I have some advice for IT Admins and I'm not pointing the finger. Four fingers are pointing back at me and it's something I need to work on. 2017 is the year of simplification in technology, for me and my work. The pace of constant change is difficult to keep up with. I'm a tech enthusiast and I easily get caught up in the buzz of the new and shiny. Many times I have been guilty of playing my part in amplifying a message about some new tech or feature, without taking the time to evaluate it from multiple viewpoints. I have been just another voice saying that "you need this because it can do all this stuff." It is exhausting. To those who were put out by my enthusiasm, I'm sorry. I have taken time to reflect and you were right. Well, mostly right. Make more time to pause and consider, not just at the end of the year and the beginning of a new one.
The tech industry parallels the consumer industry. It has been said that fashion now works on 52 seasons a year. A new line of clothing is released each week to keep us in perpetual dissatisfaction. In the same way, technology is created and improved upon to fill a need. Or a perceived need. New products and features take time to develop and are slowly released on a carefully planned schedule. One of the considerations for the timing of release is to sustain multiple pockets of interest and delight, spanning a long period of time. Just when you were getting used to what you have, another thing is released which does it better, faster and with more smarts.
Do you really need it? Does your organization really need it? How did we get into this cycle of constantly looking for the next feature release and trying to adopt it, without evaluating it or properly establishing what we currently have?
Consumerization of IT then is not just about workers using personal electronics at work, or using consumer software as a service to fulfill business needs. Consumerization of IT also encompasses the expectation that our organizational technology will update at an ever-increasing rate of delivery and give us something new and shiny to play with. Even at work now as consumers, more of us are being shaped into the thinking of "we want more and we want it now."
So I ask this. How is your organization coping with change in technology and new features? Do your people have change fatigue, that is a drain on their work and personal lives? Let me encourage you to help reduce one area of stress for your organization and for yourself. Evaluate your information architecture and simplify it. This thought was inspired after watching "Minimalism: A documentary about the important things." You can reduce a lot of personal stress when you evaluate your wants, your haves and your real needs. The Notorious B.I.G. wrote "Mo Money Mo Problems." I think it can be paraphrased more stuff, more problems. If it's true of our personal lives, then it's true of our working lives and our organizations.
Here's a few under-developed thoughts I'll be working on this coming year.
Be intimately aware of your organization's technology needs, first and foremost.
- Talk regularly with heads of departments, managers, in your workgroups and with end-users. End-users especially. Make an effort to find out how different people work with information in your organization. Learn how they use tech to communicate, collaborate and coordinate.
- Listen to pain points. They are the real needs. This often isn't a pleasant activity. But it can result in a pleasant outcome, when the real needs are addressed. Some people you talk to don't know tech like you do. Be patient. Listen. Translate. It's your job to translate the language of a real need and consider how technology can address it.
- Identify trends in the pain points. Trends within workgroups, across departments and the whole organization. Target the common problems and develop a roadmap to address real needs rather than upgrades for upgrading's sake.
Create a simple, usable information architecture.
- We all have work to do. Technology should support work. Not the other way around. The only group of people who work to support tech are you, the IT department. For everyone else, technology should not be a barrier to work, or the focus. There is enough to learn and keep up with in our jobs. We don't need technology to be another contributor to stress. So it is important that we are all able to easily create, interact with and store information.
- Simplify the information architecture at the levels you have influence in. The higher level of influence will of course require discussion, planning, compromises and agreements, coordination - that being the organizational level. But you can start with your department, your workgroup, a project which you are collaborating with others on. Or just your own personal productivity space.
- Make sure the simple information architecture can be easily learned and adopted by the majority of people in your organization. You won't be able to please everybody. But you can make it easier for those less able to learn and adopt.
- Co-create your organization's simplified information architecture. Demonstrate it. Test it. Pilot it. Get feedback from all levels of your organization. This advice sounds obvious. But in the fast pace of cloud technology and releases, we can easily lose our way.
New features should be carefully evaluated as to whether or not they truly enhance your simplified info architecture.
If it's a feature without a need, return to point 1. and discuss the feature with heads of departments, managers and end-users - real people with real needs. The new feature may still be a useful enhancement. Or it could address a future need, but don't assume that every new feature will. Consider:
- What value does the feature add?
- What improvement does it make to the information architecture? Does it keep it simple? Does it offer a simple progression in skill level? Or does it unnecessarily complicate?
- How easily is the feature used and adopted by the different people you have in your organization?
Address change management. Plan to enable and release features when your people are ready.
Our organizations are made up of people with varying levels of technical ability, adaptability and curiosity. Some are confident and always look for smarter ways to work using the technology available to them. They are more likely to try something new that appears in their work tools and evaluate it's usefulness and effectiveness. These people are your test pilots. Others will take longer to adopt something new that can help them. It's not because they are resistant. They are very busy people or people who need help offered using a different approach. People learn differently. Recognize this and make it easier for them to learn at the pace that best suits them. If your organization is using software as a service, you may have less control of when features are release. But if Office 365 is one of your core systems, take advantage of the following:
- Form a pilot group. But make membership conditional on a commitment to giving regular feedback, be it formally or informally. Remember I encouraged you to talk regularly with people in your organization about how they work with information and technology? You too need to make a commitment to regularly ask for feedback, interpret it and adjust the plan for the rest of the organization.
- Identify your technically inquisitive and confident people. Use Office 365's "First Release for select people" and add them to this group. They will be the first to receive updates to Office 365.
- Identify a few people who find technology challenging and work closer with them, adding them to First Release for select people. These people will need more help, but they play the role of your temperature gauge. They will help you identify which features will need more guidance for the rest of the organization.
I needed this time to reflect and remind myself of the purpose of IT. It's very easy to get caught up in the Consumerization of IT and constantly wanting more "new" to play with. But it's out job as IT professionals to make sure information is accessible and usable by those who need it and should have access to it. Address real needs this year. Make it easier on your organization and simplify wherever it's possible.