Accessibility Matters

Many times I have heard colleagues throughout the business world say, “Our organization needs a mobile device strategy” or ask, “Should we have a bring-you-own-device policy?” Externally, I maintain a smile or neutral outward appearance, while I’m inside I’m scratching my head (metaphorically). Why, at this stage of technological advances hasn’t this become conventional wisdom: our focus shouldn’t be on devices, it should be on accessibility.

In the long run, chasing specific mobile devices is fruitless. There will always be more, different and better options, in multiple formats and from myriad vendors. Remember the Apple Newton, PalmPilot, Grid Pad Pro and others that have come and gone? There are always features and functions of one versus the other that people will discuss and debate ad nauseam. The arguments can’t be won, because the issue, again, is not the device.

Why do I say that? Simply because we’ve been here before. I recall the transition from a mainframe-centric environment to personal computing. The mainframers thought PCs and local area networks were a joke. Not fast enough or big enough. There was an assumption that people would never want to do that work themselves or learn something that complex. The scenario played out again when the Internet and e-commerce came about. The assumption was that people want to see what they are buying and talk with someone, and there was no way they would enter their credit card number into this new-fangled Internet thingamabob.

Ultimately, what led people to move in these new directions and adopt the changes? It wasn’t the device, technology or brand—it was about gaining easy access to ways of being more productive or capable.

Let’s apply this thinking to mobile devices and look beyond the operating system, high-speed data access, robust and intuitive apps and the myriad of other embedded features. The power of mobile devices lies in how we can partner with them to make our lives easier and function more smoothly. Here are a few examples, none of which are dependent on a particular device (mobile or otherwise):

  • In the professional world, if I can access my information and share it with someone in real time, I don’t need to make a note and follow up later when I get back to my office. Being honest, I’m likely to forget to do it. Now, I can send a message or share a file with a couple of taps or clicks on a keyboard.
  • Is anyone old enough to remember putting a “buck slip” on an article to route it around a workgroup to make sure everyone got the information? Now, a quick forward of a link, a “like”, twitter message, or post to a social media group does the trick.
  • It wasn’t all that long ago that executives had administrative assistants to manage their manual calendars. They would make phone calls to book meetings and then physically mail out agendas and packets of information ahead of time. Today, most appointments are booked by simply proposing a time and confirming with an e-appointment invitation or by using a calendar matching application (such as vyte.in, calendly.com, meetme.com or needtomeet.com)

These are minor examples of on-the-go tasks to be liberated from large monolithic or manual systems. To get more of this done, we need digital work processes and tools that can augment or replace traditional systems. We need tools that allow the infrastructure to be accessible and responsive to security and sensitive to the types of data. We need approaches that focus on enabling people and process.  The good news is these tools are available and becoming more mature. There is lots of work to be done to make it happen, but there are many successful case studies.

I believe the path is not having all functions available on all devices. In the early days of tablets, many a colleague said, “We’ll just provide a virtual desktop” so users can do anything they want. Technically that is correct, but the idea of the connectivity and clunkiness of using email or Word or Excel on an iPad was not going to be readily adopted.

As a leader, the greatest contribution may be helping colleagues do their job seamlessly, regardless of their available or preferred technology. How can they quickly and easily make an internal request, find an expert, look up a piece of information, access an internal reference document, collaborate with a peer, submit an expense item, inquire on the status of a task or approve a request? If we can figure out access, a mobile device strategy is irrelevant.

P.S. This is not a new theme for me. Check out It’s Not About the Device from November 2015.

 

 


When in Doubt, Give Gadgets

christmas-present-596300_640Need a few last minute ideas for holiday gifts? In my opinion, a good device deserves a good gadget. Here are a few ideas that any technophile would appreciate:


The New Media

I can remember a time when the only news programs on television were on CBS and NBC and late arrival to the game, ABC. Now, there is an explosion of news options, particularly online—and no two are alike. Here are a few of the newest providers that have captured my attention.

Digg

“Digg does curation: building products that make life smoother, simpler, and smarter. Re-founded in 2012, Digg now provides the most relevant and compelling content to millions of users a month. Using proprietary data sources and a crack editorial team, we cut through the clutter of the Internet and make sense of the noise so you don’t have to.”

Credentials: Digg was an early entry into this niche with its launch in 2004. After many stumbles, it shuttered in 2012, only to be reborn after its purchase by Betaworks (previously know for Tweetdeck, Chartbeat and Bitly).

What I like: Visually, Digg stands apart from other news curators. Its clean look is uncluttered by the onslaught of ads we’ve come to expect from other curators. Regarding content, it focused on the top stories gaining traction in cyberspace, going for quality rather than quantity.

Medium

“Medium is a different kind of place to read and write on the internet. A place where the measure of success isn’t views, but viewpoints. Where the quality of the idea matters, not the author’s qualifications. A place where conversation pushes ideas forward and words still matter.”

