Use it or lose it

I’ve written a few times for Image and Data Manager (aka IDM) magazine now and in the recently published Jan/Feb 2005 edition you’ll find my latest article, Use it or lose it.

In this article I investigate the relationship between usability, measuring results and success with technology. For the article I interviewed Tony Biddle, a consultant from UsabilityOne, and spoke with Kevin O’Donnell from the Australian Institute for Project Management. I worked with Kevin at Ernst & Young for a while and he has applied his content management skills to improve usage of the AIPM Website – a great example that shows getting good usage isn’t always about having the coolest site, but about getting users to the information and resources they need.

BTW You can find an archive of past articles on my Website and my most recent article will be added in due course. Look out for a critical review of Wiki technology in a future edition of IDM.

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The Right Mind-set for Managing IT

I was researching something else when I came across this great Harvard Business Review article from 1998, titled “The Right Mind-set for Managing Information Technology“. It compares western and Japanese approaches to managing IT.

What I like about this article is that first they identify five common business and technology problems:

  1. IT investments aren’t linked to business strategy;
  2. Payoff from IT investments isn’t enough;
  3. Too much technology for technology’s sake;
  4. Poor relationships between users and IT specialists; and
  5. System designs don’t consider user preferences and work habits.

Sound familiar? Then then analyse and compare the way western and Japanese managers frame IT. In summary they suggest that the Japanese have better practical outcomes with IT because they use strategic instinct to identify appropriate technology that are designed around how humans work. They measure on performance improvement and encourage organizational bonding between IT and users by colocating and rotating staff.

The authors claim that one outcome of the Japanese approach is that IT spending is focused on incremental continuous improvement – fast forward to 2004 and this is very similar to an argument that Leigh Moyle (from Intranetworks) and I put forward in this article we wrote for Image and Data Manager magazine, called “The Search for the Perfect Intranet“. The point around design reminds me of the point may by Tom Davenport in another HBR article, titled “Saving IT’s Soul: Human-Centered Information Management“.

Even if you don’t accept the comparison or the analysis, the idea of reflecting on the mind-set we use to plan, design and manage information technology is a useful one.

Digital Pen and Paper

Considering I was only just talking about the design qualities of the ol’Bic biro yesterday, I noticed today that there is a lot of excitement at the moment about new “digital pen and paper” from HP and Nokia. Apparently this is a real bonus for organisations that need to fill out lots of forms – the information can be captured on paper and digital format at the same time so it can be transferred into a database.

According to this report in ARNnet each pen costs US$199, but rest assured that if you happen to lose one it can be deactivated. Maybe I’m missing something, but surely the types of environment (and users) that might use this solution are probably the type that are going to lose a lot of pens? (this is just based on my own experiences of course…)

What is Good Design?

The Design Museum in London, UK, recently asked visitors to nominate suggestions for the best low-cost innovation (“Under a Tenner” – pdf of the media release). The most popular choice was the humble Bic ballpoint pen according to a report in the UK’s Daily Telegraph. According to the Telegraph, the biro was extolled in the exhibition by Fernando and Humberto Campana, a pair of Brazilian furniture designers, who described it as “practical and easy to find, ergonomy while writing.”

I wonder what people would have suggested if they were asked to nominate the best information technology innovations? Someone who might have an opinion on this is Donald Norman – he has a list of well designed products (not all IT related) that he considers to have “special positive characteristic worthy of comment”. In particular I like the reference to Goggle’s non-error messages. Predictably Apple’s iPod is also listed… but I guess being popular, not clever, is what this is all about.

Beware the Instant Messaging Bogeymen

I couldn’t help but react to this post in excited utterances about the risks of instant messaging (IM) for the legal industry. I commented that:

“Oh dear, I had thought the days of the IM bogeymen were just a distant memory. The instant messaging phenomenon might be new to the legal industry but else where it has already taken off and in fact the compliance tools already exist. While Whitfield and Thompson focus on the risks of chat they fail to mention the benefits of “presence” provided by IM and how IM bots can provide alternative interfaces into other databases and systems. By the way, the key lesson from other industries is that if legal firms ignore IM and fail to implement corporate solutions, users will find their own.”

Maybe I was bit tough, but IM is often misrepresented. True, it isn’t appropriate in all circumstances (just like any kind of information technology) but to evaluate IM you need to look at range of benefits it provides including chat, presence and integration with other systems within the broader context of the organisation where it is being used. There I’ve said it and now I feel much better 🙂