Useful Links: August 2011

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

A list of items I’ve come across recently that I found potentially useful, interesting, or just plain funny:

Cloning a Windows system disk using nothing but free software

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

As part of the process of replacing the hard disk in my server at home, I needed to clone the operating system between two drives. As my Windows Server installation consists of two partitions (my C: and a 100MB system reserved partition), I couldn’t use Microsoft’s disk imaging tool (imagex.exe) as it only works on single partitions (i.e. it’s not possible to image multiple partitions in a single operation).

I could have used commercial software like Symantec Ghost but I figured there must be a legitimate, free, way to do this by now and it turns out there is – I used the open source Clonezilla utility (I also considered some alternatives but found that some needed to be installed and I wanted something that would leave no trace on the system).

I had some issues at first – for some reason my machine wouldn’t boot from the CD I created but I found the best way was to install Clonezilla on the target disk.

To do this, I put the new disk in a USB HDD docking station and created a 200MB FAT partition on it. Next, I downloaded the .ZIP version of CloneZilla and copied the files to the new disk. I then ran /utils/win32/makeboot.bat to make the disk bootable (it’s important to run makeboot.bat from the new disk, not from the .ZIP file on the local system disk). The last step (which I didn’t see in the instructions and spent quite a bit of time troubleshooting) is to make the new disk active (using Disk Management or diskpart.exe).

With Clonezilla installed on my “new” disk, I connected it to the server and booted from this disk, electing to load CloneZilla into RAM and overwrite it as part of the cloning process.

I then left it to run for a few minutes before removing the old disk and rebooting back into Windows Server.

(Quite why I’m still running a Windows Server at home, I’m not sure… I don’t really need an Active Directory and for DNS, DHCP and TFTP I really should switch to Linux… I guess Windows is just what I know best… it’s comfortable!)

Three gotchas to be aware of:

  • If you don’t make the Clonezilla partition active you won’t be able to boot from it (basic, I know, but it’s not in the instructions that I followed).
  • Clonezilla clones the partitions as they are (i.e. it’s a clone – and there is no resizing to use additional space on the disk) – it’s easy to expand the volume later, but if you’re moving to a smaller disk, you may have to shrink the existing partition(s) before cloning.
  • The AMD64 version of Clonezilla hung at the calculating bitmap stage of the Partclone process , with a seemily random remaining time and 0% progress. I left this for several hours (on two occasions) and it did not complete (it appeared to write the partition structure to the disk, but not to transfer any data).  The “fix” seems to be to use the i686 version of Clonezilla.

Using Windows to remove a Mac OS X EFI partition from a disk

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

The old hard drive from my Mac is destined to find a new role in my low-power server (hopefully dropping the power consumption even further by switching from a 3.5″ disk to a 2.5″ disk). Before that can happen though, I needed to wipe it and clone my Windows Server installation.

After hooking the drive up, I found that it had two partitions: one large non-Windows partition that was easily removed in Server Manager’s Disk Management snap-in; and one EFI partition that Disk Management didn’t want to delete.

The answer, it seems, is to dive into the command line and use diskpart.exe.

After selecting the appropriate disk, the clean command quickly removed the offending partition. I then initialised it in Disk Management, electing to make it an MBR disk (it was GPT).

The perils of online billing…

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Like most people, the mail I receive from the postman these days breaks into three categories:

As I use Direct Debits to pay my bills, they generally need little more than a cursory glance before being “filed” (i.e. chucked in a big box until I get around to doing it properly) but I also elect for paper-free billing where it makes sense.

I say “where it makes sense” because so many organisations (e.g. First Direct, ING Direct, Marks and Spencer Money) seem to think that providing records in HTML, CSV or Quicken format is enough – and it’s not, in my opinion.  The paper-free billing that has value to me provides a PDF of the paper bill that would have been sent to me by post and organisations that do this include American Express, BT and E-ON.

The wrong way

If you were watching my Twitter stream over the weekend, you might have seen me ranting about BT‘s paper-free billing though, because there is a catch: and it’s one that’s worth knowing about.

I mentioned how haphazard my paper filing is and my digital filing is not much better.  I get the emails notifying me that my bill is ready for download and I generally think “OK, I’ll look at that later”.  After all, I know it will be paid (by Direct Debit) and, if there is a problem, I’ll notice the exceptionally large/small transaction on my bank account and investigate at that time.  Every once in a while, I get around to downloading the statements and storing them in my “digital filing cabinet” (my NAS, at home).

