Do your executives really want Android?

Android has a keen following in enterprise IT circles because of its openness and customisability. But before you embark on an Android deployment ask yourself, is Android usable enough to build engagement amongst your workforce?

Many IT departments prefer Android over iOS because if its openness and customisability. Although this makes IT’s job of managing and supporting devices easier it is actually not something that the end user generally cares about. There is a genuine risk that if IT doesn’t take the end users needs into consideration, they may end up implementing a safe, secure system that people struggle to use effectively.

I find that most executive teams ultimately care about usefulness and usability. They want a suite of apps that helps them do their job more effectively and that are easy to learn and use. Although these tools should also be safe and secure, this is not their primary concern.

It should be pointed out that this isn’t so much about the Android platform as it is about the apps. Although there are plenty of Android apps in the Google Play store there is still only a limited range of tablet optimised apps and many of these are either buggy or have limited features compared to their iOS alternatives.

Although this will close over time I don’t see it happening soon. I have contacted a couple of app developers to see if they were planning to release or update their Android apps and both said they were focusing on the iOS platform at the moment and didn’t see the value in dedicating resources to Android development at the moment. Their reasoning for this was that the Android user base was less willing to pay for apps and the cost of development was higher due to the variety of hardware and screen sizes.

So if you are looking to implement a mobile technology program my advice to organisations is not to rush towards Android without taking into account end user needs. Although it may cost less in terms of hardware and support than an iOS or, even better, a cross platform solution, you may ultimately pay for this in lower levels of engagement and use.

Remember, the value of a system is not what it costs you. Cost is how much you pay for it, value is what it returns to the organisation in terms of greater productivity and effectiveness. And value is only created once the platform is both used and useful.

Is this the post PC era?

Is this the beginning of the post PC era

Since the release of the iPad only a few years ago we have seen a phenomenal growth in tablet usage leading many commentators to suggest that we are entering the post-PC era. Microsoft on the other hand believes that there is no such thing as the post PC era and insists that tablets are actually ‘tablet PCs’ (with Microsofts own Surface RT tablet you only have to scratch the thin veneer of the ‘Metro’ operating environment to find a traditional Windows desktop underneath).

[tweetthis url=”http://bit.ly/1Jz3sdd”]Tablets can do 95% of paper tasks better, more likely ushering in a post-paper than post-PC era.[/tweetthis]

Although this is most likely a question of how we define ‘personal computer’ and ‘tablet’ I believe that the mixed messages about how tablets should be used and integrated with our other digital devices is stopping us from seeing the potential of our tablet devices. Rather than think about the PC tasks that you can do on your tablet, think about the tasks that you have traditionally filled with paper. I would argue that the current breed of tablets are only 50% like a PC but 95% like paper. This is because a tablet will do about 50% of what you can do on your PC and often do it badly. Conversely your tablet can do about 95% of what you do on paper, and most often do it better.

My own view is that although we are going to continue to see a convergence of tablets and PCs we currently face some fairly significant limitations in regard to screen size, input methods and (less significantly) computing power that means a ‘post-laptop’ era is still a few years away. In the meantime tablet users should rest assured that their devices can be used to fill a fairly significant technology gap.

There is a very good chance that we will reach the post-paper era long before we reach the post-PC one.

Digitise what you can and focus on everything else

 

I recently attended the Future of Work conference jointly hosted by the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency and Australia’s Industry Skills Councils. Over two days expert researchers and speakers from around the world shared insights into the drivers and possible outcomes for the future of work. A strong theme of the conference was the likely loss of high skilled jobs as a result of overseas competition or due to improving technology.

Professor Hugh Lauder, co-author of ‘the Global Auction‘ pointed to China’s target to have 195 million graduates by 2020 as a cause of concern for Australian workers, suggesting that although we have traditionally accepts outsourcing for low skill jobs there will be increasing pressure on high skill jobs as well. Increases in computing power and the growth of the robotics industry is also resulting in ‘digital Taylorism‘ as more and ore complex tasks can now be done by computers.

Although I agree with the drivers I don’t necessarily agree with the outcomes. Although we will undoubtedly continue to see TASKS outsourced or digitized I believe that it is much harder to outsource/digitize whole jobs.

Darren Williams, Chief Technology Officer at Freelancer.com suggested that you could now hire an architect and get your house plans done from a skilled overseas service provider via their outsourcing site. Although you can get a set of house plans I would argue that this is not the same as hiring an architect. The role of an architect involves a complex and interactive process of understanding client needs and integrating these into the prevailing community and environmental dynamics of the building site. This is not a process that can be easily digitized. On the other hand, once the architect starts drafting the plans this should be a digital process (and in a lot of cases already is) as digital allows for the fast and effective development and sharing of the design data.

