Bring your own tools

My former neighbor in St Paul, Bob Beblijk, works as a mechanic for the city. I was surprised to learn from him how normal it was for mechanics to bring their own tools to the jobs. This included wrenches, socket sets, etc. It seemed strange to me, but in Bob’s line of work employers expect it.  I thought about what an analogous world would look like in my line of work, and then it occurred to me: Maybe bringing one’s own tools to work was not such a strange notion after all.

Recently, I have been working with a client who wishes to take this approach with their mobile employees. They want employee’s smart phones to work not only as a means of communication with the home office, but also a host for corporate apps that enables customer-facing employees to guide and make recommendations to clients.  They also want to provide peripherals, such as credit card readers, that can enable these employees to complete transactions with customers in the field. 

My forward-thinking client is catching an early wave in adopting the reality of our app driven world. It has not been without its hurdles, though. Not surprisingly, the work force is welcoming the change. Previously, they had to manage a personal device and a corporate device(s) to do all things they can now do with one Smartphone.  However, there are challenges facing the company to make it safe, secure and viable. Here are some of the questions they have asked along the way and how they are addressing each:

1. How do you separate corporate information and personal information on one device? Afterall, this device could be left in an airport, hotel room or restaurant. Our client is considering Toggle technology from AT&T. Toggle allows a single device to have two faces, one personal and one corporate.  Access to applications is managed from a centralized portal.  Loading of upgrades and new applications is also centrally controlled.

2. How do you make credit card transactions PCI compliant across this mobile environment?  Having a corporate strategy and policy around PCI is mandatory. The customer is using AT&T to develop and audit their environment. My colleague Steve Levinson has blogged extensively about PCI on Networking Exchange. It is a crucial part of the conversation.

3. What happens when the device breaks?  Accidents happen. Devices are dropped, exposed to water or lost at the most inconvenient times. Customers are learning that having a good device management and replacement strategy is paramount.  It is also important to have spare parts and devices close at hand so that transactions are not hindered at peak times.

4. What happens when the network is not there? Despite the proliferation of cellular service and WiFi in congested and hard to reach locations, there will still be times that transactions will need to be completed off-line in the field. Batch uploads when connectivity is restored is important along with a way of protecting the customer information while the information needs to be stored.

Like my mechanic neighbor Bob, I am envisioning that bringing your own tools to a knowledge-worker job will someday be the norm.  I applaud the early adopters as they forge the rules and procedures needed to make this a happy marriage. 

Companies know that by blurring the lines between work and personal there is a twofold effect.  First, workers are happier because they can remain in touch with their loved-ones while they work. Secondly, employees are more efficient and immensely more productive.  This can be a huge win for everybody as long as companies ensure that workers keep corporate and customer information safe too.

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Social Media in the workplace (speech)

Social Media

I am a big fan of Social Media. Whether or not you are Twitter maniac or Facebook fiend, I think you will all agree that these tools enable millions of people to more effectively communicate with friends and family.  If only it were that easy in the office.  What would happen if we found a way to harness those same communication methods at work? Could we put aside jammed email inboxes and instead ask our colleagues to ‘like’ our ideas?  Could commenting on a co-workers project or providing an updated status on  your workload replace phone calls and emails?

In order to answer this, let’s first take a look at the two very different ways that we operate each day: one with Social Media and the other without Social Media. 

Next, let’s explore what would happen if we applied some of the efficiencies of Social Media to our work environment.  Finally, I want close with a proposal that we each begin to further explore how to capture Social Media efficiencies in the workplace. 

Let’s begin…

Literally and figuratively speaking, we wear two very different kinds of shoes each day.  In our home life, we wear comfortable and flexible shoes. In the same manner we sprint down the rough trails of life bolstered by a lot of cool Social Media tools.  These tools allow us to keep in touch with friends and family constantly and instantly. Despite hectic work schedules we update friends and make plans with family using Twitter and Facebook posts.

 We stay connected by constantly updating our status, saying hello or inviting friends to meet on the weekend without ever picking up a phone or typing an email.

Meanwhile, another set of shoes is reserved for our day-to-day jobs.  Sure, they look pretty slick, but they lack comfort and keep us flat-footed.  More often than not we spend our time in these work shoes trying to connect with one another rather than actually connecting.

Let me give you an example. My boss recently asked me to invite some clients to a customer seminar. I run to phone them with this exciting offer.  My hand gripped to the phone I am ready to give my pitch and then I hear: “sorry, cannot leave a message now. This users mailbox has reached maximum capacity.”  No worries, I always have a back-up plan! I type an email. But, it’s tricky. I spend a lot of time coming up with a short and snappy subject line that will catch their attention. I have had emails that went unread from this customer before. They are just overloaded. On the other hand they may have responded and I just could not find the response amidst the myriad of urgent requests that float about like so many icebergs in my inbox. 

I wonder what would happen if we unleashed the power in our personal Social Media lives at work. In the example I gave, I could have just posted the event on my wall. When community members logged in between meetings or at lunch they could browse all the latest news including my post. I could even put a Facebook bounty on my post: “If you “Like” my post you win a chance for a free Samsung Galaxy.  Or maybe I could find a way to enter my customer in a sweepstakes in return for an RSVP for our customer event, hmm.  My squeaky patent leather shoes are starting to grow Nike swooshes.  Maybe I could even follow-up with a quick Twitter post that urges followers to check out the event. 

The beauty  of Social Media is that it is much easier to browse many, many posts  versus reading a lot of lengthy email. Twitter limits posts to 140 characters making it easier for people to wade through a lot more information quickly. Another fringe benefit is you never have to file or delete.

All of this is pure fantasy of course. There is no Facebook or Twitter service for our work environment.

Hopefully you can see how it would come in handy though. If not, perhaps I should tell you what happened to my invitation I sent to my customer. They responded by email that they would attend! The only problem was they responded the week after the event took place. I guess it took them too long to get around to responding.   Is the time right for a revolution? Can we trade in voicemail and email for sporty form of communication in the office?