Except that I’m finding more and more of my providers don’t maintain a complete history for download. And BT was the one that really took the biscuit… I logged into BT’s website to retrieve my statements and successfully downloaded around 15 or 16 months’ worth. My problem was that I had a gap between the last time I did this, and the oldest statement available online.  I called BT, who told me I only have access to 6 months history (really? I can see more than that!) and that I could write a letter requesting the missing statements. Smelling a rat, I asked how much that would cost. £4.80 per bill, I was told. I said I wouldn’t be needing the address, thank you very much, and hung up.

Then I hit Twitter:

If you're going to encourage me to go for paper-free billing, the least you can do is keep my complete history online... #BTDoesntCare
Mark Wilson
#BT have advised me to *write them a letter* then they want me to pay £4.80 for each archived bill. So much for paper-free billing #epicfail
Mark Wilson

I got several sympathetic responses (including one follower who says BT promised him unlimited access to statements when he signed up for paper-free billing so he pushed the issue and was sent every single statement since his account was opened…) but one in particular copied in the @BTCare account. I had previously ignored that account, preferring hashtags like #BTDoesntCare because my previous experience of @BTCare had been unhelpful, but this time they responded with a URL for a web form, promising to follow up the issue.

The next day (a Sunday, no less, and which should be applauded), BT called (from a call centre in Northern Ireland, rather than the normal Indian operation) and explained that I only had access to 6 months statements online and words to the effect of “it wasn’t their fault I hadn’t downloaded my statements in time, as they had sent them to me each month by email”. I pointed out that they hadn’t sent me the statements – what they actually sent was an email saying words to the effect of “your statement is ready, when you want to go and take a look” but not “be quick before it’s gone”. I also highlighted that they give me a £1 a month discount for paper-free billing and to charge any more than that was unreasonable – £4.80 for access to old bills was obscene, especially as I don’t want a paper bill – the PDFs will be fine.  At this point BT changed tack, claiming that they had some discretion, and offering to email me the missing bills.  After needing to speak to my wife (because it’s her name on the account and they can’t cope with two people being jointly responsible for a bill…), they sent me the missing statements and I was a happy camper. Almost.

I say almost because this shouldn’t happen. How many people who are less connected online, or less pushy on the phone, would have just paid up the £33.60 BT wanted for seven statements and invested  time/effort/cost into posting a letter? And why is there only 6 months’ history available (and I’m “lucky” because I can see a bit more than that)?  The answer to that is poor IT, or poor decision making – presumably someone made an arbitrary decision to limit online statement availability and reduce the storage cost to BT – ironically, these statements are clearly available to BT’s customer services staff, although they may well be dynamically generated (as they used to be on the customer-facing website which, incidentally, was a painful process and the reason I rarely went in to download them!). Or, to take another view, how much did sorting out this mess cost BT (quite a bit, I would imagine, so surely it’s better to get it right first time)?

Thanks to @ for fixing up my issue with old statements: shame I had to push so hard; If only first contact centre could have helped...
Mark Wilson

The right way

Now let me give you an example of an organisation that has paper-free statements working perfectly: American Express.

I would use AmEx exclusively if only their cards were as widely accepted as Visa or Mastercard but their web portal allows me to download the most recent six months’ statements and, crucially, to request any previous statements for retrieval within 24 hours, at no cost to me.  At the back end, I’m sure the statements are pulled from near-line or off-line storage to on-line, managing American Express’ storage efficiently but almost transparently to me, and delivering an excellent customer experience.

I’ll finish this post (I’m sorry, it is a bit or a rant), with a partial retweet from Simon Bisson that just about sums up the situation for me:

RT @: [re: my missing statements] [...] They're records, they should be available to us for as long as we have accounts ^MW Hear hear
Mark Wilson

Well done American Express. BT and E-ON you need to do better. Bottom of the class: almost everyone else I deal with…

Finding the SIM serial number for my iPad, without taking the SIM out

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Earlier this afternoon, I was searching for my iPad’s cellular data number (CDN) and Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) serial number (I needed the last 6 digits for a password reset on my carrier’s billing portal).   The cellular data number is fairly straightforward (looking in the About screen in the General Settings) but the SIM is a little less so. My carrier (Three) advises taking the SIM out and physically inspecting it but I thought there had to be a way to do this in software…

…it turns out that there is: the SIM serial number is also known as the Integrated Circuit Card ID (ICCID) and Apple support article HT4061 details several ways to find this information, along with the device serial number, Universal Device Identifier (UDID), International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) and CDN.