Rather than focus on the loss of certain tasks, we need to identify and enjoy the benefits we will obtained from digitizing parts of our jobs. Individually it will allow us to be more effective at what we do and to focus on the more human and creative elements of our work. The outcome of this may mean that there is excess capacity within certain fields but this may not necessarily result in fewer jobs. Take architecture for example, excess capacity amongst architects may lead to consolidation in the industry OR it may mean that more people get to enjoy the benefits of  architecturally designed houses as reduced costs make them more affordable.

In fact I believe the greatest risk of digital Taylorism and off shoring work is not about losing your job but about not being proactive about identifying which parts of your job should be digitized. We have a competitive marketplace for work and if we don’t start to work proactively to identify how we can use technology to do our jobs more effectively we risk losing it to the competitor down the street well before we lose it to the robot or the competitor overseas.

Leaders with Technology

I recently went to a very inspiring leadership workshop hosted by Qualia Learning Network with Tony Schwartz from the Energy Project. Amongst the gems of information that I am already using to work more effectively, Tony made the comment that one of the biggest challenges that leaders face in managing their energy is the pervasiveness of technology.

He shared a great quote from Linda Stone, formally of Apple and Microsoft, describing a state of ‘continuous partial attention’

For almost two decades, continuous partial attention has been a way of life to cope and keep up with responsibilities and relationships. We’ve stretched our attention bandwidth to upper limits. We think that if tech has a lot of bandwidth then we do, too. With continuous partial attention we keep the top level item in focus and scan the periphery in case something more important emerges.

Continuous partial attention is motivated by a desire not to miss opportunities. We want to ensure our place as a live node on the network, we feel alive when we’re connected. To be busy and to be connected is to be alive. We’ve been working to maximize opportunities and contacts in our life. So much social networking, so little time. Speed, agility, and connectivity at top of mind. Marketers humming that tune for two decades now. Now we’re over-stimulated, over-wound, unfulfilled.

Like most of us, I have experienced the negative impacts of technology and confess to many hours being spent in a state of continuous partial attention. That being said, I cannot see any reason why technology needs to have this negative impact on our effectiveness as leaders. Ultimately technology is just a tool. It is the decisions we make (or lack of decisions) that ultimately defines whether technology works effectively for us, or not.

There are countless models of leadership and lists of effective leadership behaviors. Rather than get bogged down in a debate abut effective leadership I found this (fairly) comprehensive list of leadership behaviours to see where technology is likely to have a positive or negative impact.

Leadership behaviours where technology has a positive impact

  • Collaborating Across the Organization
  • Keeping Things in Perspective (Humility & Gratitude)
  • Evaluating Risk
  • Managing Complexity & Ambiguity
  • Managing & Evaluating Performance
  • Communicating
  • Hiring Great Talent
  • Learning the Business

Leadership behaviours where technology is likely to have no impact

  • Driving Innovation
  • Demonstrating Passion for Your Work
  • Influencing Others
  • Resolving Conflict
  • Coaching & Developing Talent
  • Driving for Results
  • Delegating & Empowering
  • Motivating & Inspiring Others
  • Building High Performance Teams
  • Creating a Culture of Customer Focus
  • Setting Strategy & Priorities
  • Establishing a Vision & Mission
  • Listening
  • Being a Role Model for Integrity & Ethics
  • Demonstrating Optimism & Positive Energy

Leadership behaviours where technology is likely to have a negative impact

  • Being a Champion for Work/Life Balance
  • Managing Your Time

Although there is clearly a lack of scientific rigour behind my analysis, I would argue that the only two leadership behaviours that technology is likely to have a negative impact on is time management and work/life balance. This is far outweighed by the positive impact that technology can have on leadership (through improved communication, opportunities for learning and enlarged perspective). If we are being honest the negative impacts are also more to do with how we use technology rather than technology itself.

So as leaders what can we do to improve our technology usage?

  • Start by turning off all your alerts across all your devices. These are almost always set to be on by default and they are a constant drain on our attention and subsequently our effectiveness. Schedule time to review your communications (email, social media etc) or do it when you have finished a task.
  • Communicate better. How many emails do you get to clarify previous communications? Take the time to write your communications right the first time.
  • Start seeing their technology as a tool. Designers want us to have an emotional connection to our devices but ultimately they are just tools, just like a hammer and screwdriver.
  • Get some help. Given the amount of time that is spent using technology most of us are severely undertrained. Whether it be with established technologies such as email or emerging technologies such as social media and mobile computing, we can be much more effective and less prone to the negative impacts if we get some training.

Technology is not going away and we need to accept that the effective use of technology will increasingly be an integral part of effective leadership. By taking a more intentional approach to technology use we can continue to reap the benefits that it offers and maintain our focus and attention as leaders.