Weekend Video 02.12

Air New Zealand has a bit of fun at the expense of the New Zealand accent. As a world traveller there is something magical about getting back on board an Air New Zealand plane and hearing the Kiwi accent again. But, yes, I get it that our accent is hard to understand.

My standard practice when talking to Americans, for example, is to say that my name is “Michael Saaaampson, no relation to Bart” in order to avoid it being heard as “Michael Simpson.”

Where Do You Put Your Phone at Work?

One of the older books on my shelf is Time Power: The Revolutionary Time Management System That Can Change Your Professional and Personal Life by Charles Hobbs. Written in 1987, I acquired my copy around the first time I got a DayTimer in the mid-1990s. There’s lots of good ideas in the book, but the one diagram I have recalled most often is the one on setting up your desk. The “ABC Fingertip Management for Organizing Your Work Environment” is on page 138, as below:

As a young professional starting out in the world of work, the book and picture provided helpful guidelines on how to think about the relationship between physical space and work items. If you took an aerial shot of my office today, you would see a lot of similarity with the diagram. (And one other idea too in my office design from somewhere else that I can’t track down now: don’t have your desk facing a window with a wonderful or beautiful view, because it will be too distracting. Stick your desk against a boring wall, to facilitate concentration).

Of course the interesting thing with the picture is there is no computer, iPad, phone, scanner, printer, or any other device in view. Thirty years on from Charles writing his book, the question is, where should you put your phone?

For most of the past decade, my phone has been in Zone A, directly within reach of my left hand and within constant eyesight. Even though my phone hardly ever rings, that’s where it has sat.

That changed four months ago. One of the articles I read in August for a client project is called Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity. Here’s an extract:

We propose that the mere presence of one’s own smartphone may induce “brain drain” by occupying limited-capacity cognitive resources for purposes of attentional control. Because the same finite pool of attentional resources supports both attentional control and other cognitive processes, resources recruited to inhibit automatic attention to one’s phone are made unavailable for other tasks, and performance on these tasks will suffer. We differentiate between the orientation and allocation of attention and argue that the mere presence of smartphones may reduce the availability of attentional resources even when consumers are successful at controlling the conscious orientation of attention.

The researchers did a couple of experiments to test their assertions, and found that yes, indeed, the mere presence of a phone reduced cognitive capacity for the tasks at hand. Interesting / fascinating / deeply disturbing.

The article answered a nagging feeling I had regarding my phone: that it was a distraction, even when I wasn’t using it. I kept seeing it in my peripheral vision, and wondering what was happening in the services. It would be like putting a plate full of M&M’s on my desk: they would be eaten during the day by virtue of being easily accessible and within view. The secret to not eating M&M’s all day is to not put them on my desk.

My phone is now in Zone C, out of sight and out of easy reach. I have to move my chair to reach it, and I can’t see it when I sit down to work. Now I often forget about it during the day, unless it rings, which is still an abnormal event.

[Disclosure: no M&M’s were hurt in the writing of this post.]

Accessing LinkedIn Profile Data in Office 365

At Ignite in late September, Microsoft announced an integration between LinkedIn profile data and Office 365:

After you connect your LinkedIn account to your Microsoft account, you’ll seamlessly discover more insights within the Profile Card in your Inbox, your calendar and contacts lists. Simply hover over a contact’s name to see information from their LinkedIn Profile, such as where they work, what they do, and where they went to school. For example, when you receive an email from someone you haven’t met, you can instantly identify them and make a more meaningful start to the conversation. Or, if you’re not already connected with someone you collaborate with in Office 365, you can send a LinkedIn connection invite directly from Profile Card.

Essentially, once this rolls out to Office 365 tools and Office productivity applications, you will have a quick way to view the LinkedIn profile data for a person. It is a view-only experience within Office 365 as it doesn’t actually do anything to your contact and people data in Office 365. The link between Office 365 and LinkedIn is controlled by each individual; each person must authorise Office 365 to look up their personal LinkedIn account by signing into LinkedIn when requested.

