Twenty-twenty-one

Main visual : Twenty-twenty-one

This month I’ve been looking back on a year of barely imaginable disruption. I was used to travelling. And travelling a lot!

A year ago this abruptly changed, and all work had to be done solely from home after returning from my last trip. Having worked in IT for almost thirty years, I’ve been reflecting on how I was able to do that so effortlessly.

Good old times

I still remember my time at university, when I was using WordPerfect on MS DOS to write documents and reports. It was a giant leap forward from the mechanical typewriters I sometimes used.

Screenshot of WordPerfect on MS DOS
Figure 1 WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS Reveal Codes

Once I got the hang of the “Reveal Codes” function (F11). I was able to apply text formatting and document layout. Print Preview (Shift+F7 option 6) allowed me to even see what the document would look like before printing it on my dot-matrix printer. I have two screenshots to show you what that looked like in 1990. Those were the days…

Another screenshot of Word Perfect on MS DOS
Figure 2 WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS Print Preview

Fast forward to 1992, and I was happily typing away in Word 1 as my word processor running on Windows 3. I no longer had to second guess what my document would look like before printing it because of WYSIWYG: what you see is what you get…  

It also brought the joys of a graphical user interface with toolbars, instead of having to remember all those shortcut keys for getting things done.

Accelerating evolution in technology

Since then, computers evolved from 16-­bit processors to 64-­bit monsters. Internal memory, RAM, went from 1 megabyte (or less), to 16 gigabyte or more. Internal hard disks went from 10 megabyte (not gigabyte!) to the whopping 18 terabyte drives you can buy today. Solid state drives helped establish laptop performance unimaginable less than ten years ago. Advances in hardware have supported the journey from 16-­bit Windows 3, to 32-­bit Windows 95 and NT, to today’s 64-bit Windows 10.

So, what did the promise of technology improvement bring us? Whilst my current digital workplace is immensely more stable, and the laptop I use is able to quickly switch between many applications I use during my workday, I am still using Word on Windows to create documents.

My typing has improved so I can write a bit faster. Today’s documents look nicer because of the enhanced resolution and great fonts we have at our disposal.

However, creating content still takes about the same effort as it used to, over thirty years ago. It almost seems that only version numbers have changed…

It’s all about collaboration

What did change? It is the increasing ability to collaborate. Things started with standalone, where I could only share hard copies based on a print, or by using a floppy disk.

Next came modems and networking, allowing me to share and retrieve files electronically. Bulletin boards, CompuServe, file servers and finally the internet helped up the ante in terms of reach and capacity.

The next leap was e-mail, followed by instant messaging, or chat, a couple of years later. Nowadays, collaboration helps with getting more work done, and modern tools allow me to produce professional quality assets.

"Messages, documents and tasks are in one place."

It is already hard to imagine not having Microsoft Teams at my disposal. Messages, documents and tasks are in one place. E-mail volume has plummeted. But despite these tools, content creation still takes about the same effort that it used to, three decades ago.

Future workplace

I believe this year might finally bring long overdue improvement to some of the tools I use every day. Many simple tasks are easily automated, so I can focus on important work.

Artificial Intelligence is supporting me by structuring and filtering the information I need, when I need it – with promising new tools and capabilities just being announced. Finally, document creation is benefiting from tools providing suggestions on content and formatting while I am working.

To maximize the benefits from these new features, my colleagues and I might need to change the way we work, or how we use collaboration tools. This usually isn’t too difficult, but it does sometimes take a while to get used to, because habits tend to last.

And without deliberate practice, it’s easy to fall back into old ways!

We need to be made aware of new capabilities, how to use them, and benefit from them. Just making new functionality available and expecting people to pick it up typically is not enough.

That is why in IT we have change and adoption initiatives. This is to ensure users, and therefore the organization, actually benefit from technology enhancements.

Because it depends on the individual what approach works best, these initiatives leverage multiple ways for enablement: some people might only need a brief announcement, others might benefit from an instruction video, or a step by step process in a newsletter and on a self-service portal.

The user can choose the format they like most. For every organization, it is important to assess the user population, and consider: what is the best way to invest in what is typically the biggest asset, their employees?

Twenty-twenty-one is going to be a good year for me: seeing the first signs of the pandemic on the decline, and finally technology is going to support my productivity in the area of content creation.

I am ready for a positive and promising year – and I hope you are ready to join me!

Connect with me on LinkedIn: Ivar Fennema | LinkedIn

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