Why “cloud” represents disruptive innovation – and the changes at HP are just the tip of the iceberg

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Yesterday, I wrote a post about disruptive innovation, based on a book I’d been reading: The Innovator’s Dilemma, by , by Clayton M Christensen.

In that post, I asked whether cloud computing is sustaining or disruptive – and I said I’d come back and explain my thoughts.

In some ways, it was a trick question: cloud computing is not a technology; it’s a business model for computing. On that basis, cloud cannot be a sustaining technology. Even so, some of the technologies that are encompassed in providing cloud services are sustaining innovations – for example many of the improvements in datacentre and server technologies.

If I consider the fact that cloud is creating a new value network, it’s certainly disruptive (and it’s got almost every established IT player running around trying to find a new angle). What’s different about the cloud is that retrenching and moving up-market will only help so much – the incumbents need to switch tracks successfully (or face oblivion).

Some traditional software companies (e.g. Microsoft) are attempting to move towards the cloud but have struggled to move customers from one-off licensing to a subscription model. Meanwhile, new entrants (e.g. Amazon) have come from nowhere and taken the market for inexpensive infrastructure as a service by storm. As a consequence, the market has defined itself as several strata of infrastructure-, platform- and software- (data- and business process- too) as-a-service. Established IT outsourcers can see the threat that cloud offers, know that they need to be there, and are aggressively restructuring their businesses to achieve the low margins that are required to compete.

We only have to look at what’s happened at HP recently to see evidence of this need for change. Faced with two quarters of disappointing results, their new CEO had little choice but to make sweeping changes. He announced an exit from the device space and an aquisition of a leading UK software company. Crucially, that company will retain its autonomy, and not just in name (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun) – allowing Autonomy to manage its own customers and grow within its own value network.

Only time will tell if HP’s bet on selling a profitable, market-leading, hardware business in order to turn the company around in the face of cloud computing turns out to be a mistake. I can see why they are getting out of the device market – Lenovo may have announced an increase in profits but we should remember Lenovo is IBM’s divested PC division, thriving in its own market, freed from the shackles of its previous owner and its high margin values. Michael Dell may joke about naming HP’s spin-off “Compaq” but Dell needs to watch out too. PCs are not dying, but the market is not growing either. Apple makes more money from tablets and smartphones than from PCs (Macs). What seems strange to me is that HP didn’t find a buyer for its personal systems group before announcing its intended exit.

If HP spins off their PC business....maybe they will call it Compaq?
Michael Dell

So, back to the point. Cloud computing is disruptive and established players have a right to be scared. Those providing technology for the cloud have less to worry about (notice that HP is retaining its enterprise servers and storage) but those of us in the managed services business could be in for a rough ride…

The theory of disruptive innovation (from The Innovator’s Dilemma)

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

I always like the idea of reading more business books, but somehow that doesn’t often transition to reality as I tend to use my travel time to listen to podcasts, catch up on email or Twitter and I’m more likely to read a novel or a magazine before I go to sleep at night.

Even so, I have a few business books on the go at the moment and, over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reading The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton M Christensen.

It’s a bit old now (first published in 1997) and not the easiest read in the world  as it gets a bit repetitive with it’s “tell them what you’re going to say, say it, tell them what you said” approach, nevertheless the author puts forward some interesting theories that are already making me think differently about some of the business decisions I’ve witnessed recently.  In this post, I’ll highlight some of the book’s key points and then I’ll follow up later this week with my thoughts on current IT industry issues and trends.

The book is predicated on the idea that there are two forms of innovation in technology:

  • Sustaining technologies foster improved product performance.
  • Disruptive technologies often worsen performance in the near term, and bring to market a very different value proposition. Typically though, these are cheaper, simpler, smaller and more convenient.

