The arrival of the dystopian workplace

1984 Big Brother

Maybe it’s because I’m currently reading 1984 by George Orwell on my Kindle – the first time I’ve read the book since the early 1980s – but this report in The Wall Street Journal that an IBM security tool can flag “disgruntled employees” struck me as a bit,  well, Orwellian.

[…] The new tool, called IBM Security Intelligence with Big Data, is designed to crunch decades worth of emails, financial transactions and website traffic, to detect patterns of security threats and fraud. Beyond its more conventional threat prevention applications, the new platform, based on Hadoop, a framework that processes data-intensive queries across clusters of computers, will allow CIOs to conduct sentiment analysis on employee emails to determine which employees are likely to leak company data, [Sandy Bird, chief technology officer of IBM’s security systems division] said. That capability will look at the difference between how an employee talks about work with a colleague and how that employee discusses work on public social media platforms, flagging workers who may be nursing grudges and are more likely to divulge company information. “By analyzing email you can say this guy is a disgruntled employee and the chance that he would be leaking data would be greater,” Mr Bird said of IBM’s new tool.

Computer software that predicts or suggests human behaviour in a workplace could have immense value in their function  of crunching data to enable the humans to make the judgements.

[…] For example, a company could analyze employee emails that express a positive sentiment to a manager at work, but detect “when he’s talking to a peer or someone outside the company, the sentiment comes out a little different,” Mr. Bird said.  Such a pattern, combined with other factors, could cause an employee to be flagged for more investigation by an IT team.

Yet if a tool such as IBM’s makes it faster, cheaper and more efficient to get to a conclusion, then I can see the time when crucial decisions about you and what you have said are made by a computer.

Inevitable dystopia? Discuss!

The prime hurdles of social business

valueThe notion of an organization being a “social business” is one that’s been talked about for the past few years, often focusing on social media tools and channels  – social networks, Twitter, blogs, etc – that people can use to connect with other people in a manner that’s more authentic that the rigidity, formality and control of marketing and public relations and instead is, well, social.

The concept has evolved quickly and today, more influential voices are looking closely at people’s behaviours, organization structure and culture as the more important – indeed, critical – issues to address.

These are the keys to an organization genuinely being a social business.

Why is this important? Look at it this way.

It’s all very well having some of your customer service team actively talking to customers in places like Twitter and Facebook, where actual relationships can develop, and word of mouth can quickly spread news about people’s good experiences as they get their problems easily and quickly addressed.

What about the traditional customer channels? Does the customer service call centre match the positive (typically) outcomes customers and others experience in talking informally and naturally to service staff?

Typically, the answer to that is a resounding no. You’ll know that yourself, for instance, if you’ve ever engaged with people on a company’s Twitter handle and compared that experience with what you get when you call their customer service number.

Mind the gap!

One of the most influential companies taking a strong and focused message about social business and what the organization needs to do to become one is IBM. (Recommended reading: their report “The business of social business” [reg required]. You don’t have to be an ‘enterprise’ to gain value and benefit from the ideas and thinking illustrated in this report.)

This infographic posted a few days ago on their Smarter Planet blog, highlighting the use of social technologies from IBM’s recent global survey about social business, makes the point well in concisely identifying the primary hurdles organizations need to address. Look at the bottom of the infographic.


Concisely, it states the four elements in a foundation that needs to be in place for an organization to become a social business:

  1. Provide an infrastructure for engagement.
  2. Integrate social practices into day-to-day work activities.
  3. Understand where and how data generation could benefit the company.
  4. Teach employees how to collaborate effectively with people outside the organization.

Guest blogger Mark Fidelman is spot on in what he identifies:

[…] It’s clear that social business has transformed from a nice-to-have to a necessity for organizations to remain competitive. A lot of progress has been made, but there’s still a lot more work to do. Social business is about recognizing that the game has changed in business. No longer do the winners hoard information in silos or ignore the crowd’s input. The future is filled with sharing, collaborating and sourcing new ideas and innovations from inside and outside an organization.

It’s a construction site out there.  Do you have your blueprints?

Related posts:

IBM develops mobile apps for Wimbledon

wimbledoniphoneapp If you’re a Wimbledon fan and you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, and you want to keep up with what’s happening at this year’s tennis championship no matter where you happen to be, there’s a treat in store for you.

Just head over to the App Store and install the Wimbledon iPhone Application.

It’s free and works on an iPhone running the new OS 3.0 (I have it installed). The minimum requirement is OS 2.0.

I’m not a huge tennis nor Wimbledon fan but I love this app and being able to check what’s happening at any moment. In using it now and again over the past couple of days, I note that information is being updated pretty regularly.

As a result, I’m becoming confident that I’ll be able to get timely news and results close to when it all happens at Wimbledon, from wherever I happen to be.

As you’ll see from the screenshots on Flickr, the app gives you news, scores, match schedules, draws timeline and videos (these are especially good) via touch points at the bottom of the iPhone screen.

I like the consistent branding in colours and logo, both for Wimbledon itself as well as how sponsor IBM has integrated its logo discreetly into the overall Wimbledon branding.

This is an excellent app. If I had one niggle, it would be that the font used is a bit on the small side for my squinty eyes that need glasses: it would be great if there were a setting to adjust the type size.

An app for the iPhone isn’t all that IBM’s developers have created, though.

Check out the Mobile Services page on the Wimbledon website – lots more there including the IBM Seer. What is it? This from IBM’s press release last week:

[…] The Seer Aggregator is a downloadable Twitter application enabling fans to receive specific Wimbledon real-time ‘tweets’ from a variety sources, including players, commentators and a team of IBM scouts at the event.

I have that installed on my Nokia N95 8GB from where these screenshots come (notice the one with a tweet from Serena Williams).

There’s also an augmented reality experiment with IBM Seer beta for G1 and G2 Android phones (find where the strawberries are!) – check out this video and blog post that clearly explains what it is and how it works.

And with a game for mobile, there’s plenty about Wimbledon 2009 to keep you informed and entertained for the duration of the championship, from June 22-July 5, wherever you happen to be.

Two words to all the app developers: Nice job!