Tuesday, August 03, 2004


Blogging: Genius Strategies for Instant Web ContentI've had this crazy idea for a while that the whole web-logging thing hasn't been leveraged by IT in any effective way. In some casual discussions with senior Fortune 500 folks, I proposed the following:

Imagine a DeskLog, which represents your personal weblog on the corporate intranet. It might have a picture of you, your current contact information, and your current status (i.e., on vacation, alternative contact info, temporary chain-of-command, in the office, etc.).

But in addition to the standard, diary-like capabilities of a web-log, there are some gadgets depicted that are far more important for conducting business:

1) An inbox with pretty little file folders listed, with the titles of each folder visible to the public
2) An outbox - ditto for stuff that you've processed and dispatched based upon the desired workflow

If someone wants to give you a document to review or ask a question, they place it in your inbox. They don't have to email it to you, where all accountability is lost.* How many times have you heard, "Oh, I lost that email" or "I never got it". Now the request is in their inbox - and everyone on the intranet can see the file folder's title.

To place something in an inbox, you just fill out a simple form (or choose a form from a template) with a title, a message, attach a file, and (optionally) a suggested routing order. For example, say I want my boss Bob to sign off on a travel authorization. I fill out the form as follows:

Title: Doug Ross travel auth 8/4
Message: Bob, going up to visit the prime on a contract-required visit. Thks, --doug
Attachment: Travel-Auth-Form.doc
Routing: Doug Ross

Bob knows exactly what to do with this. He checks it out, signs it, and checks it back in. The default routing order takes over and places it back in my inbox.


Here's why I think DeskLog wouldn't just be another lame intranet app that everyone ignores. It's called accountability. The interesting thing about DeskLog (at least as I envision it) is that everyone, including your boss, can see your inbox and outbox.

For each file folder (representing a request in the box), everyone can see the date and time entered, the requestor, and the title.

Your boss, if the system were so configured, could even read your boxes' contents, not just the titles. Other folks below you or not in your management chain could only see the basic folder data like title.

Not keeping up with your work? It'll be painfully obvious to everyone. That's why I think DeskLog would be used heavily. It forces the users to monitor and keep up with their workload. The last thing you want is your boss checking out your inbox and seeing it overflowing with 300 items.


Workflow products are known for being convoluted, hard to configure and generally ignored even if a corporation has sprung big bucks for an implementation. It's the complexity... they all seem to require a PHD in chaos theory just to pre-configure all of the business processes.

I'm here to say that I don't think any of that's necessary. How about simple, ad hoc routing of documents? I enter a request into someone's inbox and I simply... suggest the routing order to finish the process. Or if I've chosen a template (say, a purchase requisition), a pre-configured routing order comes along for the ride.


Another thing DeskLog has going for it is its quantitative nature. Do you just get more done than that goof-off down the hall? Now you can measure throughput of even the most arcane actor in a business process.

Best of all, you can find and eliminate bottlenecks.

And......... I'm spent

Okay, that's enough DeskLogging for now. Give me a little feedback, below, and tell me whether I'm on to something or... simply off my rocker.

* DeskLog could certain accept inbox items from an email account, but that's not germane to this tale

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Email already has accountability. Turn on return receipt and you will get confirmation of when the email was delivered to their inbox. With all modern email systems, including Exchange, Notes, and simple SMTP, this is non-refutable proof that an email was received.

Second problem is that a boss like Bob would suck-- someone who micromanaged to the point of walking around to everyone's desk and checking their files (even digitally)? I just don't think a good business would do (or allow) these kinds of actions, and thus, this selling point is also moot.

On to encryption...or how else were you planning to achieve the "signature" workflow? If you upload a document for someone to sign, they are going to need to put a real signature on it. Never mind the fact that most companies still require ink on paper (not even photocopy is acceptable). Let's even assume that a copy or digital signature is acceptaible-- now your DeskLog product has to have crypto built in (or a scanner at every desk) to perform the signing and signature checking. Now its not server based anymore, which means you'll need client software on the ground at each desk. This is a big no-no in a Fortune NNN environment.

As far as gathering quantitiaive metrics for the work done by an individual, I just don't think technology is the answer. Some of the smartest, hardest working people I know generate about 10 lines of code per day. Sure, its a super-insanenly complicated crypto algorithm, but its pitiful progress from a quantative metric persepective nonetheless. Also, how do you apply this quatitative metric to a non-technical role (which is obviously what you are focusing on since all your examples are about signatures and workflow)? If metrics are being gathered on managers based on how quickly (or how many) forms they sign, then it will rapidly become a contest between managers to see who can sign forms the fastest. In the end, I think the review quality of their work will suffer horribly under the pretense of efficiency. Thousands of large companies have tried to use metrics...and none of them have succeeded in yielding any benefit to the organization.

Ok, so we're down to Workflow. For this item, you may be on to something. Existing workflow packages are very complex and difficult to maintain. But both those problems are the price of haveing a truly generalized business routing architecture. Oh, and they are expensive. I'm presuming DeskLog would be significantly cheaper... But, what kind of benefits could it actually achieve in the workflow space? Its not clear to me that DeskLog would provide anything more complex than a simple "next-in-line" workflow, which can done via email in most modern systems.

My final thoughts: most of what you described would provide no benefit to a real company, and hence is a waste of time. For the one piece that may provide benefit, you need to refine your idea and find a niche before attempting to make it a reality (or sell it).