Sunday, February 15, 2009

Why bother taming the email tiger?

In the final analysis, the need to tame the email tiger boils down to a desire to increase the value of an enterprise. Value drivers such as improved worker productivity and effectiveness, employee satisfaction, knowledge management and a mitigation of legal risk all ultimately impact on the bottom line.

In the case of email software designs, technology has over-promised and under-delivered. The interface between the user and the technology is where 'email-as-problem' is solved, with the 'decision crunch' directing how the balance of the information infrastructure is designed and configured. The 4D decision-making methodology we developed at Orla initiates and then guides this process.

Until now, such a decision-making capability has been conspicuously absent from the Outlook / Notes / GroupWise trio of software clients universally deployed by modern enterprises. These softwares, it is submitted, were designed from an engineering-centric perspective as opposed to the standpoint of the workflow-management needs of the average worker.

In his seminal book The Trouble With Computers, (1) Thomas Landauer argued that the billions of dollars that US companies have invested in information technology systems have yielded only very modest results due to the design flaws caused by the gap in the mentality of software engineers and the intuition of the normal person who is expected to use their products. An example of this can be found in the Alt-F4 command as a 'natural' way for someone to turn off their computer programme.

In the 14 years since Landauer's book was published, email has become the primary communication genre and the problem continues.

In a desperate bid to try to keep on top of this growing problem, managers, who have traditionally found it difficult to assess 'mind tools' such as software and information-management products, have relied almost universally on vendor promises rather than on an objective assessment of utility.

Clifford Stoll calls this 'snake oil'.(2)

There are proven, cost-effective ways to achieve significant productivity gains from information technology – all that is required is a user-centric design that delivers real value at the individual level. If software were more intuitive and easier to use, people could spend more time actually doing their jobs. Landauer predicts that if every software programme were designed for usability, productivity within the service sector would rise by 4-9% annually. As Mr Landauer says, computers are wonderfully powerful devices, but their producers and users must learn to harness them more effectively.

1 Landauer, Thomas K. (1995). The Trouble With Computers. MIT Press.

2 Stoll, C. (1996). Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway. Reed Business Information

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