Credentials: Medium was launched in 2012 by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams as an invitation-only blogging platform. It has since opened up and evolved to include both professional and non-professional authors supplemented by talented editors.

What I like: The theme WTF Economy or What’s the Future of Work? Also, the dynamic highlighting is very interesting.  As you follow people, you’ll see their highlights in posts you’re reading.

Ozy

“When we launched OZY, we had a big idea. Instead of bringing you yet another news site pulling together the latest stories from across the Web, we wanted to give you something better. We wanted to give you a news site you actually loved. From the start, we promised only original content, focused not simply on where the world is but, more importantly, where the world is going. And every morning, we set out to profile the people, places, trends and technology that are ahead of their time and worthy of yours.”

Credentials: Contributors include Bill Gates, Condoleezza Rice and Bill Clinton. Partners include NPR, CNN, USA TODAY, Huffington Post, PBS NewsHour, MSN and Axel Springer.

What I like: Stories are grouped into compelling themed sections: The Presidential Brief (a daily top ten list), Rising Stars, Provocateurs, Good Sh*t, Wildcard and more.

Quartz

“Quartz is a digitally native news outlet, born in 2012, for business people in the new global economy. We publish bracingly creative and intelligent journalism with a broad worldview, built primarily for the devices closest at hand: tablets and mobile phones.”

Credentials: Quartz’s business focus comes naturally; its founding partners are Chevron, Boeing, Credit Suisse, Cadillac and GE. Their founding team has serious journalism pedigree and they have staff on the ground in key bureaus worldwide.

What I like: Obsessions. These are hot topics of interest to their writing staff, often those that might not make the front page of other outlets.


We’ve Been Here Before

As I approach the 30th year of my career, I begin to wax nostalgic about the changes I see in the workplace. Available people, process and technology are in the process of redefining the space we call “the office.” Beyond the physical space, “the office” includes how we work together and define productivity. While today’s tools may be new, we’ve been through this process before—several times, in my case.

During the first three years of my career, I focused on transitioning from handwritten accounting schedules, forms and journal entries to electronic methods (13-column green pad to spreadsheets). Later, there were additional improvements in systems, access to data, and sharing of work (network shared drives and graphical charting capabilities).

The next phase was marked by a more complete transition from mainframe/mini technologies to server and personal computer technologies. Large ERP systems transitioned from green screens to client/server technology. Many new capabilities and features were enabled, including: scanning of receipts and shipments; electronic exchange of data and documents; and data importing and exporting.

Currently, we’re in the middle of transitioning from “behind the firewall” to “in the cloud.” This has dramatic implications, perhaps even more pronounced than in past phases. I believe that both the degree and speed of change are more dramatic and significantly faster than in the past. This is aided by the new low-cost, pay-as-you-go cloud options, a dramatic change in workforce demographics and global access to talent, markets and customers. No longer are large corporations at the forefront of the innovation, nor the adoption of new practices.

Transitions are endless and a natural part of life. What I find fascinating and important is looking at what have we learned from the past, evaluating what aspects are still relevant, and determining how lessons learned are applied in the current transition period.

Given my career, one of these keys learnings is around how we work. I believe we’re in a phase of “step-function” change, not “incremental” change. Put another way, we need to not look for little improvements in efficiency, but look at what is happening around us, create a shared vision of “what could be” and map a course toward this future state. As Michael Hammer noted in his seminal 1990 Harvard Business Review article Reengineering Work: Don’t Automate, Obliterate:

“It is time to stop paving the cow paths. Instead of embedding outdated processes in silicon and software, we should obliterate them and start over.”

Today’s key technologies—social, mobile, data/analytics and cloud—offer an opportunity to create new ways of working. We can leverage the same management disciplines: customer experience, quality principles, agile and responsive design, teaming and leadership principles, concepts of manufacturing efficiency and automation…and the list goes on. Outcomes must be relevant to the future environment and address the realities of competitive global economic talent, and resource challenges.

We’ve been here before. We need to stay future focused and use well-known disciplines to create the new future workplace. Incremental improvements in efficiency won’t be enough to be competitive in today’s and tomorrow’s marketplace.

Additional resources:


It’s Not About the Device

thanksgiving-229287_640A veritable cornucopia of new devices has recently been released (e.g. Microsoft Surface Book, Surface Pro 4, IPad Pro), as well as new phones, other tablets and updated laptops. I contend that their value is not in the device itself, but in the use case. Said another way, the magic is in how YOU use it, not about the nuanced technology features. Here are a few examples from my work life that show various devices in action in ways that meet my unique needs.

Capturing notes in a conference keynote setting

  • Setting: Usual setup is rows of chairs with no tables.
  • Devices: A tablet with stylus is ideal for electronic handwritten notes. I use my phone camera to take pictures of relevant slides or the speaker to help aid my memory.
  • Process: Take rough notes, publish to PDF and place in electronic folder along with any pictures, handouts and a scan/copy of the conference agenda.
  • Output: Summary document in electronic folder consisting of: a list of takeaways, further ideas to explore and/or additional resources (link to speaker’s website).

