» Archive for March, 2008

Hello, my name is ______, and I am an Information Overload addict.

Friday, March 28th, 2008 by Cody Burke

According to Dr. Jerald J. Block, writing in the March issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry, those of us who constantly check our in-boxes, refresh Web-sites for new headlines, or spend hours on Twitter or Facebook may actually be suffering from a compulsive-impulse spectrum disorder.  In other words, Internet addiction.  For those of us also suffering from information overload, the idea that we crave the very thing that is arguably the cause of the crushing weight of information that looms over us may seem counter-intuitive, however, just as any other addiction, both the Internet and technology cast a strange spell over us.

Dr. Block identifies four components of Internet addiction that are worth examining, all of which are, no doubt, eerily familiar to knowledge workers who ply their trade through increasingly electronic means.

First, and most obvious, is excessive use.  Trying to determine what is deemed excessive is problematic, but the established criteria are the following: a loss of sense of time, or the neglect of basic drives.  So if you missed dinner because you were buried in work and lost track of time and didn’t realize that you were hungry, then it might be time to take a break.

The second trait is withdrawal.  Any knowledge worker who has found it next to impossible to go all weekend without checking e-mail or using the Internet, will be familiar with the feeling of being disconnected and frustrated.  In information overload terms, we know that the pile is just getting bigger and bigger the longer we stay away, and we seem to prefer to chip away at it a bit at a time.

Next, a more subtle symptom, is tolerance.  This explains why we always think our Internet connection is too slow, that if we just had one more piece of software things would really start moving along, and why the shift from only using a computer for a specific task (often turning it on and off to do one thing) to being constantly on-line seems so natural to us.  We have built up a huge tolerance to the Internet, and technology in general.  This is why we are able to deal with up to 500 e-mails a day, when only ten years ago, we struggled with perhaps as few as 100.

Finally, and most importantly, Internet addiction is marked by negative repercussions.  For knowledge workers, this is where maintaining a healthy work-life balance comes into play.  When Internet and technology use leads to arguments, lying, isolation, or fatigue, then it is time to reexamine the work-life balance.  This is increasingly difficult in today’s interconnected and wired world, but needs to be a priority.

What do these components of Internet addiction mean to the knowledge worker?  They are the indicators, the red flags that we need to be aware of; not just for ourselves, but for each other.  Managing knowledge workers effectively means understanding the importance of encouraging responsible and healthy use of technology, and the value of unplugging and disconnecting from time to time.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Tell Starbucks What You Think – But Not So Fast!

Friday, March 21st, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

The coffeehouse has always been a kind of gathering place.  Since the late 1980s, in cities in the United States and many other countries, Starbucks has provided Italian-style coffee bars that serve as places to meet, work, chat, read, socialize, linger and are a work-friendly (read Wi-Fi-enabled) environment to millions of customers.  But Starbucks, whose stock has declined almost 50% in the past year, found itself straying from its roots and sorely in need of a makeover.

In January, Starbucks ousted CEO Jim Donald, replacing him with Howard Schultz, the company’s chairman, who built the chain from four locations to over 15,000.

Starbucks needs more than Howard Schultz however, and has decided to enlist its customers in its makeover.

To this end, Starbucks announced My Starbucks Idea, an online community dedicated to sharing and discussing ideas about Starbucks’ operations.

A little background on idea management: with a few notable exceptions (ones we covered in our 2002 report Improving Profits Through Idea Management , idea management has been little more than a suggestion box (or its online equivalent) in most organizations.

An effective idea management system will record all ideas, discussions relating thereto, and provide a mechanism for acting on and expanding up on ideas.  Companies have also found that finding a way to recognize and/or compensate those contributing valuable ideas is key to ensuring the success of a program.

By and large, most idea management programs have been internally focused.  There are significant legal implications surrounding the acceptance of an idea – and these are of paramount importance when the developer of an idea is not an employee of the company receiving the idea.

Herein lies the rub.

Starbucks requires anyone contributing an idea or other intellectual property to grant it a nonexclusive, worldwide license to publish the idea and contributors must also agree that “no compensation is due to you or anyone else for any inadvertent or intentional use of that idea…”  Indeed, Starbucks suggests you might wish to get a patent on your idea, ostensibly before you post it online.

The site’s FAQ clearly states “[I]f we implement your idea, we may give you credit on the site, but we won’t be compensating customers if their ideas are chosen.”

Now, back to Starbucks and idea management.  Starbucks is clearly seeking the vox populi and using the concept of idea management to build enthusiasm around the brand.  An extensive examination of the “ideas” and issues being discussed failed to reveal anything earth shattering.  Starbucks could have saved itself a lot of effort and expense and simply handed out a customer feedback card at the point of service.

Unfortunately, the kind of out-of-the-box thinking Starbucks needs is unlikely to come from MyStarbucksIdea.com unless Starbucks follows what everyone else who has attempted idea management has learnt: create real incentives for idea submission and they will come.

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

Building Knowledge Worker Tools From the Ground Up

Friday, March 14th, 2008 by Cody Burke

In a recent Basex survey, 90% of knowledge workers reported they had downloaded or installed add-ons and plug-ins, and a further 80% said they had actually written their own code and macros to improve and streamline the software they used.

