Technology adds value to our words

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Steve Gale reckons that the hard currency of business is language – and it needs protecting!

Technology in the workplace usually means IT, connectivity or phone systems. It’s less likely to be a smart toaster or a way to extract titanium. It’s all about language, which rightly dominates the knowledge working environment – it is the exchange mechanism of thinking. Here are my three techie ways to increase the value of the spoken and written word.

Email: Pilita Clark in the Financial Times recently cited a great idea I have always thought would save time, reduce stress and win huge support, but it has not yet happened. Charge people for sending emails, like sticking a stamp on a letter.

I love this idea. I once ran two workshops in the IT department of a large pharmaceutical firm to unearth the constraints of their allegedly ineffective workspace. It turned out that the space was fine but, curiously, instead they told me that the ‘real’ problem they faced everyday, and which killed their energy, was the ’email blizzard’. If we could reduce, or eliminate, unnecessary emails, their gratitude would be undying and their lives would be worth living again. One way to do this might be to levy a charge for each recipient every time they hit send. It would encourage people to reflect on the cost of their note when it reaches its destination and it might reduce the political copies to uninterested parties – and it would certainly eliminate spam unless it were funded by a very wealthy and stupid donor.

One Phone: What happened to the idea of your mobile logging into your enterprise voice network when you arrive in the office? This much touted idea got to be called fixed-mobile convergence or FMC and, 15 years ago, I heard this was literally around the corner, but it has still not caught on. I frequently visit hi-tech offices that have desk phones hard wired to the wall with people logging in and then forgetting to log out. A recent paper on the FMC market stated: ‘Fixed–mobile convergence has not developed as expected, allegedly because of lack of demand.’  Really? Nobody wants more than one phone.

Part of the frustration of FMC is relieved by the hilarious jargon jamboree that surrounds it. You can have ‘session continuity’ guaranteed by a mobility controller, server, router, appliance or gateway, depending on the vendor and you can debate the ambiguous term ‘seamless service’ and whether agnostic applies to the handset, carrier, PBX or network. Best to avoid acronyms like VCC, CCCF and DECT. Maybe this is why it’s still in the long grass?

If we have to stick with desk phones, let’s bring back Bakelite and dials and do it properly.

Voice Recognition: This might be a bit more out there, but you may be surprised to know that voice recognition works really well on nearly all devices and is dangerously close to being 100% perfect.

When I had a keyboard holiday after breaking my arm, I learnt to write by voice control. After a few days I had it down and could not help thinking that the painful road to keyboard mastery (which rarely achieves the level of touch typing) would one day remain untrodden and we would do away with the clumsy devices altogether. They already look like relics to me now – and I would like half of my laptop to disappear.

You will immediately understand the potential drawback of open plan offices full of people speaking to their screens, or people dictating their commercially sensitive information on trains. There are ways around this but, as far as I can see, the issue has not been addressed anywhere.

Do we really think the keyboard, which was invented in 1870 to stop typewriters jamming and needs to be reconfigured for every European language, not to mention those that don’t use the Roman alphabet, will survive when it’s no longer needed?

Words – they cost so little, but we value them in so many ways.

Steve Gale is Head of Business Intelligence at M Moser Associates.