COMPUTING EVERYWHERE: A SOCIAL (R)EVOLUTION?

Years ago, George Orwell drew society as he envisioned it for ‘1984’. Similarly, Bill Gates described how we would be using the Internet ten years down the line. Hindsight shows that both authors had an astonishingly accurate vision of the future, even though the time frames were longer than they had anticipated. Will ‘Computing Everywhere’ bring us a similar, innovation driven social (r)evolution?

‘Computing Everywhere’ is taking flight. This was Gartner’s reasoning for naming Computing Everywhere as part of their Top 10 of strategic technology trends in 2015. Cloud technology, combined with unlimited Internet availability, is enabling applications to become available ‘simply everywhere’. Sadly, the attention garnered by Computing Everywhere places primary focus on technological opportunities and maintenance requirements. Like with other IT tools, technology is not what it is all about. What is important is how it serves our desires, possibilities, actions and achievements. As individuals, as organisations, and as societies.

‘Computing Everywhere’ is becoming common. ‘Simply everywhere’ implies ‘simply always’. This is how ‘Computing Everywhere’ transitions into ‘Computing Anytime’, making it a development brimming with opportunities. Equally, due to its effects on society, Computing Everywhere requires that we start making choices. The time aspect requires attention.

We cannot necessarily foresee all consequences of Computing Everywhere and Anytime. More and more new ways of applying them are popping up, which is positive and can contribute to increased welfare and well-being. Examples are news sites, digital TV through apps, streaming services and civic apps such as Amber Alert and Burgernet.

Computing Everywhere and the individual

Individuals’ attitude and behaviour have been affected in a number of ways. While in the company of others, we stare at screens much more than we used to. We address each other without making eye contact. To many, an incoming telephone conversation takes precedence over a current personal conversation, regardless of the contents. On top of this we have WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, email, games and the like. For now, everyone still has the freedom to make their own personal choices.

Computing Everywhere in business

If, however, we look at the potential organisational and social consequences instead, the view is quite different. Business applications are available ‘Everywhere and Anytime’, and using ‘Computing’ professionally is now what we call ‘working’. As the application of Computing Everywhere advances, the separation of work and life starts to blur.

We are already familiar with the 24/7 economy. Computing Everywhere, Anytime only reinforces this development. Anyone can work where ever and whenever he wants. This requires a measure of self discipline from employees regarding, for instance, work/life balance, arranging for an adequate place to work, and coordinating working hours with colleagues. For many, this is not considered an issue as long as they can determine their own flexibility, and the nature of the work is not prohibitive.

It is paramount that the employer, too, applies discipline. ‘Everywhere and Anytime’ does not equate employees being available 24/7. What if a changing organisational culture no longer corresponds to employees’ individual life style? For instance, what if employees want to retain Sunday as their day off and not process emails until Monday? Emails which their colleagues already considered urgent as they sent them out on Sunday?

Certain levels of trust, patience and respect are required from colleagues and management. They must trust that time is spent effectively and work activities will deliver the required result. They must have patience to wait for each other, and respect the choices others make regarding their time and location. After all, everyone should have the opportunity to attend to themselves, their partner, children, hobbies, social networks and other private matters as required.

How Computing Everywhere will eventually shape internal relationships with colleagues and managers, and the subsequent implications for reviews and HR policy, remains to be seen.

Terms of employment

Changes to working patterns and working hours will also carry implications for the terms of employment. Why, with the normalisation of employee flexibility or even 24/7 availability, would employers continue to pay out surcharge allowances for irregular working hours, night shifts, on-call and overtime? In 2015, large segments of the professional population have a significant dependency on this additional pay, while at the same time the working hours of these segments experience no or negligible effect by the advent of Computing Everywhere.

The power of the appreciated manager

For applications of Computing Everywhere in business we must look beyond individual users. In the past, it was relatively easy for management to facilitate collaboration. Everyone would have stuck to more or less the same working hours and site(s).

Individual flexibility disperses colleagues in time and location. It becomes more important to attend to collaboration, continuity, availability, capacity and safeguarding information. Equally to efficiency, effectiveness, innovation, competitive advantage, strategy, policy and image.

