Last Orders at The Fantastic Tavern (#TFTLondon)

This content is 12 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 Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

About a year ago, I wrote about a fantastic concept called The Fantastic Tavern (TFT), started by Matt Bagwell (@mattbagwell) of EMC Consulting (ex-Conchango – where I also have some history). Since then I’ve been to a few more TFTs (and written about them here) and they’ve got bigger, and bigger. What was a few people in a pub is now a major logistical challenge and Matt’s decided to call it a day. But boy did it go out with a bang?!

Last night’s TFT was at Ravensbourne (@RavensbourneUK) – a fantastic mixture of education and business innovation hub on London’s Greenwich peninsula. I was blown away by what Chris Thompson and the team at Ravensbourne have achieved, so I’ll write about that another day. Suffice to say, I wish my university had worked like that…

Last night’s topic was 2012 trends. Personally, I thought the Top Gear-style cool wall (“sooo last year, tepid, cool, sub-zero”) was way off the mark (in terms of placing the trends) but that doesn’t really matter – there were some great pitches from the Ravensbourne students and other invited speakers – more than I can do justice to in a single blog post so I’ll come back and edit this later as the presentations go online (assuming that they will!)

The evening was introduced by Mike Short, VP of Innovation and R&D at O2/Telefonica who also sits on the board of governors at Ravensbourne and so is intimately involved in taking an institution with its rooms in Bromley College of Art (of David Bowie fame) from Chiselhurst to provide art, design, fashion, Internet and multimedia education on Greenwich Peninsular, next to the most visited entertainment venue in the world (The O2 – or North Greenwich Arena). Mike spoke about O2’s plans for an new business incubator project that O2 is bringing to London in the next 3 months as O2 looks at taking the world’s 6bn mobile device subscribers (not just phones, but broadband, payment systems, etc.) to connect education, healthcare, transport and more. In an industry that’s barely 25 years old, by the end of the year there will be more devices than people (the UK passed this point in 2006) and the market is expected to grow to more than 20bn customers by 2020.

Matt then spoke about the omni-channel world in which we live (beyond multi-channel) – simultaneously interacting on all channels and fuelling a desire “to do things faster”.

Moving on to the 2012 trends, we saw:

  • A. Craddock talking about smart tags – RFID and NFC tokens that can interact with our mobile devices and change their behaviour (e.g. switch to/from silent mode).  These can be used to simplify our daily routine to simply enable/disable functionality, share information, make payments, etc. but we also need to consider privacy (location tracking, etc. – opt in/out), openness (may be a benefit for some), ecology (printable tags using biodegradable materials) and device functionality (i.e. will they work with all phones – or just a subset of smartphones).
  • Riccie Audrie-Janus (@_riccie) talking about how, in order to make good use of technology, we need to look at the people element first.  I was unconvinced – successful technology implementation is about people, process and technology and I don’t think it matters that kids don’t understand the significance of a floppy disk icon when saving a document – but she had some interesting points to make about our need to adapt to ever-more-rapidly developing technology as we progress towards an ever-more complex world where computing and biology combine.
  • @asenasen speaking about using DIY healthcare to help focus resources and address issues of population growth, economics and cost. Technology can’t replace surgeons but it can help people make better healthcare decisions with examples including: WebMD for self-diagnosis; PatientsLikeMe providing a social network; apps to interact with our environment and translate into health benefits (e.g. Daily Burn); peripheral devices like FitBit [Nike+, etc.] that interact with apps and present challenges. It’s not just in the consumer space either with Airstrip Technologies creating apps for healthcare professionals. Meanwhile, in the developing world SMS can be used (ChildCount), whilst in Japan new toilets are being developed that can, erhum, analyse our “output”.  Technology has the potential to transform personal health and enable the smart distribution of healthcare.
  • Matt Fox (@mattrfox) talked about 2012 becoming the year of the artist-entrepreneur, citing Louis CK as an example, talking about dangerous legislation like SOPA, YCombinator’s plans to “Kill Hollywood”, Megabox (foiled by the MegaUpload takedown) and Pirate Bay’s evolution of file sharing to include rapid prototype designs. Matt’s final point was that industry is curtaining innovation – and we need to innovate past this problem.
  • Chris Hall (@chrisrhall) spoke about “Grannies being the future” – using examples of early retirement leaving pensioners with money and an opportunity to become entrepreneurs (given life expectancy of 81 years for a man in the UK, and citing Trevor Baylis as an example). I think hit onto something here – we need to embrace experience to create new opportunities for the young, but I’m not sure how many more people will enjoy early retirement, or that there will be much money sloshing around from property as we increasingly find it necessary to have 35 year and even multi-generation mortgages.
  • James Greenaway (@jvgreenaway) talked about social accreditation – taking qualifications online, alongside our social personas. We gain achievements on our games consoles, casual games (Farmville), social media (Foursquare), crowdsourcing (Stack Overflow) etc. – so why not integrate that with education (P2PU, eHow and iTunes U) and open all of our achievements to the web. James showed more examples to help with reputation management (spider  graphs showing what we’re good at [maybe combined with a future of results-oriented working?]) and really sees a future for new ways of assessing and proving skills becoming accepted.
  • Ashley Pollak from ETIO spoke about the return of craft, as we turn off and tune out. Having only listened to Radio 4’s adaptation of Susan Maushart’s Winter of Our Disconnect the same day, I could relate to the need to step back from the always connected world and find a more relevant, less consuming experience. And as I struggle to balance work and this blog post this morning I see advantages in reducing the frequency of social media conversations but increasing the quality!
  • Ravensbourne’s Chris Thompson spoke about virtual innovation – how Cisco is creating a British Innovation Gateway to connect incubators and research centres of excellence – and how incubation projects can now be based in the cloud and are no longer predicated on where a university is located, but where ideas start and end.
  • The next pitch was about new perspectives – as traditional photography dies (er… not on my watch) in favour of new visual experiences. More than just 3D but plenoptic (or light field) cameras, time of flight cameras, depth sensors, LIDAR and 3D scanning and printing. There are certainly some exciting things happening (like Tesco Augmented Reality) – and the London 2012 Olympics will e filmed in 3D and presented in interactive 360 format.
  • Augment and Mix was a quick talk about how RSA Animate talks use a technique called scribing to take content that is great, but maybe not that well presented, and make it entertaining by re-interpreting/illustrating. Scribing may be “sooo last year” but there are other examples too – such as “Shakespeare in 90 seconds” and “Potted Potter”.
  • Lee Morgenroth’s (@leemailme‘s) pitch was for Leemail – a system that allows private addresses to be used for web sign-ups (one per site) and then turned on/off at will. My more-technically minded friends say “I’ve been doing that for years with different aliases” – personally I just use a single address and a decent spam filter (actually, not quite as good since switching from GMail to Office 365) – but I think Lee may be on to something for non-geeks… let’s see!
  • Finally, we saw a film from LS:N profiling some key trends from the last 10 years, as predicted and in reality (actually, I missed most of that for a tour of Ravensbourne!)

