Last week I was talking to a friend of mine who works in the legal department of an international company and he was complaining. IT had decided to switch the whole company over to Gmail and Google Drive and hadn’t begun to consider the implications for the hard-working lawyer-types like himself. To be fair to the local IT guys, the decision was forced on them by the “international” head office team. But as a neutral observer, I have to say that the complaint he was making seems fairly true across the small number of large organisations I've encountered in my working life. There seems to be a gap in expectations between IT and the rest of the workforce and as an observer, the gap doesn't seem to be closing, just widening.
Before I get into the details, I should start by saying I’m not on the Semanta IT team (I don’t own a Mac for a start :) My work is localisation and editing (If you’ve got a gripe about the grammar and British English spelling on the blog, blame it on me :). So I sometimes see things from a different perspective.
A Drive too far
As a lawyer in a large organisation, my friend's main requirement for any IT that he’s plugged into is easy access to documents and the ability to amend them. He’s not interested in DW, he’s not interested in security, he’s not interested in email efficiency. He's interested in word documents. From his perspective, all his company's IT department does is make this work harder for him. It's true, the way things used to work in his company was inefficiency personified. A draft contract would be written in Word, emailed to his Boss and CCed to other interested parties. His Boss would directly edit the document and send it back with comments. Keeping track of the correct version was fairly easy - they were in his inbox - but keeping track of comments wasn’t. However, switching to Google Drive (A company dictate all serfs now need to follow - no more emailing docs to each other) was making everything ten times more difficult. We all know how it works. You can upload a document, but editing it requires the drafting of a new version – or certain permissions that IT aren’t about to hand out. The result, he’s dealing with two sources of information, his Boss’s email containing his comments plus the new version on Google Drive. Keeping track of what and where and when gets pretty crazy when a contract is being revised multiple times and different parties are reading different versions, sending him comments about the version they just read, in a separate email, with no reference to the actual version! God forbid if multiple parties decide to edit the different versions!...I guess I don’t need to go on.
This is all coming down from above – the international IT gurus, and the last thing on their mind is how easy or difficult it is for lawyer Joe to do his job. They’re probably more interested in getting some security in their system – but you can correct me there if I’m wrong. However, the question has to be asked, why aren’t they interested in my friend’s problems?
When he told me this story, I nodded in sympathy as friends do. But inwardly I had to laugh. Not because I’m a cruel human being (at least, I try not to show it) but because I’d experienced a similar difference in expectations between an IT team and an ordinary Joe first hand. The Joe in question in this case was me, however the roles, when it happened, were completely reversed.
I'm not from round here
So, a short explanation and confession is called for – don’t say it out loud but the guys at Semanta, their English is excellent but …. they’re not native speakers - and when they decided to start publishing blogs they decided a native speaker needed to give them the once over before publishing. Which is where I stepped in. (And now you can all pat me on the back for the fine job of unacknowledged work I do, entertaining you all every week with excellent Queen’s English – or don’t :). Anyway, the point is, they offered work, I accepted and then came the brutal details – where and when would the editing take place. I was somewhat relieved when I was told I’d be able to work at home. I don’t own a Mac and I’d been slightly nervous about revealing this ( Sorry guys, but hands on your hearts, all of you IT dudes out in blog land, look around your office and if it isn’t a subsidiary of an Apple store I’ll eat my Windows 7 install disk ). However, that brought up my next question, would we be emailing documents back and forth or using Google Drive? As a freelancer, I’d had experience of both, and while I liked neither, I personally preferred the email option.
Peter looked at me like I was from the stone age (and he still didn’t know about my Windows fetish) and told me it wouldn’t be either. They’d set up an account for me in their company Encyclopaedia and I’d be able to edit and work directly through a web browser on the documents. Now it was my turn to look at him like he was from the stone age (Apple aren’t what they were, after all). Work over a web browser? Seriously, what planet were these guys from? How was I supposed to annotate the blog, add comments, or track editing changes. He waved a virtual hand - this being Semanta, we didn’t need to meet face to face - and assured me, that everything would be cool. And to cut a long story short – it was.
A first encounter
Actually it was more than cool. When I edited their first blog (about Data warehouse management.....yawn ;) and I first started to see what Encyclopaedia as a business tool is capable of, I wrote them an email (how stone age of me ;) telling them that they must be kidding! For those of you that haven't had the fun of using Encyclopaedia first hand, without this turning into an infomercial love-in, Encyclopaedia has a Word style application that is any editor's or office worker's wet dream. You can edit, comment, rewrite, do anything you wish directly on the document and the original author is automatically kept up-to-date about every change you make. No more email tennis. No more multiple versions uploaded to Google Drive. I was a little surprised. There I was, working on a system that allowed me to do everything I’d ever wanted to be able to do as a professional editor and they were writing a blog about Data warehouses? Come on! Who’s interested in Data Warehouses?! This was a revolution in computer working tools and they were blogging about knowledge management?
.......I've since learned that an awful lot of people are interested in DW's. However, Semanta’s answer to my question at the time is what interests me now. They answered with a question, why can’t we blog about both? Why can’t business users enjoy a work tool revolution and IT departments enjoy improved knowledge management? And this is what I thought about when my friend was busy complaining to me last week.
Don't forget us little guys
Over the last twelve months, as I’ve edited more blogs, I’ve started to learn how important DW’s are. I’ve started to understand a little bit about the other side of the IT - "rest of the company" expectation gap. But I've also started to understand Semanta’s holistic approach to their data solution. And that’s why, after I’d sympathised with my lawyer friend last week, I decided to write this blog. There’s clearly a difference in expectations between IT departments and the average office worker. Both want different things that seem to run counter to each other. But why does this have to be? Why can’t IT departments achieve their own IT goals - goals that make their lives easier - and at the same time why can't ordinary working joe's or lawyers have a tool that makes their life easier? From personal experience, believe me, Google Drive is not the solution. However, as a twelve-month convert to the world of Encyclopaedia, and from the vague understanding I’ve gained of KM issues through editing this blog, I can tell you there is no reason why things have to be this way.
My reason for writing this blog for all of you out there in KM and DW blog-land, is not just to draw attention to its near perfect grammar :), but also to make a request. Don’t forget about your office workers, the one’s who have to live with your decisions and try and get their jobs done. I know you need to keep your data well-managed and I know you need to prioritise security but there is a way to both make their working lives easier, and keep your own data systems in order. I don’t own an I-book and know nothing about DW technology - so I have to trust Semanta’s word about Encyclopaedia’s DM capabilities. But as someone who makes a living editing and correcting, sharing and writing documents, I can five hundred percent recommend Encyclopaedia as a tool that’ll revolutionise your office serfs working lives. The next time you're thinking about inflicting the pain that is Google Drive upon them, test drive Encyclopaedia first. If it doesn't provide a solution to your business users' documentation-handling needs then I really will eat my Windows install disk :).
(My PC is a beast, by the way – just to clear that up – I wouldn’t want to give anyone the impression this blog wasn’t written on anything that wasn’t a beast – I mean as PC’s go, it was a T rex before the T rex evolved – word! ;)