Information should go from tool to tool. End users shouldn’t.


Summary : Even if there are lots of discussions on new ways of working and the tools that will make it possible, very little attention is paid to the matter that’s being worked and the reason why it’s worked. Employees, who need to gather knowledge, information and people from many tools, still don’t have any melting pot to do their work. As a matter of fact and contrary to the usual way of looking at it, tools and people need to articulate and follow each other around the matter employees are working on rather than scattering the matter between tools. The problematic people are working on is unchanging while the rest varies. What matters is to organize the mobility of objects in the context of work rather than the mobility of employees around tools.

When discussing the way people work (or should work), we use to focus on the organization of work (usages and management), tools (collaborative, participative etc…) but seldom pay any attention to the objects people work on. Thinking that work is all and only about adopting new tools and practices may be too simplistic if no one cares about what needs to be handled, gathers, put together, transformed in the context of work. These things may be of so many different kind that I’ll use the very generic word of “object” to call them. This word also seems very relevant in the context of a concept that is more and more talked about and is really key to understand what employees need to get their work done : “social objects”.

To get their work done, people need to find, enrich, improve, modify, put together, alone or in a collaborative may, “objects” as various as a “case”, a person, a file, a feedback, a procedure etc…in fact nearly any form of information available in the organization, This is one more evidence of the changing nature of work that is more and more about putting knowledge and people together and in context.

The biggest issue in change programs is not always to make people work this way. In fact they’re already doing so,  juggling with many tools and the information they contain, trying to be the middleware between all these things. The problem is that they’re given new tools that are supposed to fill some shortcomings but no attention is paid to how to pu all these new tools and info together. So the amount of useful and usable information can endlessly increase while users are still unable to make the most of it. And the reason is quite simple to get : users are equipped to handle objects in the context of the tool that “owns” them and not in the context of their work.

“Objects” people are working on don’t know how to go from one tool to another. Any data from the CRM may need to go to the social network, and a conversation happening in a community may need to be reused in a BI tool to support decision making, profiles making it easy to find the right person in the right context may be accessible from any tool…

Objects should be able to move from one tool to another to undergo the needed transformation. Seen from the user side, it means being able to “lock” an object and make application contexts scroll rather than move from an application to another and transfer information in a hand made (copy/past), verbal (I’ve seen that…) way….not being able to transfer it al all.

To be static, locked from an user point of view, workable, an object should be able to move among tools.

If we’re thinking of building tomorrow’s work models, we need to forget the concept of application to build global environments that will be object or even case centric, what makes more sense that the usual people centric approach that’s finally poorly understood and implemented and separates “systems of engagement” from “systems of record” instead of putting them together.

In the end, the complete set of existing and upcoming tools has very little value if there’s no reflection on the melting pot where the matter will worked.

What makes me think that..

• I often say that tools are “only the ball that makes it possible to play the game”. Maybe that’s partly wrong. Tools are the foot or the hand. In the other hand, we need to think what is needed in terms of ball, handling etc… to make the gameplay as fluid as possible.

• We’re often told that people don’t hate change but the way we want them to change. That’s a good example : environments they’re being given don’t match their needs and only generate additional constraints.

• It will be hard to deal with all the help, the competences that will be needed to become good knowledge craftsmen while tools and working surfaces don’t fit the matter.