There were some amazing talks and some great ideas – I certainly took a lot away from last night in terms of inspiration so thank you to all the speakers. Thanks also to Matt, Michelle (@michelleflynn) and everyone else involved in making last night’s TFT (and all the previous events) happen. It’s been a blast – and I look forward to seeing what happens next…

[I rushed this post out this morning but fully intend to come back and add more links, videos, presentations, etc. later – so please check back next week!]

Could this be the ultimate unified messaging client?

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.

Much has been made of the slow death of email and the rise of enterprise social software so I was interested to read a recent paper in which Benno Zollner, Fujitsu’s global CIO, commented on the need to balance email usage with other communications mechanisms.

In the paper, Benno posits a view that we’re entering not just a post-PC era but a post-email era where we use a plethora of devices and protocols. This is driven by a convergence of voice and data (not just on smartphones, but on the “desktop” too – Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype shows how seriously they are taking this) but also the enterprise social software that’s extending our traditional collaboration platforms to offer what was once referred to as a “web 2.0” experience, only inside the corporate network.  Actually, I’m slightly uncomfortable with that last sentence – not just because as I find the terms “web 2.0” and “enterprise 2.0” to be cringe-worthy but, also, the concept of the corporate network is becoming less and less relevant as we transact more and more business in the cloud, using the mobile Internet, Wi-Fi hotspots and home broadband. Even so, it illustrates my point, that social networking is very much a part of the modern business environment, alongside traditional communications mechanisms including the telephone and email.

A few months ago, I wrote about the need to prioritise communications but I can see us taking a step further in the not-too-distant future.  Why do I need an email client (Microsoft Outlook), multiple instant messaging/presence/voice over IP (VoIP) clients (Microsoft Office Communicator/Lync/Skype) a Twitter client (TweetDeck), Enterprise social software (Microsoft SharePoint/Newsgator Social Sites/Salesforce Chatter) and a combination of mobile and desk-based phones (don’t forget SMS on that mobile too!)? Plenty has been made of the ability to use VoIP to ring several phones simultaneously, to call the phone that best matches my presence or to divert the call to a unified messaging inbox but why limit this to telephony?

I can envisage a time when we each have a consolidated communications client – one that recognises who we’re trying to communicate with and picks the appropriate channel to contact them.  If I’m sending a message to my wife and she’s at her desk, then email is fine but if I can tell she’s on the school run then why not route it to her mobile phone by SMS?  Similarly, advanced presence information can be used to route communications over a variety of channels to favour that which each of my contacts tends to use in a given scenario.  Perhaps the software knows that a contact is not available via instant messaging but is signed in to Twitter and can be contacted with a direct message.  Maybe I can receive a précis of an urgent report on my smartphone but the full version is available at my desk. The possibilities are vast but the main point is that the sender shouldn’t need to pick and choose the medium; instead, software can take into account the preferences of the recipient and route the communication accordingly (taking into account that some transport mechanisms may not guarantee delivery). Could this be the ultimate unified messaging client?

