Guest Post by Ayelette Robinson, Director – Knowledge Technology at Littler Mendelson (and San Francisco City Rep, in ILTA-speak).
It seems apt that my mission today is to write about how the future of professional technology is personal technology – in a blog post.
Remember when blogs first began? They were deemed the lowest common writing denominator for the masses, a place where the skilled, the new, the emotional, the academic, the personal, the angry, and the instructional could all pronounce their opinions with equal fervor and equal distribution. The equality factor, that everyone and anyone had equal access to be seen, read, and publicized, filled most with doubt: “How can I know whose posts are worth reading?” But over time, as those of you reading this are surely aware, we found ways to filter out the dross, and the wonder of equality meant that we found those diamonds in the rough.
Blogs rose to stardom in the mid-1990s, and here I am more than 15 years later leveraging this tool to exchange ideas with my professional peers. Twitter progressed from “I’m eating a sandwich” to “future of prof #IT at http://bit.ly/e8g6uV #ilta #km” much more quickly than blogs did (although interestingly, despite the relative speed of Twitter’s personal-to-professional use transition, the naysaying about Twitter when it launched, including and perhaps especially by knowledge professionals, was particularly absolute).
If history is any indication, we need look no further than our homes and the up-and-coming generation to discover the future of our offices and the behavior and expectations of the workers who will fill them. So, what are the tools of today that will in equal measures enrich and complicate our careers tomorrow?
Social media is surely one answer. While blogs, tweets, and LinkedIn status updates are now frequently used by professionals to exchange professional information, they are still leveraged by and large in a very personal way – to improve our own individual professional relationships, support our own individual professional development, and publicize our own individual expertise. There is still quite a ways to go before these tools are woven into the fabric of our organizational operations. But a ways to go they will, especially as the newer generations enter the workforce and bring their culture and assumptions of online collaboration with them. Whether we talk about it aloud or not, tools like SocialText and Neudesic’s Pulse will find their way into the enterprise.
An expectation of mobility has similarly seeped from our personal lives into our professional ones. But here too, enterprise technology lags behind its commercial cousin, with enterprise content, and even collaboration tools like SharePoint, still not available easily over mobile devices. This will surely change in the coming years as vendors recognize that if we can bank on our mobile devices, security is not the bottleneck.
Cultural transformations triggered by technological innovations will also begin to take shape. Practitioners will begin to recognize the power of sharing their literal and figurative locations. Instead of feeling territorial over work and relationships, they will expect their work not only to be more efficient, but also to be better, when everyone leverages the knowledge of where their colleagues are on a matter, what challenges they face, and what relationships they need. Sharing status, questions, wins, and lessons learned as enterprise-wide status updates will become second nature, and will improve both work product and relationships. Even today’s tools – time trackers, email systems, and document management platforms – are tracking some of this information, so the barrier to exposing it is cultural rather than technological. As the new generation rises within the workplace, the ensuing cultural evolution will open the door for the exchange and productive use of this type of information.
Mirroring how media trains our minds, attention-shifting tools will also begin to appear on the horizon. Current and new generations consider themselves multi-taskers, or more accurately, quick-shifters from one project to another. Tools that integrate common systems are just beginning to dot the personal technology landscape (see Rockmelt), and as our minds are trained more and more to attention-shift, these tools will eventually work their way into our professional space. As legal practitioners, we spend far too much time clicking between documents, emails, phone calls, and office drop-by’s; some argue that we need to train ourselves to focus better, but for better or for worse personal culture is training us to attention-shift. Until Times Square reduces its billboards to one, we need to accept that our attention will continue to be pulled in multiple and competing directions and that technology will help us to identify and transition to the important.
These are just some of the personal technologies I suspect will mold our professional futures. But whether you agree that these specific tools will survive or will yield to other technological phenomena, history tells a convincing tale that how we live casts how we practice.