» Archive for December, 2006

The Knowledge Worker’s New Year’s Resolutions

Tuesday, December 26th, 2006 by Jonathan Spira

Over the course of the year, we, the analysts at Basex, hear from knowledge workers in the trenches about what works – and what doesn’t work – when collaborating with others.

Based on our observations, we prepared – as a template – these New Year’s Resolutions with the hope that they will contribute to improved knowledge sharing and collaboration in 2007.

Without further ado, here they are:

E-MAIL

1.)    I will not e-mail someone and then two seconds later follow up with an IM or phone call.

2.)    I will refrain from combining multiple themes and requests in one single e-mail.

3.)    I will make sure that the subject of my e-mail clearly reflects both the topic and urgency of the missive.

4.)    I will read my own e-mails before sending them to make sure they are comprehensible to others.

5.)    I will thoroughly read e-mail from others before replying.

6.)    I will not overburden colleagues with unnecessary e-mail.

7.)    I will reply judiciously, avoiding one word responses such as “Thanks” or “Great!”

8.)    I will be more conscious of the fact that “Reply to All” sometimes really does go to all.

INSTANT MESSAGING AND PRESENCE AWARENESS

9.)    I will not make excessive use of the ENTER key when IMing someone (knowing that an audible alert is triggered with each ENTER keypress).  For a multi-line message I’ll use SHFT-ENTER for line feeds within the text.

10.)  I will not get impatient when there’s no response within 200 milliseconds of my IMing someone.

11)   I will not assume that the recipient of an IM is nailed to his chair in front of his computer and that awaiting my communications is his only purpose in life.

12.)    I will keep my presence awareness state up-to-date and visible to others so they know whether I’m busy or away.

ALL FORMS OF COMMUNICATION

13.)    I will recognize that the intended recipient of my communications is not a mind reader and supply details in my messages accordingly.

SOFTWARE
14.)    I will come to the realization that I’m not Captain Piccard and that the enterprise is not the Starship Enterprise.  “Computer make it so” doesn’t yet work in this day and age.

15.)    I will learn to use the tools I have before lusting after newer shinier ones.

IN CONCLUSION

16.)    I will recognize that typed words can be misleading in terms of both tone and intent.

17.)    I will do whatever I can do facilitate the transfer and sharing of knowledge.

18.)    I will stop this list at number 18 so it remains manageable and readable.

Happy New Year and Prosit Neujahr from everyone at Basex.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

How We Work

Friday, December 22nd, 2006 by Jonathan Spira

My description of an interview I had a few weeks ago with a reporter from a major business publication, who was struggling with the use of the term “knowledge work,” struck a chord with readers and also other industry pundits.   I especially enjoyed Melanie Turek’s commentary entitled: Knowledge Workers: They’re Everywhere (and What Kind of Business Reporter Doesn’t Know What One Is?).  Although I don’t think reporters should be afraid of using the term knowledge worker, it does mean different things to different people.  Further, what knowledge workers do in their jobs is more varied than one might begin to imagine.

Knowledge workers are not simply office workers or executives; in fact, the one commonality is that there is little commonality except that they work with information and not raw goods.

In fact, one of the things I am learning from the early results from our New Workplace survey is how knowledge workers work.  (If you haven’t already taken the survey, you can click here.

Unsurprisingly, most use e-mail (almost 95% – but what does the other 5% do?).  88% indicated they use word processing in the course of a normal day, and 79% indicated they regularly use spreadsheets.  The use of instant messaging was about what I expected at 60%.

Most work autonomously; so far, based on early returns from the New Workplace survey.  More than 80% indicated that their work is largely autonomous as opposed to being supervised.

In terms of how they do their jobs, knowledge workers are a group of mavericks.  Only 11% agree with the statement “I prefer just to do my job the way I was shown or told.”  But HOW we work is not necessarily well defined.  Only 20% agree with the statement, “The work I do is primarily defined through formal policies and procedures.”

The survey is open for your input – and all survey takers will receive an executive summary of our findings.  If you haven’t yet taken the survey, do it now before you have to make it a New Year’s resolution.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

2006 Product-of-the-Year: Research In Motion’s BlackBerry Pearl Smartphone

Friday, December 15th, 2006 by Jonathan Spira

The challenges to the knowledge worker are manifold; the challenges to the mobile knowledge worker are innumerable.  The number of solutions, both hardware and software, that Basex analysts look at over the course of a year is in the thousands.  Every day, several vendors brief one or more Basex analysts on a new tool that promises to make the life of the knowledge worker more productive.

Every so often there comes along a device that solves several challenges at once.  The one that caught our eye is Research In Motion’s BlackBerry Pearl smartphone, to which we bestowed the 2006 Basex Product-of-the-Year Award.

The Basex Product-of-the-Year Award singles out the best product or service – launched in the past year – designed for the knowledge worker that has achieved industry-leading and all-around excellence.

We selected the BlackBerry Pearl from a wide field of hardware and software solutions, citing its unique ability to combine the mobile telephone form factor with smartphone functionality via a single interface, through which mobile knowledge workers can surf the Internet and manage e-mail and calendar.

The BlackBerry Pearl exemplifies the type of device that has broken new ground and points the way to the future.  Over the past three months, I’ve had upwards of 25 fully featured mobile phones and smartphones arrive at my desk.  Many were very, very good.  But the Pearl was better.