Email isn’t dead – but soon we won’t care whether our messages are sent via SMTP, SIP, SMS or semaphore – just as long as they arrive in a manner that ensures an efficient communication process and lets us focus on the task at hand, rather than spending the day working our way through our inboxes.

This post originally appeared on the Fujitsu UK and Ireland CTO Blog and is based on a concept proposed by Ian Mitchell.

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…

Office 365 message filtering (and a horrible little bug that leaves email addresses exposed…)

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.

One of my concerns with my recent switch from Google Apps Mail to Microsoft Office 365 was about spam email. You see, I get none.  Well, when I say I get none, I get plenty but it’s all trapped for me. With no effort on my part. Only a handful of missed spam messages in the last 2 or 3 years and almost as few false positives too.

I’ve had the same email address for about 12 years now (I think), and it’s been used all over the web. Some of my friends are more particular though – and, perhaps understandably, were annoyed when I accidentally emailed around 40 people with e-mail addresses visible in the To: field today. Except that I hadn’t intended to.

I think I’ve found a bug in Office 365’s Outlook Web App (at least, I hope it’s not closed as “by design”, assuming I find out how to file a bug report). If I send to a distribution group, it automatically expands the addresses and displays them to all recipients. That’s bad.

The annoying thing is that, previously, I had been BCCing the recipients. I have a feeling that at least one organisation was rejecting my mail because there was nothing in the To: field (although it didn’t like Google’s propensity to send mail from one domain “on behalf of” another address either), so I thought I’d use a list instead and the recipients would see the list name, rather than the actual email addresses. Thankfully it was only sent to my closest freinds and family (although that’s not really the point).

So, back to spam and Office 365 – does it live up to my previous experience with Google Apps Mail? Actually, yes I think it does. I’ve had to teach it a couple of safe senders and block a couple of others, but it really was just a handful and it’s settled down nicely.

All of Microsoft’s cloud-based e-mail services use Forefront Online Protection for Exchange. Enterprise administrators have some additional functionality (adapting SCL thresholds, etc.) but things seem to be working pretty well on my small business account too. Digging around in the various servers that the mail passes through sees hosts at bigfish.com and frontbridge.com – Frontbridge was an aquisition that has become part of Exchange Hosted Services (and it started out as Bigfish Communications) – so the technology is established, and another Microsoft property (Hotmail) is a pretty good test bed to find and filter the world’s spam.

Some thoughts on modern communications and avoiding the “time-Hoover”

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.

Last week I was reading an article by Shelley Portet looking at how poor productivity and rudeness are influenced by technology interruptions at work. As someone who’s just managed to escape from email jail yet again (actually, I’m on parole – my inbox may finally be at zero but I still have hundreds of items requiring action) I have to say that, despite all the best intentions, experience shows that I’m a repeat offender, an habitual email mis-manager – and email is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Nowadays email is just one of many forms of communication: there’s instant messaging; “web 2.0″ features on intranet sites (blogs, wikis, discussion forums); our internal social networking platform; business and personal use of external social networks (Twitter, LinkedIn, Slideshare, YouTube, Facebook… the list goes on) – so how can we prepare our knowledge workers for dealing with this barrage of interruptions?

There are various schools of thought on email management and I find that Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero principles work well (see this video from Merlin Mann’s Google Tech Talk using these slides on action-based email – or flick through the Michael Reynolds version for the highlights), as long as one always manages to process to zero (that’s the tricky part that lands me back in email jail).

The trouble is that Inbox Zero only deals with the manifestation of the problem, not the root cause: people. Why do we send these messages? And how do we act on them?

A couple of colleagues have suggested recently that the trouble with email is that people confuse sending an email with completing an action as if, somehow, the departure of the message from someone’s outbox on its way to someone else’s inbox implies a transfer of responsibility. Except that it doesn’t – there are many demands on my colleagues’ time and it’s up to me to ensure that we’re all working towards a common goal. I can help by making my expectations clear; I can think carefully before carbon copying or replying to all; I can make sure I’m brief and to the point (but not ambiguous) – but those are all items of email etiquette. They don’t actually help to reduce the volumes of messages sent and received. Incidentally, I’m using email as an example here – many of the issues are common whatever the communications medium (back to handwritten letters and typed memos as well as forwards to social networking) but, ultimately I’m either trying to:

  • Inform someone that something has happened, will soon happen, or otherwise communicate something on a need to know basis.
  • Request that someone takes an action on something.
  • Confirm something that has been agreed via another medium (perhaps a telephone call), often for audit purposes.

I propose two courses of action, both of which involve setting the expectations of others:

  1. The first is to stop thinking of every message as requiring a response. Within my team at work, we have some unwritten rules that: gratefulness is implied within the team (not to fill each others’ inboxes with messages that say “thank you”); carbon copy means “for information”; and single-line e-mails can be dealt with in the subject heading.
  2. The second can be applied far more widely and that’s the concept of “service level agreements” for corporate communications. I don’t mean literally, of course, but 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.

Ultimately, neither of these proposals will be successful without cultural change. This issue is not unique to any one company but the only way I can think of to change the actions and/or thoughts of others is to lead by example… starting today, I think I might give them a try.

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