The best managers are able to manage the organisation’s efficiency and effectiveness while retaining employees’ trust. Trust that they will not be overburdened, that they will be protected, and that management will respect their personal time.

Usage and management go hand in hand

How do you organise systems management, and what are the geographic boundaries of user support if users are able to access a variety of systems anywhere and anytime? If a systems management organisation is required to fix issues at random locations, engineers will have to chase the users, regardless of where they are and why they are there. This requires mobility and revisiting existing agreements about performance standards.

Boundaries must be set to the time and space in which a systems management organisation can be available and deployable. This leads to ‘the business’ receiving a lower guaranteed level of availability and continuity, which increases its business risk. In addition, the focus will shift to self service: users who can help themselves regardless of location or time. This leads to a changed user experience, as well as to a different systems management organisation.

Systems integration

The employees of a systems management organisations are also users: users of their own tools with their own user experience. Originally, management software was concentrated around the Help Desk. This has gradually transformed into tooling for IT Service Management (ITSM).

As soon as around-the-clock location support becomes an option which, considering Computing Anytime, is likely, ITSM tooling is faced with important new requirements to adequately accommodate the support organisation and the support processes. The ITSM tooling will increasingly be applied in conjunction with work receipts or mobile applications for mobile service staff. Integration with mileage for mobility purposes and accountancy for allocation purposes, too, will take on increased importance. Similarly the integration with HR systems and salary processing, given the employees’ varying working hours. The integration of automated functionality is set to increase.

Information security

The greatest threat to security is human behaviour. Computing Everywhere augments this threat even further. Authorities have set requirements for the safeguarding of information in a variety of industries. In the Netherlands, financial institutions are assessed by the Dutch Central Bank based on Cobit, and healthcare has the NEN7510. How can an organisation guarantee that the sites on which its employees carry out their activities are secure? How does one guarantee that there will be no third-party snooping in on screens? Or that Internet connections are sufficiently secure? Employees appreciate being able to work on a bus or a train, which is a prime location for fellow passengers to be reading over their shoulders. Who is responsible for maintaining confidentiality there?

A new style of management

Computing Everywhere creates a physical distance between managers and their employees. This will require a different style of management. Result-based management will have to take precedence over effort-based management. Nevertheless, the manager must continue to facilitate a suitable relationship between time spent on the job and the end result. The manager must extend a new type of trust to his employees, while simultaneously regaining trust from them. This results in an increased need for solid Management Information (BI/Analytics) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP).

Do not underestimate the impact, stay in charge

Structural implementation of Computing Everywhere can have a strong, fundamental impact on the organisation, in terms of culture, tools and ways of working. It also affects employees in various segments of the organisation, down to Cleaning and Catering. It is unlikely that one single person will have all the necessary knowledge and experience to successfully bring about a complete Computing Everywhere implementation. There is a plethora of knowledgeable, often external, suppliers available who can implement and manage the technical services. Managing staff welfare and the company culture requires different know-how, and remains an internal affair that will continue to be a point of focus high up in the organisation. Garnering advice? Yes. Relinquishing control? Better not.

Do not let this happen to you, retain control

Naturally, your organisation’s management and employees, too, will adapt to the times. In order to successfully introduce a development with as deep an impact as Computing Everywhere, it is imperative to come in armed with a good strategy. An Agile approach, such as the Scrum methodology, will provide the necessary flexibility to enable timely steering based on iterations, and to allow the transition to occur at the right speed.

To enable a successful introduction of Computing Everywhere, it is a good idea get help. The premise that no one organisation will house all the required expertise and experience, equally applies to service providers who can support the transition. A combination of specialists is most suitable to ensure trustworthy advice and strong support; preferably a combination that has collaborated in the past and has gained a solid reputation through that collaboration as well. The combination should be familiar with bringing about Agile organisational changes and be brave enough to take shared responsibility for the results during an extended period of time.

Finally: stagnation equals reversal

Current developments will not be stopped or reversed. The same applies to your organisation’s industry, as well as to future employees and colleagues. View these developments through a flexible, creative filter. How can they be combined within your organisation? Do not get left behind later, and prepare now. This is the time!

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