In part 1, the author looks at why great companies fail:

  • Sustaining technology innovations sound great – after all, everybody wants improved performance, don’t they? As it happens, no they don’t: sustaining innovation can lead to companies providing more than customers want or are prepared to pay for. This leaves an opportunity for new market entrants with disruptive innovations.
  • It’s also true that customers may not want disruptive technologies, at least not until a market has been created by others. The problem for established vendors is that, by the time the market is proven, it’s too late (or too difficult) for them to adapt. On the flip side, Clayton Christensen highlights that it’s very rare for new entrants to succeed in marketing sustaining innovations.
  • Another concept the book describes is that of value networks: these may be based on rank order of product characteristics but also on the cost structure required (e.g. margins, etc.). The principle is that technologies with attributes that are only valuable in networks with low gross margins will be ignored by those looking for high margin business. As companies grow, it gets harder to continue the same rate of growth so they start looking for bigger bets.
  • In the book, Clayton Christensen describes a technology “S” curve of performance vs. time or engineering effort. The trick is for companies to switch technologies at the right point on this curve (where a new technology rises to intercept an established technology) but, whilst this works for sustaining innovation, it’s less applicable for disruptive innovation as each new technology has different attributes of performance. Consequently, new entrants get their commercial start in emerging value networks before invading the established networks.
  • Established players can usually create the required technology to match disruptive entrants but it becomes a management decision about resource allocation (known as the “impetus to innovate”) – which would you do, given the choice of sustaining innovations to meet the needs of important customers or investing in disruptive innovations with small markets and unclear needs? And it’s this decision that, all too often, leaves the door open for others – maybe even for others from inside the organsation who leave to create a new venture.
  • Christensen highlights that disruptive technologies don’t match the “S” curve and, typically they improve at a parallel pace with the established value network. Instead of looking for the point where new intercepts old (as with sustaining innovation), the aim is to look for the point where the emerging (disruptive) technology intercepts the market need.Impact of sustaining and disruptive technological change
  • New technologies may well intercept the old ones if the trajectories are different and this allows new entrants to join established value networks (because progress has diminished the differences between technologies). Put differently, once two technologies can both meet a need, the fact that one can do it better ceases to be of competitive relevance.Innovation and value networks
  • For established vendors, Christensen suggests it’s not a problem of being sleepy or of arrogant management – often the disruptive technology simply didn’t make sense (in their value network) – at least not until it was too late. It’s a lot easier to companies to move upmarket into established value networks, but harder to go down. Essentially, middle management will screen innovation projects from deep within organisation by only sponsoring those likely to succeed – i.e. those with a clear market demand. This market demand can be attributed to three factors:
    1. The promise of up-market margins.
    2. Upmarket movement of many customers.
    3. Difficulty cutting costs to move down-market profitably.
  • This creates a vacuum downmarket for new entrants with disruptive technologies and cost structures that are better suited to competition.

Part 2 of the book looks at managing disruptive technology change:

  • In addressing the challenge of allocating finite resources to innovation projects with unclear returns, one approach is to spin out a new organisation. This new organisation can develop new products without the constraints of the old business, then bring back its values back in house (perhaps replacing most of the old company) once established. It’s also possible to do this with organisational units within a company but resource allocation is a challenge and often fails. The key appears to be embedding independent organisations with different value networks – for example to be able to “get excited about a $50,000 order” when the company is used to $1m orders! Each organisation has to be free to persue its own customers as a separate organisational unit and to compete.
  • Another point that Clayton Christensen makes is that leading in developing and adopting sustaining technologies gives no discernible competitive advantage. On the other hand, leadership in disruptive technologies creates enormous value. Effectively there is a trade-off, exchanging market risk (i.e. the risk that an emerging market might not develop) for competitive risk (entering a market against entrenched competition).  Because markets that do not yet exist cannot be analysed, in order to confront disruptive change, it is necessary to plan for learning and discovery rather than execution.
  • It’s also important to recognise that a failed idea is not the same as a failed business. It’s common for a business to abandon it’s original business strategy after implementation highlights what would/wouldn’t work in the market. Chritensen suggests that guessing the right strategy at the outset is less important than running out of resources or credibility before iterating towards a viable strategy.
  • On the other hand, failed ideas are a different story when it relates to management careers where a failed idea/project can block career progress so we’re generally often unwilling to take on the risk of disruptive technologies. As failure is intrinsic to the process of finding new markets for technologies we have to plan to learn rather than plan to execute. Often this means using discovery-driven planning (identify assumptions upon which business plans/aspirations are based) to test market assumptions before committing.
  • Markets for disruptive technologies often emerge from unanticipated success and Clayton Christensen suggests that discoveries come from sharing how people use a product rather than listening to what they say. In effect, he advises getting out of labs and focus groups, and creating knowledge from discovery-driven expeditions into the marketplace.
  • Even if people have the capabilities to tackle innovation, the organisation in which they work may not. Clayton Christensen suggests looking at organisational capabilities in terms of resources, processes and values. In their startup phase, resources (people) are important to a business; later, the emphasis shifts to process and value. Even with change management, processes are not as flexible as resources (we can train people to be multiskilled) – and values are less so. If an organisation lacks capabilities the options are:
    • Acquire a new organisation.
    • Try to change processes and values.
    • Create a separate, independent, organisation.
  • In the last of these, physical separation is less important than a separate resource allocation process.
  • As we experience performance oversupply, performance attributes change such that, for example, as a product meets market demand for capacity, size, reliability, price etc. become differentiators. When this is completely played out, the product becomes a commodity. Effectively, differentiators lose value when features and functionality exceed market demands.
  • Clayton Christensen attributes a customer buying hierarchy to Windermere Associates’ that identifies four phases of functionality, reliability, convenience and price. Another conception of evolution/technology adoption comes from Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm with innovators/early adopters, early majority, late majority [and laggards]. Using this model there is a price premium for early adoption, reliability is important for the early majority, and convenience for the late majority.Technology Adoption Process
  • The same attributes that make disruptive technologies worthless in mainstream markets become strong selling points in emerging markets – as disruptive technologies tend to be simpler, cheaper, more reliable and convenient. Therefore, Christensen suggests three strategies to deal with performance oversupply:
    1. Move upmarket: command a premium for better performance.
    2. Move with the customer, introduce new, disruptive technologies.
    3. Market to convince the customer that they need better performance.