Microsoft acquired LinkedIn in June 2016 for $26.2 billion. There has to be more coming than just this, but all great journeys start with a first step. This is one of those.

Fast Team Formation

On the way home last night we drove past a group of people on the side of the road. It almost wasn’t worth a second glance, except that some were standing and others were kneeling on the footpath, with one vehicle parked the wrong way to the curb. A second glance revealed someone lying on the ground in the middle of the group. We stopped and I ran over with a son to see if there was anything we could do to help. Half of my kids are active St John Cadets, and I took the most senior one in the vehicle with me.

It was a young woman lying on the ground. She had been found face down on the footpath having a seizure. By the time we got there, there were about ten people in all. The group had done everything right – they were on the phone to the ambulance service, they had put her in the recovery position, a couple of them were talking to her, and they had managed to learn her name. When we arrived one member of the group asked if we had a blanket in our vehicle – which we did – and a nice warm one at that. I ran back to get it and we covered the young woman. She was dressed lightly for running in the evening, and with lying on the footpath she was cold and getting colder. For another ten minutes two members kept talking to her, one kept talking to the ambulance service (“they’re coming”), and others went over the facts we knew. Once the ambulance arrived, the details of the situation were repeated to the ambulance officers, the young woman was handed over to their care, and the group disbanded.

Complete strangers mobilised to help someone in distress. No one gave a team pre-talk. No one gave out roles. No one wrote a team compact. The need was obvious, and as the seconds ticked by, each person used whatever skills and insights they had to help the young woman and ensure everyone was working together to help her. Needs that become obvious to one person were verbalised to see if another team member had a way of solving the problem. A scan of the road revealed a couple of vehicles in the way where the ambulance was likely to stop, and these were moved before they caused a problem.

Twenty minutes saw the formation and disbanding of a team, without any direction, discussion, planning, or strategising. Humanity and concern for the individual drew everyone together. A clear vision, a clear need, a sense of ones own abilities and a willingness to serve the group towards the realisation of the vision were all that was needed in such a situation. Team formation doesn’t aways work so smoothly, but everything clicked last night.

Hyperfish – Thoughts on Collecting Expertise

In the announcement of the Hyperfish Integration Framework are three items that can now be collected:

Customers can now use Hyperfish to collect information that has been time consuming or difficult to get collect in the past, such as employee skills and expertise, asset registration, and personal information.

Two are similar, one is very different. The two similar items – asset registration and personal information – extend Hyperfish’s current approach of asking for information that has a demonstrably correct value. What is your first name? What is your last name? What is your phone number? What is the serial number of your laptop, tablet, or smartphone? In what city were you born? What school did you attend when you were 14 years old? Each question has a correct answer for which easy proof can be found (as well, of course, as a set of incorrect answers).

Employee skills and expertise, however, is a very different beast, even though the fields supplied in the Office 365 profile treat it as the same. Collecting, gathering, and discerning expertise for a profile is a complex can of worms; consider:

  • Expertise refers to the ability to perform at an expert level in a particular subject or topic area. Some expertise is explicit (can be documented) and some is tacit (hard to express in words).
  • Declared expertise – where an individual says what they are good at – has a low level of reliability. The individual will be too modest, too extreme, or just plain wrong. One study suggests that any expertise declarative by an individual about themselves should have the status of undefined (unverified).
  • Other people experience the expertise delivered by an individual, and thus are more reliable at stating what someone is good at. The same study above says the individual’s manager is the most reliable rater, and that the ratings from 7-10 additional colleagues are required to match the manager’s rating.
  • Private ratings of other people are more accurate than attributable ratings. “When raters think their ratings will be or could be revealed, 67% of ratings increase significantly and become less correlated to performance.
  • There are many content systems in an enterprise through which expertise can be demonstrated: documents written, blogs posted, discussion comments (“best answer!”) given, and emails sent. There are attempts being made to mine this growing collection of content to map expertise.

