their money.. The CIO (the title did not exist at the time, but the function did) came up with the brilliant idea of putting a server in each branch, connected to the central mainframe through a network. Each local server had to be able to process locally, on a local "database" all the typical operations of the branch. This would guarantee that, in case of a repeat strike, the basic banking needs of customers would be covered. So armed with the latest minicomputer from Honeywell and several $Millions in project money, we set up developing everything in sight: network protocols, transactional languages and supervisors, local file structure, etc. Even intelligent virtual terminals.
I just finished a Webinar on Medical Information Management sponsored by Kofax, a process automation firm whose core expertise is paper capture and elimination. It is available on their site www.kofax.com. We are entering an interesting period here, and may experience a tech bubble in medical or at least a somewhat less desperate Y2K experience. Clearly there is energy and investment around medical information management that increases each month, and that has not been seen in a quite a while. Concepts like “results-based medicine” that will open up a new market for analytics in medicine — see my colleague Boris Evelson’s open letter for Information Week.
At the end of this year, Forrester expects mobile Internet penetration to reach 17% in Western Europe — the same adoption rate for the PC Internet a decade ago. At that time, mobile phone penetration was still below the 40% threshold and mobile shops were opening at every high-street corner. Companies were only starting to launch their web presence and to anticipate the impact of the Web. Operator-branded mobile Internet solutions would only launch 3 years after and 3G in 2003/2004.
10 years after, the mobile Internet is reaching critical mass and a virtuous mobile Internet cycle is kicking off. Consumers who have a flat-rate data bundle spend more and more time on the Internet from their mobile phones, brands begin to launch their mobile Web presence to monetize these growing audiences and engage with their customers via more relevant mobile content and services, which in turn attracts more and more consumers to unlimited mobile Internet tariffs.
The current economic climate will lengthen handset renewal cycles, foster the development of low-cost offerings, and boost the uptake of SIM-only contracts. Operators are likely to postpone major investments in new networks such as 4G / Long-Term Evolution, despite early trials and commercialization in the Nordics. However, it will only slightly reduce the pace of growth for those elements that stimulate mobile Internet usage: 3.5G and Internet-centric mobile phones as well as all-you-can-eat data plans will be widely available in the next five years. That's the reason why Forrester expects mobile Internet to grow to 39% by the end of 2014. That's a lower end point than for the PC Internet in 2004, but the growth curve per se looks quite the same.
Here’s a funny finding: The youngest members of the workforce aren’t the drivers of social technology use in business. How can this be? Haven’t we been told that the generation that made MySpace and Facebook popular would be the one that dragged stodgy, old companies kicking and screaming into a 21st century where corporate hierarchy is flattened through Web 2.0? Don’t companies need to adopt wikis and blogs in order to recruit and retain Gen Yers? Well, the early returns say the answer is, “no.”