Presumably tapping into this do-it-yourself trend, at this year’s Lotusphere in January, IBM announced the upcoming software package Lotus Mashups.  In the demonstration, mashup applications were constructed out of separate widgets in minutes.

Slated for release in mid-2008, Lotus Mashups is a software package for the creation of business mashups by non-technical users.  HTML-based widgets (both those included in the package and those custom made) can be easily connected through a drag-and-drop interface.  Data is pushed from one widget to another, aggregating the data to provide new relevant information.

The mashups created can blend enterprise and Web data to meet the specific needs of the user.  As data is changed in one widget, the others making up the mashup spring into action.  A chart that contains customer names and contact info can be linked to other widgets, so if a customer is selected, separate widgets that check stock prices, RSS feeds and blogs, and sales history can provide a complete picture of the customer.

Lotus Mashups provides a browser-based tool for building mashups, ready-to-use business widgets, and a development environment for dynamic widgets that can access enterprise systems.  The resultant mashups may be shared though a catalogue that has embedded community features such as rating, tagging, and comments.

What can we expect from Lotus Mashups?

By making it even easier to build and share custom mashups, we should see more knowledge workers than ever taking steps to customize their work environments, improve the efficiency of the tools they use, and automate the simple tasks that take up valuable time and energy.  And when they need a new tool, they just may be able to make it themselves.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Prepare for Daylight Saving Time

Friday, March 7th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

Spring Ahead with Caution

This coming Sunday morning, while most people are asleep, the United States and parts of Canada will switch to Daylight Saving Time at 2 a.m. local time.  This is in accordance with the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and once again is three weeks earlier than in previous years (last year it ended one week later than usual, on the first Sunday in November).  If you don’t think that these changes are a big deal, change the time on your laptop by an hour and see what happens.  The impact of this seemingly minor change extends well beyond computers, to legions of business travelers and mobile knowledge workers, among others.

Once again, the United States will be out of sync with the rest of the world for longer than usual.  Europe used to change its clocks to “Summer Time” (in the U.K., it’s BST or British Summer Time; in Germany and Austria, it’s “Sommerzeit”) one week before the U.S.  Now most of Europe will switch to Daylight Saving Time on March 30, three weeks later.  [Most of Asia, Africa, and South America do not observe Daylight Saving Time at all.]

Daylight Saving Time is a system of managing the changing amounts of daylight that occur during the year, with a goal of maximizing daylight hours during typical waking hours.  It was first proposed by Benjamin Franklin in 1784, who believed it would save an “immense sum.”  It was not broadly adopted until the early twentieth century when the U.S. temporarily enacted Daylight Saving Time as an energy-saving measure.

By adjusting clocks ahead by an hour, people can have more daylight available during the workday.  For example, in the case of someone who typically awakens at 7 a.m., since in the spring the sun rises earlier each day, an individual would have to wake up at 6 a.m. to take advantage of the additional daylight.  Instead, by moving the clock ahead by one hour, that person can continue to wake up at 7 a.m. and enjoy more daylight in the evening hours.

The last change to the Daylight Saving Time schedule was in 1986, when legislation changing Daylight Saving Time from the last Sunday in April to the first Sunday in April was enacted.

But recent studies indicate that the savings may be illusory.  One study demonstrated how a switch to Daylight Saving Time across the entire state in April 2006 cost Indiana households an additional $8.6 million in electricity.  Another study suggested that the temporary extension of daylight-saving in two Australian territories for the 2000 Summer Olympics increased energy usage.

On the other hand, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a nonprofit group, estimated that the cumulative benefit of the change through the year 2020 will be a savings of ca. $4.4 billion and 10.8 million metric tons less carbon sent into the environment.  According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, for every day we are on Daylight Saving Time, we trim one percent of the country’s electrical consumption.

Last year, companies sent out all-hands memos to employees asking them to help identify systems that might be impacted by the time change.  These systems ranged from automated wake-up systems in hotels to systems that schedule airline crew members and slot aircraft for gates.  In addition, many computer-to-computer systems might have also been impacted.

Most knowledge workers should be covered by now, at least insofar as their desktop or laptop computers are concerned.  Microsoft released a single global time zone update for Windows XP Service Pack 2 and Windows Server 2003 (and for Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1) that automatically installed.  This update included updates for all DST-related changes from 2007 or that have taken place since the operating system’s original release.  The updated time zone definitions ship with Windows Vista.  Windows XP SP1 and older operating systems have passed their end of support dates and did not receive the update although they can be manually updated in some cases.

That covers operating systems but doesn’t mean that we are out of the woods yet.  Most current programs with calendar support should have been updated by now but if yours has not, any meetings that fall within the extended Daylight Saving Time period before the application of extended DST rules will appear incorrectly after the extended DST rules have been applied, namely they will appear an hour later than originally scheduled.

What you can do to avoid problems:

First, double check any calendar entries or plans for the period March 9 -  March 30, 2008.

Second, make certain to adjust or update your operating system to apply the changed Daylight Saving Times rules if this hasn’t already taken place.  PDAs such as Palm Treos or BlackBerry devices should also be updated.

Third, remember that Daylight Saving Time is not observed in Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Arizona (with the exception of the Navajo Nation).  Until 2006, the counties in the Eastern Time Zone of Indiana did not observe Daylight Saving Time and remained on standard time year round.  As of April 2006, all of Indiana observes Daylight Saving Time.

Finally, get a good night’s sleep.

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