In light of the above, if Hyperfish is serious about collecting expertise in a way that’s helpful to an organisation, the approach will need to include the ability to (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Ask multiple people about the expertise they receive from a given individual, and then summarise / rank / rate / scale the result set to give an overall assessment.
  • Be able to integrate with systems that can look through documents and other written forms of expressing and delivering expertise in order reason out key themes and areas of expertise. If an organisation is using such a system, the Hyperfish Integration Framework should allow the creation of mapping and sync rules.
  • Have the ability to automatically populate and control some values in the single expertise field, while allowing the individual to manually edit other values.

Profiling expertise is a fascinating (and highly complex) area. While Hyperfish’s framework will give the technical ability to collect expertise and skills, more will be required to gather correct / accurate / helpful / validated answers.

Weekend Video 25.11

An overview of the new business apps in Office 365 – for small business clients.

Microsoft Connections, Microsoft Listings, Microsoft Invoicing, and the Office 365 Business center are now generally available as part of Microsoft 365 Business and Office 365 Business Premium. The new apps are rolling out to customers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada.

These apps—together with Microsoft Bookings, Outlook Customer Manager, and MileIQ—bring you seven new ways to manage your customer relationships and build your business. We’re also announcing new intelligence features for MileIQ that automatically classify drives as business or personal on your behalf.

Hopefully this puts another nail in the coffin of Office 365 being just the new name for the Office productivity suite.

Weekend Reading 25.11

There are lots of other people doing interesting work around the world. Here’s a selection of the stop-and-pay-attention ideas I have come across this week. Find yourself a coffee or tea, pull out your digital reading device of choice, and go exploring.

  • More on the Uber Data Breach (Paul Smith) … “Revelations that Uber covered up a hack of its systems that led to 57 million customer and driver records being exposed has demonstrated once again the darling of the disruptor crowd cannot be trusted, and puts its commercial concerns ahead of the community it purports to serve. The news is also an early taster of the flood of stories to come in Australia next year, when companies are finally forced to disclose their own breaches, and tough new EU rules come in that could see global operators here slugged with huge fines.” More
  • How Evil is Tech? (David Brooks) … “Not long ago, tech was the coolest industry. Everybody wanted to work at Google, Facebook and Apple. But over the past year the mood has shifted. Some now believe tech is like the tobacco industry — corporations that make billions of dollars peddling a destructive addiction. Some believe it is like the N.F.L. — something millions of people love, but which everybody knows leaves a trail of human wreckage in its wake.” More
  • Electronic Flight Bag at Pegasus … “Turkish low-cost airline, Pegasus Airlines, has enjoyed dramatic savings of €135,000 per aircraft, per year thanks to its partnership with Panasonic. The relationship, which has seen Pegasus Airlines’ flight crews equipped with fully rugged Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 tablets, coupled with Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) software, has resulted in annual savings of €11m thanks to reductions in paper, printing and copying costs as well as the crew’s ability to work in a faster, more dynamic and cost effective manner.” More / Video
  • Response to Drowning in Business and Life (Curtis McHale) … Three strategies when you feel like you are drowning in business and life: [1] get some support, [2] some exercise, and [3] just start again. “None of these ideas are magic. You’ve likely still got a bit of a road to walk until you can break out of the funk you’re in.” More

Data Breach Alert In Mozilla Firefox

Mozilla is looking at how it can alert users of a data breach when visiting a site that has been breached:

Firefox operator Mozilla is looking at adding a feature into the browser that would alert users if their credentials have been involved in a data breach, by integrating with Troy Hunt’s haveibeenpwned.com breach database.

Its functionality at the moment – the tool is currently being prototyped – involves a notification bar that appears to users when they visit a site registered in haveibeenpwned.com as having been breached.

