Jonathan Kohl discusses where he thinks technology is headed, how mobile devices are changing what we test, and what all that time we spend socializing online is doing to workplace productivity.
A thought leader in mobile application testing, Jonathan Kohl has been a pioneer in applying effective software testing, business analysis, and design and project management on mobile application projects.
Heather Shanholtzer: During a recent conversation, you said we are undergoing a major shift in technology. What did you mean by that? From where to where?
Jonathan Kohl: This is what I see: Technology is moving toward a combination of mobility, social connections, and gaming and entertainment.
That means we need to be aware of combined technologies, combined software and tools, and combined activities. This requires that we solve new problems with new technology, or different combinations of technology we are familiar with.
The last shift was to the web: e-business, web interaction, etc. We moved to a distributed model where we gave people access to things that they may have had limited or no access to. We made it possible to do a lot more remote work, and we created web versions of business applications to support that. We created virtual stores, virtual social centers, and digitized and opened up a lot of information.
Now we are shifting again, and mobile devices, social interactions, and gaming and entertainment are moving us to a ubiquitous, embedded model of computing. Rather than go to a PC and connect to the web, we have a computer in our pocket. Rather than use software remotely in the same way we would in the office, software is changing to reflect things we like to do in social situations.
Heather Shanholtzer: From a business perspective, what are the benefits and challenges of this newfound mobility?
Jonathan Kohl: The potential benefits are enormous. We can use technology in places where we haven’t before, so we can be productive in ways we had only dreamed of in the past. As workers become more mobile, they have opportunities to perform work and have access to important information, when in the past we would have classified this as lost time. (For example, I am currently answering these questions on a mobile device during time that would have formerly been “lost time”.) Also, the applications themselves are shifting to help tap into other ways of solving problems that mimic our online social interactions. There is huge potential here.
One challenge of the “always connected” environment is that it is difficult to have a work-life balance. If the devices are buzzing and beeping at us with work-related issues 24/7, it affects our rest, our lives, and our health. I’ve had to adjust my devices and be quite strict about the times when I am working and the times I am not, or I start to lose track of time and my personal life suffers.
Another challenge is the unintended consequences that will occur as a result of this new model. There is the constant connection to work, but these devices and the social applications we use are addictive. As companies start to utilize new technology, we will see problems with burnout, stress-related illness, and addiction-related issues that will result in lost productivity and personal problems.
Heather Shanholtzer: When I think “social,” I tend also to think “not getting work done.” How do you think this social approach to business is going to affect productivity?
Jonathan Kohl: That is an intuitive response, but the social aspect can be harnessed as a productivity enhancer. Just think about the time we spend on social networking sites or playing social games. We have no problem doing repetitive tasks in those applications. We can be amazingly productive in a game or when keeping up with relationships and sharing information in a social networking site. If there is an intrinsic motivation to do something, that is powerful. For example, when uploading all of my trip photos in a social app so friends and family can see how I spent my holidays, the reward of the interaction and information sharing outweighs the tedium. In the workplace, we often have repetitive, tedious tasks that we leave off until the last minute, or we engage in busy work to avoid them, even though in a social setting we would tolerate or possibly enjoy those same sorts of tasks.
Companies are realizing that the social gaming and entertainment applications tap into an intrinsic willingness to be productive, so they are starting to incorporate some of those features in their applications. There is a related movement called the “gamification of work” that is exploring how providing rewards in work applications can tap into this enormous productivity potential.
Our personal social networks are powerful mechanisms for sharing information, collaborating, and solving problems. Social networking sites are not just places where we post pictures of our meal, complain or brag, and comment on the latest outfit our friend put on his cat. We also ask for help, and our network puts us in touch with the correct people to help us solve problems or provide services. We also have access to a huge amount of important information about trends, current events, and developments that impact not only our personal lives but our professional lives as well. Companies are realizing that these systems are powerful, and they are coming up with ways to replicate these environments in the workplace. If we enjoy spending time in a corporate application the way we do a social application, what might we accomplish?