Moderator Amy Wohl is president of Wohl Associates. Ross Mayfield serves as CEO of Socialtext. John Patrick is president of Attitude LLC. JP Rangaswami works as global CIO for Dresdner, Kleinwort, and Wasserstein. And Peter Quintas is CTO of SilkRoad. What follows is a partial transcript of their panel discussion at Supernova:
Amy Wohl: We’re going to talk about the subject of connected, distributed work. Each of the four panelists are going to make some comments on their view of connected work based on their experiences. And then we might have some questions to ask of ourselves unless you have some questions right away. There’s no real boundary here in terms of audience and speakers.
John Patrick: Today it’s still mostly email and instant messaging and the phone that connects us while working. There are some new things creeping into this, Skype, blogging, and other ways to share your point of view. Those are really the basics. The social networks have their own strengths and weaknesses. I like to try anything new. They all have a place. But in terms of being mainstream and being a part of your work, I don’t see them being essential tools yet. In the years to come, I think we’ll see some developments in the mobile space. For now, that’s the phone, but as we increasingly use WiFi and VoIP, that will change. Some dramatic differences are going to appear in terms of how we perceive the Web and our cell phones. Now when you look at small-screen rendering that Opera Software is doing and usine proxy servers, it’s now becoming practical to surf Web pages on a 1- or 2-inch screen. The mobile device will be a real viable alternative to our laptops and desktops. The other big change I think we’ll see with VoIP is integration. When the phone rings, the caller appears on your calendar, and a recording of the call is available. The last point I’d like to make is about authentication. That’s the missing link in all of what we’re talking about. In order to deal with the positive opportunities and the problems, you need to be able to establish that you are who you say you are.
Peter Quintas: When I think about the future of connected work, I think what the tools are. What channels are people going to flock to? You can’t really pin it down because it’s really driven by the worker himself. An outside sales rep might use a different set of tools than a developer behind a desk would use. A construction worker, even a chemist, are different roles that lend to a different set of tools. The technology there is the enabling piece of being connected in an effective and productive way. In today’s collaborative environment, there are a few things that are missing. The first thing John touched on: security. Enterprises and organizations require that, but we can’t let security be prohibitive. That simple fact is what’s driving people to use email more and public instant messaging networks. It’s uninhibited. People flock to what is easiest for them. The next point is presence-based messaging. When I talk about messaging, I don’t just mean chat and text, but voice and Web conferencing — real-time communication. The last piece is capturing and searching all of the information that’s the knowledge base of your company. We need to be able to capture all of our communications. Related to that is that all of that might be too much to monitor. We need to be able to subscribe to or be alerted. And as John said, the mobile device is so important. The phone is what you always have with you. It’s the lowest common denominator, and if you don’t have that reach, as soon as you step away from your desktop, the value of that network just drops off a cliff.
JP Rangaswami: I’m the CIO of an investment bank. I’m here to learn about tools to improve my job. That’s my motive. I need to manage symmetric and asymmetric information. And I’m global. Our business is based on trust. Every issue we face to do with identity of any form is something that affects us on a day-to-day base. Syndication of opinion and being to raise that in the right form is very important. When we went for the blog, our concept for it was that it was the open sourcing of ideas. What the blog allows us to do is open source ideas. We still need to prove our ideas are alright and get support for our ideas, but this is a good way to get more opinions. We’ve only been blogging internally for four months. And because we’re a regulated institution, it’s early days yet.
Ross Mayfield: If you think about all enterprise software, all of the developments have been about automating processes. Processes break down as soon as new information is created. People route around processes. And it’s really about letting people be connected, make decisions, and stand behind the rationale’s by which they arrived at them. We need very simple tools, and they need to be as simple to use as email.
We had one company we worked with, and before they started working with us, one work group had 100 group-related emails a day. It’s called occupational spam. Email should be used one to one rather than one to many. If you can gravitate that to more of a hub and spoke model, you can get it down from 100 emails a day to literally zero. That accelerated a project by at least one month because of the improved communication.
JP mentioned trust. How do you get people to trust one another? If people are able to edit other people’s work, that increases the amount of trust. Same with attention management. When people are able to control how they access information, it saves a lot of time. That can mean $1-2 million a year. We need to find ways to unlock all that value.
Wohl: I’ve been looking at software to support office workers for a very long time. We seem to be on a tradeoff line from traditional, formal kinds of software to new, informal kinds of software. We’re getting a whole new set of choices. A lot of this is pretty disruptive stuff. It’s not taking place in a vacuum, but in a marketplace full of customers and products. A lot of new decisions will be made in the next five years that wouldn’t have been made in the last five years.
David Sifry: There’s an issue around workflow feedback. When a collaboration event occurs, people need to be kept up to date with what’s going on. And even with notifications, you might get false positives. If I get too many notifications, I’m not going to care about it.
Mayfield: Most people get their notifications via email, so you need better control over that.
Wohl: That’s definitely one downfall of a Wiki. The fact that they’re really easy to get started is the upside. The fact that it’s hard to find anything and track that is the downside.
Patrick: Another issue is trust. You might trust some of the people you work with, but not all of them. Especially if someone is two or three levels above the people working on a project, if they express themselves, it can be taken as an order, and communication quells that.
Wohl: In one case, we asked a CEO not to comment on what was going on except via email to individuals.
Mayfield: But we saw all of these things happen with email, too. Initially a lot of the use will come from the bottom up. And there are things you can do to make collaboration seem bottom up.
Wohl: Likewise, people will use tools to augment other tools. People will be on a conference call but use IM to get information during the call.
Quintas: I haven’t really seen a suite of tools that tightly integrated yet, though, especially with the need for security and capturing that communication.
Rangaswami: And maybe it’s a culture we created ourselves. Just look at email and bcc. Who ever thought that blind carbon copy would engender trust? Look at cc. That’s just ass covering.