There’s a lot more detail in the book and, although it can be heavy going at times. The writing style, together with notes at the end of each chapter betray the research/academic focus, which provides good accountability but is not easy to skim.

Throughout The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton M Christensen uses the disk drive industry as an example (along with other examples from the excavation and steel-making industries) but I can see some parallels with cloud computing too. In my next post, I’ll explain my thinking, but in the meantime I’d like to throw out a question:

Is cloud computing disruptive or is it a sustaining technology?

Finally, if you, like me, find these theories interetsing, you might also be interested in the Disruptive Library Technology Jester, who has produced a pocket-sized graph of the theory of disruptive innovation.

Rumours of the death of IT consumerisation have been greatly exaggerated

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

If you follow anyone IT-related on Twitter, or even the mainstream media, it’s difficult to have missed Hewlett-Packard (HP)’s news that it is planning to discontinue the production of WebOS devices and is considering a full or partial separation of its personal systems group.

I’m not entirely comfortable with commenting on a competitor’s business strategy on a Fujitsu blog (so I won’t) but I was more than a little surprised this morning when I saw CloudPro’s article suggesting that “HP’s cloud bet could kill consumerisation in IT“. Really?

Yes, all that glitters is not gold and, undoubtedly, there are some challenges for device manufacturers to overcome but, as Joe Baguley (EMEA Chief Cloud Technologist at VMware) has presented on a number of occasions, the consumerisation of IT is nothing to do with iPads, TouchPads (or even Stylistic Q550s…). It’s not about any device!

Put simply, the consumerisation of enterprise IT is about providing IT as-a-service.

Prior to the emergence of the world-wide web, users did what they were told to – making use of the hardware and software that the IT department provided. Now the dynamic has changed: the boundaries between work and play have eroded and, for many knowledge workers, there is no clear separation between business and personal tasks. Work has become something we do, not a place where we go, and those “users” have become consumers.

Consumers want to feel empowered – they desire flexibility, personalisation and immediate gratification. Our information workers want IT to work for them, in the way that they need it to work. They desire a portable, device independent, always-on (and instant-on) modern working environment that provides access to information from any device (including data synchronisation), with self-service subscriptions to provide access to application stores/portals and personal/professional persona management. If that sounds challenging, they are used to this in the consumer space – now they want it in business and a sizable proportion of employees are circumventing IT policies to self-provision at least a part of their IT toolkit.

Just like our banks, social networks, recreational websites and email, the organisational IT department has become a service provider. Furthermore, if the IT department can’t provide a service, consumers are happy to go elsewhere – leading to the emergence of what has become known as shadow IT.

Sometimes this shadow IT grows out of the need to do something that’s not possible on the corporate infrastructure (like using Dropbox to share a file with a colleague in another part of the world); and sometimes it’s officially sanctioned (for example, a business unit director deciding that is a more appropriate CRM solution than the IT-provided line of business application).