Facilitating a business meeting

  • Setting: Conference room, in the office or offsite. I need access to multiple pieces of information and don’t want it to get in the way of the discussion. A laptop screen can be intrusive.
  • Devices: Pen and paper in the form of a notepad or journal, plus tablet with OneNote app.
  • Output: Notes and follow-up items. Additional documents are created or a summary of the meeting is created from handwritten notes, scans of any whiteboard or flip chart work. All items are placed in a electronic folder or in OneNote shared notebook.

Writing a monthly summary report

  • Setting: Office.
  • Devices: Laptop with multiple computer displays and three or four applications running.
  • Output: A one-page word document. Ability to reference calendar, various emails, last month’s report and various other documents.

Two easy traps to fall into are: 1) thinking that one device will meet all of your needs and 2) the lure of the latest and greatest new shiny object in the marketplace. Before investing, consider this:

Being productive is about using multiple tools at hand in a way that works for you. Work process, collaboration and tools will continue to evolve. Devices will continue to proliferate and improve. There will never be a singular device for all situations and individuals.

The use cases dictate a combination of different features (technology and otherwise). My work situations are perhaps a bit more diverse than many. But the same rules likely apply to everyone—there are many tools and applications within your environments that can help personal productivity. Trying to make them all fit into once device is not practical, in my opinion.


When is Good Good Enough?

I’ve been pondering this for a while. I’ve had four or five different iPads and three or four different iPhones during the short period they have been available, usually quick to jump on the newest model.

And I’ve owned a significant number of laptops, both for business and personal use over the years. Interestingly, I’ve had my current laptop, an HP EliteBook 9470m, for over 18 months. This is a technology eternity for me. So what makes this product different from the others? It is solid, very functional, lightweight, and performs great (screen, keyboard, connectivity, etc.). Sure, there are new features available with newer models (touch screen, foldable 180 degree devices, etc.), but this hardware package is very good. Mostly importantly, it’s good enough to meet my needs.

Why? I believe that the “use cases” for this hardware have stabilized. My uses include creating content, connecting to corporate networks, traveling within the office, to the office, and on the road. Wi-Fi standards, battery life, disk drive technology have all reached a solid level. Video, audio, fingerprint scanning, and peripheral connections have stabilized. There are plenty of vendors trying to provide new reasons to buy new hardware, but I think good is good enough.

Has the marketplace reached the same point with smartphones? For iPhone 4 and 5 owners, many have voted by keeping their current models and have avoided the lure of an upgrade. Their phone is paid for and it’s doing its job. What more could they ask for?

The same goes with the iPad. There are plenty of 2 and 3 generation old devices that are satisfying what the user wants and more.

My conclusion is that the upgrade game is not solely about the hardware anymore—there is only so much one can do with the form factor. It is now about expanding the use cases and/or reducing the costs and expanding the market. That includes global markets outside of the U.S. that seem to have almost unlimited potential. Tech geeks like me will continue to be drawn to the newest shiny objects. But for the masses, they are going to need more compelling reasons to keep trading up.

As an aside—remember the good ol’ days when everyone was excited about mobile phones getting smaller and smaller? When the Motrola MicroTAC was replaced by the Motorola StarTAC (1996), that was considered a big darn deal.

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What’s New from Apple

Apple just made their always-anticipated September product announcements. Featured this year were the iPad Pro, new iPhones, Apple TV and OS 2.0 for Apple Watch. There are many summaries you can read about the details, including:

The upgrades are interesting, but are not compelling me to purchase the new devices, at least in the short term. I made the following post on Facebook…adding up the cost of all of the new devices and making a comparison to a desktop computer purchased 17 years ago.

comparison

Certainly I enjoy the camera technology, and the camera and video technology upgrades look interesting. Apple TV and, specifically, the remote are nice (and overdue) improvements.

Here are my key takeaways:

  • The iPad Pro could become my replacement for my home laptop. Its screen is larger and has a much improved keyboard (compared to third-party devices). Besides, my trusty five-plus-year-old MacBook has been sitting on the floor in my office for at least two months without me turning it on. Why? There isn’t anything I have had to do on it that I couldn’t do with my iPad or an occasional simple task on my work laptop (create a bike route, type something, fill out a longer form or interact with a legacy (non tablet friendly) website). Data is in the cloud. Devices sync wirelessly to the cloud or they don’t need to sync.
  • The iPhone will become a new standard. The camera and 3D Touch, improved glass and additional hardware features are nice.
  • The biggest improvements are iOS9 software-related. In particular, the multiscreen presentation on the iPad and 3D Touch navigation on the iPhone. This creates new possibilities for application developers and increased ease of use in a variety of situations.

But when is good enough good enough? I’m sensing a topic for my next post.