Tag Archives: WordStar

User Determined Computing

I’m not sure it’s a new phenomenon, but Accenture reckons it is: employees are more tech savvy than the companies they work for and are demanding their workplace catches up.

A new study by Accenture to be released next week (no link available yet; based on a PR pitch that mentions no embargo) will say that until recently all the most advancted networks and communication devices were at the office. Now they’re at home. The company calls it “user-determined computing”:

Today, home technology has outpaced enterprise technology, leaving employees frustrated by the inadequacy of the technology they use at work.  As a result, employees are demanding more because of their ever-increasing familiarity and comfort level with technology. It’s an emerging phenomenon Accenture has called “user-determined computing.”

The global study of more than 300 Chief Information Officers (CIOs) will argue that “executive and technology leaders are undertaking superficial improvements in their information technology systems rather than making fundamental changes to meet the growing demands of users.” The research will show that the high performing companies are those that are deploying the new technologies.

So far so good (and until we see the report that’s all we’ve got for detail.) I’d argue that this disconnect has existed for years and only been exacerbated by the rise of Web 2.0. But I’m a little less sure of Accenture’s argument when it says that it has launched an internal initiative of its own — what it’s rather lamely calling “Collaboration 2.0”, which involves

rolling out enhanced search capabilities, high-definition and desktop video conferencing solutions, unified messaging, and people pages (similar to personal pages on social networking sites).

A good enough start, I guess, but hardly an office revolution. And I think the term “user-determined” is misleading; it sounds as if users actually have a say in what computers, communications and software they use. Even Accenture’s own Collaboration 2.0 doesn’t sound as if that’s the case. “User-influenced”, maybe.

What do I think? I believe that most companies’ internal software systems need a major more radical overhaul — of five media companies I have had dealings with recently, one still uses the same editing software it had in place more than 10 years ago, another uses a system that has no major changes to its interface since the early 1990s, and another uses DOS WordStar.

I believe that companies need to be more flexible about how/where/when their workers work. The when and where is being addressed with telecommuting and flexible hours. But I also think that workers should be free to use everything that Web 2.0 has to offer — collaboration tools like stuff from 37Signals, Google Apps, Skype, their own hardware, whatever it takes. I know there are security and legal issues involved, but, let’s face it, what worker doesn’t use their own instant messaging program, log into Gmail on their office computer and other “illegal” moves inside the enterprise?

It’s time to let the worker work as s/he wants. If Accenture has spotted anything, it’s probably that the most productive workers are independent workers — those who set up their own systems so they’re not dependent on and held back by their employer. If that’s true, then the logical conclusion is that those employees are probably not employees anymore, but have struck out on their own either as consultants, freelancers or hitched their wagons to smaller, leaner and more flexible startups.

PS I wasn’t hugely impressed with Accenture’s own website, which didn’t comply with the most basic standards of Web 2.0. For one thing, it’s Flash-based, with no options for a quicker loading, HTML version. And the Flash doesn’t load quickly:

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Secondly, a pop-up window greets you on your immediate arrival requesting your participation in a survey:

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Not a good start.

Stopping Terrorists With WordStar

A glimpse into Indonesia’s high-tech war on terrorism, crime and corruption, revealed in today’s Media Indonesia Online’s story (in Bahasa Indonesia) of the president’s visit to the airport immigration office at Jakarta Airport, where embarrassed officials try to access their database of those 5,000–odd people banned from leaving or entering the country. The files are all in WordStar, a software word processing program that is at least 15 years old. (Thanks to Jerry Justianto for pointing out).

The piece describes how officials had to try opening some of the files several times, while others wouldn’t open at all. Immigration officials inspecting passports often can’t access the files, meaning, the paper says, “the officials on duty have difficulties confirming those people who pass the immigration desks are fugitives of the state or not. That’s because to open the files is awkward and there is no explanation of the distinguishing characteristics of fugitives.”

Needless to say, the president wasn’t impressed and ordered an immediate upgrade. Still I’m sure WordStar fans will be delighted to hear the software is still being used in such an important role, and the fugitives themselves will take comfort in the fact that immigration officials are unlikely to spot them as they wander through customs. One can almost imagine the scene:

Immigration officer: Passport please.
(Passenger, carrying rocket launcher and several large suitcases apparently stuffed with dollar bills, hands over passport. Immigration official starts tapping name into computer. Long pause. Passenger looks at watch. Really long pause. )
Passenger: Is this going to take long?
Officer:  Yes. I’m checking whether you’re a fugitive from justice. We’re using WordStar. So please be patient.
Passenger: Oh, WordStar. OK. (Looks around. After brief pause, makes a run for it in a flurry of dollar bills and ammunition)
(Officer, still looking at screen waiting for file to load, doesn’t notice.)
(Next passenger approaches counter. )

Next passenger: I think he’ s gone.
(Officer looks up, around, mildly surprised.)
Officer: So he has. (Pause.) Passport, please.
(Next passenger hands over passport. Officer starts tapping name into computer. Next passenger unfolds portable chair, adds cushion, sits down, starts pouring coffee out of Thermos, gives one cup to Officer. Pulls out thick novel. Reads. Officer continues to stare at screen.)
Fade