Regardless of the source of the shadow IT, it takes a brave CIO to try and fight it. Whether the approach is to embrace, contain, block or ignore, consumerisation is a trend that’s increasingly difficult to avoid.

[This post originally appeared on the Fujitsu UK and Ireland CTO Blog.]

Adding Twitter’s RSS to Feedburner

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

I spent some time yesterday afternoon working my way through an article on SEO-ing Twitter profile pages.  Whilst I don’t agree with absolutely every point in the article (e.g. is too many letters for a URL shortener – I like to use with a custom domain), it does contains some good advice (who would have thought of naming their Twitter profile picture to include appropriate keywords?). One point that doesn’t work though, is feeding your Twitter RSS feed to Feedburner.

There is a workaround though. Following Michael Phipps’ advice, I created a page called twitterfeed.php with the following code:

I then fed the URL for this page into Feedburner. I’d prefer to use an address on my own domain though – and it’s simple enough to create an HTML page to redirect to the correct location (and to add information for browsers to recognise the RSS location):

@MarkWilsonIT on Twitter

Redirecting to the @MarkWilsonIT Twitter RSS feed. If you’re not redirected within a couple of seconds,
try this link: @MarkWilsonIT on Twitter

The downside of this is that Outlook doesn’t like an RSS feed that’s redirected from HTML. Google Reader seems happy with the redirection although, because it does actually resolve to the Feedburner address, it won’t help me should I move the feed elsewhere in future…

In the end, I’m not sure what this achieves, but you can now subscribe to my tweets via RSS

Some thoughts on modern communications and the boundary between work and play…

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

A few months ago, I wrote a post for the Fujitsu CTO Blog about modern communications. In it, I posited the concept of “service level agreements“ for corporate communications:

“[…] regaining productivity has to be about controlling the interruptions. I suggest closing Outlook. Think of it as an email/calendar client – not the place in which to spend one’s day – and the “toast” that pops up each time a message arrives is a distraction. Even having the application open is a distraction. Dip in 3 times a day, 5 times a day, every hour, or however often is appropriate but emails should not require nor expect an immediate response. Then there’s instant messaging: the name “instant” suggests the response time but presence is a valuable indicator – if my presence is “busy”, then I probably am. Try to contact me if you like but don’t be surprised if I ignore it until a better time. Finally, social networking: which is both a great aid to influencing others and to keeping abreast of developments but can also be what my wife would call a “time-Hoover” – so don’t even think that you can read every message – just dip in from time to time and join the conversation, then leave again.”

I started to think about this again last week. I was on holiday but that doesn’t mean I stopped communicating with my colleagues. I’ll admit it let me be selective in my responses (i.e. there are a lot of things happening at work right now and I answered the messages that were important or interesting to me, leaving many items for my return – after all, I had set an out of office message) but there were a few times when my wife asked me if I was working, as she saw me tapping away on my iPhone…

I maintain that work is something I do, not a place where I go and that, in this day and age (and at my level of responsibility), there is a grey area between work and play so I was enraged when I read an idiotic post about how telecommuting does not work (hello, 1980 is calling… and it wants you back…). Indeed, my “home-base” is one of the things that attracts me to my current role. Getting me back into a 5-day commute to an office that’s probably at least an hour (and maybe two) from home will require some serious persuasion…

So where is the line? Should we all leave the office and stop checking our devices at the end of “the working day”? What about social networking – part of my job is to build a reputation (and therefore enhance my employer’s) as a thought leader – should I ignore something on Twitter because it’s not “work time”? Or should I ignore Twitter, Foursquare, etc. because it is “work time”? Should I be writing this blog post at 8.30pm? But then again, it is on my personal blog… even if a version of the post might eventually appear on a company-owned website…

In the end, I suggest that the answer is about outputs, not inputs. If I’m producing results, my management team should (and, in fairness, probably will) be comfortable, regardless of how many hours I put in. On the flip-side, there are times when I need to work some very long days just to make sure that I can produce those results – and I’ll get frustrated with organisational challenges, non-functioning IT, pointless meetings and disruptive colleagues, just as everyone else does in a modern office environment.

The days of the 9-5 job are long gone (for knowledge workers at least), but so are the 8-6s and even the 8-8s. We live in a 24 hour society – and the new challenge is finding a balance between “work” and “play”.  I’d be interested to hear your thoughts…