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A tale of 2 desks

One of the interesting photos from President Obama’s first full day as President of the United States showed him sitting at the Oval Office desk wth just a telephone and some papers. There was no computer in sight, and President Obama may not personally use one during his Presidency. While he will be keeping his BlackBerry, his use of email and the web as a means for communication will be restricted, because these correspondence may eventually be made public under the Presidential Records Act of 1978.

Nevertheless, President Obama’s administration is poised to use the Internet to communicate directly with Americans in a way unknown to previous presidents. There is already a White house blog and Youtube channel which will be used to explain various aspects of the Obama Administration’s activities. These tools were used extensively during the Obama presidential campaign to enthuse supporters and provide them with the possibilities to self organise and collaborate on aspects of the compaign. Some statistics on how successful this was include:


  • 13 million people on the e-mail list
  • 3 million online donors
  • 5 million “friends” on more than 15 social networking sites
  • 8.5 million visitors to MyBarackObama (at peak)

Given this extensive use of the Internet, I was surprised not to see a laptop on the President’s desk. I thought, perhaps, he may use some of the same tools I use on projects to co-ordinate tasks and communicate with colleagues.  

President Barack Obama

While there is probably no need for President Obama to worry about updating wikis or using instant messaging, his work desk does provide an insight his working style.

Recently a colleague from India asked if I could take a photo of my desk and the office in which I work. Myself and my colleague each took some photos and included these on our project wiki. The results are displayed below. 

 My desk  Colleague’s desk


So what does this say about us and our working styles:

  1. I drink coffee. My colleague drinks water and eats low fat cereal bars. I need a coffee fix in the mornings, whereas my colleague perfers the healthy benefits of water and fruit.
  2. We don’t use our phones very often. To communicate with colleagues offshore in India we primarily use internal instant messaging, email or wiki. If we need to speak over the phone we usually organise a teleconference in a meeting room so everyone is aware of all conversations and decisions made.
  3. We both use 3G cards in order to provide connectivity for our work laptops. Unfortunately, there is no wi-fi network available, and therefore we use VPN and 3G cards to connect to internal systems. 
  4. We have a client computer which we both use primarily for SAP. This desktop has a large screen and is used to access various SAP ECC, SRM, BI and Portal applications.
  5. Out work laptops are primarily used to collaborate with offshore colleagues. This is primarily through instant messaging, email and wiki. We also use screensharing and remote access tools to ensure we can collaborate as easily as if we were sitting next to each other.

White house similarities

There are some similarities between our office environment and the White House however. Slate notes that: “In 2003, the Executive Office of the Presidentapproved a policy prohibiting, among other things, the use of nonofficial e-mail programs and instant messaging systems on official White House computers.” We use our work laptops to access instant messaging and other email systems, because these are not available/accessibe with our client desktops. It is not uncommon for many large organisations to block email or instant messaging sites, so instead we resort to internal systems. 

Gizmodo also notes that “there’s no Wi-Fi in the White House.” This is the same at our client site, and as-such we use 3G cards for connectivity.

The IT challenges faced at the White House are common to many people working in office environments throughout the world. Good communication tools, however, are critical to a productive working environment. Maybe in the most important office in the world, the medium of communication should be more formal than electronic messaging. The opportunity of staff to communicate messages, however,  is not one afforded to us though, so I think we’ll be keeping our 2 pcs for now.  

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