Everyone who looked at it felt that it is truly a masterpiece of design; the pearl-like trackball used for navigation allows the mobile knowledge worker to literally tap into tremendous functionality

My colleague David Goldes captured the sentiment: “The Pearl provides the knowledge worker with as perfect a mobile telephony experience as is possible.  The designers of the Pearl created a better mobile phone and managed to add BlackBerry functionality without any compromises.”

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Electronically Stored Information – or What to Do With Those 2.5 Billion E-mails

Friday, December 8th, 2006 by Jonathan Spira

Newly-amended Rules of Civil Procedure concerning electronically stored information (ESI) take effect in all federal courts on December 1, 2006.  This impacts a large number of constituencies, ranging from CIOs to records managers to lawyers and judges.

These rules came about because 95% of records are created and stored electronically and, as a result, all discovery is now e-discovery.  It will be no surprise to regular readers that the volume of ESI is exponentially greater than the volume of stored paper records (which we will refrain from calling SPRs).  E-mail is perhaps the main culprit.  A single knowledge worker can easily generate 25,000 e-mails per year; a company with 100,000 employees could find itself with 2.5 billion e-mails in its archives.

The mass of e-mail is one of several reasons for the new rules.  Another is that electronic information is dynamic; a lot of it changes without operator intervension.  In addition, ESI is much more difficult to destroy when compared with SPRs.  (oops! sorry)

Perhaps of greater significance is that electronically stored information may need to be retrieved or restored – and therein lies the rub.

But there’s more.  (Disclaimer: I am only going to be able to scratch the surface here – an in-depth analysis of the new rules and their impact on knowledge economy companies would require far more space than allotted here.)

New Rule 26(f) requires parties in proceedings to discuss “any issues relating to preserving discoverable information.”  The need to preserve evidence has to be balanced, according to an Advisory Committe Note, with the need to continue routine activities because halting the operation of a computer system could put a company out of business today.

Rule 34 adds ESI as a separate category of information, stipulating that the Rule covers all types of information, regardless of how or where it is stored.  The Advisory Note makes it clear that this is not mean to create a “routine right of direct access to a party’s electronic information system, although this might be justified in some circumstances.”

But for me the most interesting part is found in Rule 26(b)(2)(B), covering inaccessible data.  As noted many times in this space, what we create today may not be accessible at some point in the future.  The Rule addresses ESI that is considered inaccessible, given the undue burden and expense of retrieving it if this is even possible.  A party is not required to provide discovery of ESI from sources that it identifies as not reasonably accessible (due to the undue burden and cost that would be incurred) unless the requesting party can demonstrate “good cause.”

Unfortunately, the Rule does not define the term “inaccessible” which may turn out to be a good thing.  (It also fails to identify sources, which we can infer to be a place where data (or information) is stored.)  What is “inaccessible” today might – with a change in technology – very well become accessible tomorrow; moreover, what IS indeed accessible today might not be accessible tomorrow.  Sources that might be considered inaccessible at a given point might include backup media and deleted data.  One thing is clear: if a document or data point is regularly accessible in the normal course of business, a party may not make it “inaccessible” to avoid producing it.

I’ll conclude with a look at the safe harbor provision for ESI loss.  New Rule 37(f) prohibits a court from imposing sanctions for failing to provide ESI lost as a result of normal system operations.  This means that, since IT systems may routinely modify, overwrite, and delete information, companies need not worry about such lost ESI.  The only time a company must intervene is if litigation is reasonably anticipated, at which time a litigation hold would serve notice to all records custodians that the normal operation of the system must be suspended.  Keep in mind that, in the knowledge economy, everyone is his own records custodian.

This general overview is not meant as a substitute for the advice of a qualified attorney; only an attorney can provide you with the legal advice you need to ensure that you are complying with the new rules.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Struggling to Define the Knowledge Worker

Friday, December 1st, 2006 by Jonathan Spira

A reporter/associate editor (we’ll call her Jane) from a major business publication called to discuss what she was writing about our research on knowledge work and knowledge workers in an upcoming piece.  But she hesitates to use the term “knowledge worker” worrying that readers won’t know exactly what that means.

My first thought harkens to something President Josiah Bartlett once said when aides told him that his audience would not understand a word he was about to use in a campaign speech.  “Let them look it up in a dictionary” he told the aides.

Jane e-mailed me, asking “what is a knowledge worker exactly?”

I replied with a two-part definition from my book, Managing the Knowledge Workforce (http://www.basex.com/advance).  “A knowledge worker is a participant in the knowledge economy.  The knowledge economy is an economic environment where information and its manipulation are the commodity and the activity (in contrast to the industrial economy, where the worker produced a tangible object with raw production materials and physical goods).”

Jane then asked: “Instead of knowledge worker can we say ‘office professional’?  I think this will be easier for our readers.”

My reply:  “That opens up a can of worms.  People see “office workers” (I’ve not run across the term “office professional” before) as administrative in-office workers.  Knowledge workers (sometimes called information workers, just to make it even more confusing) are a distinct breed, having a depth and breadth beyond office workers and very distinct from factory and field workers.  They could be in a laboratory, at a construction site, at a museum.

I knew that my reply didn’t exactly help but it does shed light on just what we are up against.  I understand Jane’s desire to make this “easier” but isn’t an easy subject.  Perhaps you could explain knowledge workers parenthetically, I wrote to Jane.

She replied:  “Would executives work?”

Jane is not alone in struggling to define the knowledge worker.  Many managers and even knowledge workers themselves are unaware of the term and that they are indeed knowledge workers.  This is, in fact, the raison d’etre behind the New Workplace survey.  If you haven’t yet taken the survey, please do at http://www.basex.com/officesurvey

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.


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