Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Paperless Office enters a new phase

I'm working with a client to engage their staff in transitioning to a paperless office in the education environment. They have been challenged by the need to help their facilitators and staff speed up the learning process and get on board with all the changes posed by online courses, mobile workforces and remote working environments.

They are a particularly 'good' organisation. Their workplace is a delight to visit, they are well resourced and keen to move ahead. They have invested a good deal of money in both hard and soft technology to support these changes.

As I think through the processes I am being asked to engage in, I find myself reflecting on technology and the journey over the past 25 years. In 1990, when I was just starting out in my career as an educator, I was confronted by the move into computers as a work tool. I was excited yet overwhelmed by the computing environment. This was pre 'Windows', pre WYSIWYG, and pre internet in the commercial workplace. Word was a blue screen with white text and you had to remember lots of short-cut key strokes to do anything. We took a course in DOS and tried to learn binary code.

Someone promised me that these computers would create a paperless office! All they seemed to do was create ten times as much paper, as drafts were printed, scribbled on with pens then updated on the computer and printed again.
Software began to be built that could do pretty much anything for a price, and the price was often astronomical. Empires were founded on programs such as SAP, Oracle and Microsoft Office and Sharepoint.
The last 5 years have seen yet another radical shift in the world of computer and internet technology.
Two things have converged.
The world of (internet enabled) Social Networking.
The introduction of tablets.
These two things have brought together the power of creative minds driven by a desire for mobility and low cost to begin the next phase of software creation, the 'Ap'.

The jumpshift change needed by organisations and individuals is that we must stop seeing social networking and fooling around with Aps as 'playing'. This is serious business in the office. Already the commentators have dissected, discussed and debated about whether social networking at work is a good thing or a bad thing. As always many offices tried to ban it, simply not seeing the rise of the 'smart-phone' that would undermine their attempts at control. As smartphone and intuitive Aps have stormed the market, so too the use of telephony has been challenged, recent reports are showing that many people now use sms on their phones, rather than voice calls.

Free ware is infiltrating the office, we use Skype and Viber to make internet telephony and video calls. We use Slideshare and Prezi to make presentations. We all love YouTube. Google Docs and Dropbox are becoming commonplace, especially amongst 'remote' or contract workers.
All of these changes create challenges for our business's. How do you maintain control whilst allowing creativity?

I suggest that you do two things.
1. Learn to put all these technologies in the box where they belong. The ToolBox.
2. Look at your basic IT and communications structure.

Make sure that your basic structure has sound governance and process supporting it.
Who controls your public image?
How are your documents managed? - (Library, version control & security).
How is access to your IT/communications system managed? Who controls uploads & security?

Now look at that Toolbox.
Make some decisions about which platforms, Aps and Multimedia tools you are going to use.

Train your internal staff in the policy and process applicable to your IT/Communications Structure.
Train your internal staff & external partners in the tools that you have approved for use in your system.

Remember, they are all just tools. You still need to apply the controls.