Nice move. Not what I had in mind yesterday, but a good step in the right direction.

Data Breaches

We are at a time in history when data breaches are becoming more prevalent and more frequent. Equifax was compromised for 143 million people. Uber has been in the news this week for hiding knowledge of a data breach of 57 million customers for over a year (the rotters; if only the fines in GDPR were based on market value not annual revenue), and of course the 500 million odd user Yahoo breach (added to the earlier one billion user data breach). It is probably fair to say that if you alone know your personal and sensitive information, you are now in the minority. Someone will have access to personally identifiable data on you.

There are some things we the people can do. Use different user names and passwords to get access to the various services we access, thereby reducing the impact of account compromise in one service on the others. Although that’s pretty hard to do practically, especially if we are supposed to change our passwords or pass phrases for every service every month. With the increased number of services we all access, that’s not a very realistic expectation.

We could delegate the task of remembering passwords to a password manager, and we should, but if these get compromised (ahem, Lastpass), we are back at square one. And even with a password manager, changing passwords is still a manual process that can’t be done automagically on schedule for all consumed services by the password manager. The user with 100 services would still have to go through and manually update all services monthly. It’s not going to happen.

We could use two-factor authentication, and we should, but it’s a bit binary in its approach: always ask before allowing access, or trust this browser, computer, device, or session. If the same person uses the same device to access the same services from the same location, there are probably few red alert signals. But if those factors diverge, there could be weird anomalies that need an additional layer of checking.

In the enterprise IT security space there are intelligent security tools that look for anomalous usage of enterprise login credentials, assessing various threat factors to decide if additional access and authentication information should be requested before allowing access to requested services. For example, if the user is logged in via a device in one country, and a second login is requested by a device in another country, that is a signal that something could be amiss, and therefore a higher level of access checking is enforced. Likewise for login attempts at weird times of the day or night. Or from weird devices. Each login attempt is risk assessed before approval or denial (with the appropriate alerts to the powers that be for denied attempts).

I wonder if those enterprise oriented tools could be used at cloud scale – or at Internet scale – to pay attention to any use of personal and sensitive personal information?

Or what about this idea: what the credit card companies can do with artificial intelligence for identifying fraudulent transactions for credit cards, we the people could use for identifying fraudulent use of compromised personal data or account credentials?

Here We Go Again

Four years, one month, 11 days ago I was here. Waiting late one Saturday night in the midst of a quiet corridor outside the theatres at the hospital, sitting in an otherwise empty waiting room as one of my sons had his appendix removed. That operation took two hours, as the appendix had burst and it was a bit of a mess to clean up. And the aftermath saw me camped out at the hospital for 6 days while he recovered.

Tonight it’s the same journey for me – waiting and sitting – as a daughter goes through the first of a kind journey for her. Same operation as her brother (although she bet him by a month, which she was pleased about), but a very different experience for an otherwise very healthy young woman. And my quiet room of four years ago is not quiet tonight; it is inhabited by others similarly waiting and sitting, although they are full of raucous laughter and crude language that seems out of place to me in such a place and at such a time, although they are here for a much more significant journey than I am. Each to his and her own; people handle times like this differently.

Last time I was grateful for the same things I’m grateful for this time. Nurses and doctors and many supporting personnel who can mobilise under life threatening situations to restore health and well-being. For specialist staff who stay beyond finishing time to figure out what’s wrong. For medical equipment that enables sight to otherwise normally hidden places, and advances in surgery that allow what used to be a long incision to be replaced with a few small holes that will almost completely disappear over time. For medicine and drugs and pain relief and knock-you-out anaesthetic that allows what must be done to be done in relative comfort.

And for that promise in Psalm 23, that walking through the valley of the shadow of death is never a solitary sojourn, but a close walk with Him who defeated death.

The operation went well. The young lady is now recovering well. Amazing how much of a difference 10 hours after surgery makes.