Kylemcnabb_5By Kyle McNabb

Anyone else getting social networking fatigue? What about frustration with too much choice in email, calendaring, instant messaging, and content authoring & publishing tools? Do you think you’re more or less productive as a result of all the technology being thrown at you at work and outside of work? These questions, and more, are the focus of our ongoing research into the needs of information workers and the future of desktop productivity. What’s struck me as a part of this research is how out of touch many established and new desktop productivity vendors are with the needs of information workers.

Findings from our research will be published in early Q2 2008, but I wanted to share a few observations:

– The technology line between work and life has blurred to the point of obscurity. Ten years ago, most information workers wouldn’t associate many of the tools they used at work to what they would do outside of work. People, yes people, use this type of technology at home, at work, online, and offline. Information workers aren’t expressing the need for a new word processor, but they can be found wishing for help managing business and personal contacts — many of which may be in Facebook, LinkedIn, or on their desktop. They also can be found wanting for help managing their time, not just at work but in life. They want access and visibility into their work calendars, personal calendars, and if they have a spouse or kids, their family calendars. Many of these people use Outlook at home, not just at work. And these people don’t just have one email account, they have multiple — work, Hotmail, Google, Yahoo!, AOL, you name it!
– Yet many Microsoft alternatives may be too narrowly focused. With the possibility of taking a half a point to even a full point of desktop productivity market share away from Microsoft (or some $50 million to $100 million annually), no one can blame vendors like Adobe, IBM, Sun, Google, Thinkfree and others for taking a shot at Office. But we’ve learned that information workers — the people that use desktop productivity tools to get their jobs done — don’t see great value in having a low cost alternative to Microsoft Office. A Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Access alternative, without an equivalent to Outlook (even if it is offered as an online service), for many of these people is basically ‘ho hum’. For many we’ve spoken to, the novelty of the online service wears off quickly, and they revert back to using Microsoft Office or derivatives because they’re useful offline. Frankly, these people (information workers) want something more innovative, something they can look at and believe they’ll be more productive — and suffer less  fatigue — as they use it.

Desktop productivity’s future will include more choices for people. And a few vendors will certainly establish themselves as low cost/no cost Microsoft Office alternatives. But I’m convinced we’ve yet to see real innovation in this area. I think we’ll see real innovation when technologists look beyond trying to imitate Microsoft Office and instead:
1) Tackle the work/life needs of information workers. What could this mean? A real focus on personal information management to help information workers (people) keep the personal and business information they want and need, organize it, and help them use it while online and offline. Maybe it’ll help them keep track of all their calendars and events. Maybe it’ll help them keep tabs on personal and business contacts, without requiring them to jump from one site to the next. It could lead to using email as a social networking means — something Yahoo! referred to as Inbox 2.0 (enough 2.0 already). Whatever it does, it will have to address the information worker’s fatigue associated with too much information and too many tools.
2) Stop insisting people use their technology as a distinct tool. I’m not convinced, based on what I’ve learned from this research, that the next great innovation in desktop productivity will result in a brand new tool. Instead, perhaps innovation will materialize from those that choose to work within the tools many information workers already use. For many information workers, the day begins and ends in Microsoft Outlook. For others its Lotus Notes. Perhaps, just perhaps, technologists should look at making these established tools work better for information workers, versus thrusting new tools with their own distinct user interfaces at information workers. I know some of my own social networking fatigue would be addressed if I just had one place to go to access and use all my personal and business information (emails, contacts, you name it) whether I’m online or offline.

My opinion, for the technologist(s) that can address the work/life needs of information workers, the world will be their oyster. What do you think? Comments below, or email me your thoughts.