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Unreal

Finally my son can play again with his kindergarten friends. On the first day the kids were nonstop talking. On the second day we discovered a bite on his chest resulting from a fight with another boy. The effect social distancing has on our children shows how important relations are. There are a number of things humans cannot learn from computers, but we can learn from each other: to be creative, have good fights, make up again, and care about each other. We need these skills for our current jobs, and even more for the future, because recurring work will be fully automated sooner or later. Digital Transformation is calling for Emotional Intelligence.

What image of humanity has the software industry produced? Are we assuming that human beings want to idle day and night until they are allowed to intervene when an incident happens? Should they lie still until being unchained like well-trained watchdogs? Are we drivers who gave up steering and shifting gears because cars are supposed to be better drivers. Is the lonesome administrator a role model for society? The consumption side of the digital value chain the picture is as bleak. End users have been conditioned by Facebook, Google and LinkedIn to check for updates several times a day, because that’s how they can ding their ads into into their brains. Did the software industry finally manage to install perfect feedback loops to keep humans as cheap labour and pavlovian dogs for fast moving consumer goods?

This is not how I picture our customers, neither the technical operators, nor the employees who use our products as tools to get things done. We do not intend to place users under disability until their positions can be eliminated. The success of our business always relied on building trusted and long-lasting relationships with people – which is another feedback loop, but it can be a positive one. Lack of practice makes you lazy and dumbs your minds down. The challenge for an Intelligent Enterprise is to design tools and processes that make humans more intelligent.

How to design intelligent tools? The first step is to talk to the right people. You should ask your customers what they need instead of talking them into something they never asked for. You should interview real end users in order to identify their problems and needs. You should challenge yourself to think on your own. Use your brain instead of searching for a slide deck that answers a question you never asked. We can improve our solutions and processes based on our customers’ feedback. By evaluating what users like and what not we can measure how valuable our solutions are to them. As Christian explained at our annual shareholder meetingit’s the emotional side of the Intelligent Enterprise to make the right decisions. Christian also explained that our customers expect a clear economic benefit. To improve customer success we started to measure bonuses for revenue generating roles more on customer satisfaction. Consumption based compensation and consumption based billing are like new mantras to our business. Will a customer be more satisfied when he consumes more page views, more megabytes, more business transactions? A key question is what are the right metrics to measure customer satisfaction. My gut feeling is that less is the direction towards increased customer satisfaction: less communication loss, less unnecessary features on overcrowded user interfaces, less waiting time, less commuting time, less buildings… . We need to tear down some of the castles we’ve built in the past. If we can’t bring ourselves to cut back uncontrolled growth the crisis might take it over.

Speaking of efficiency: Zoom Chief Information Officer Harry Mosley said in an interview with my newspaper that innovation will make working from home even more efficient in the upcoming years. It is not so important anymore where a person is. When it doesn’t matter from where you work employers can find the best candidate for a given position. And vice versa, as an employee you might get a chance to find the best employer for what you have to offer, without having to relocate. I assume that most of our users like their jobs. Sometimes all they desire is that our tools help them to do their work even better. System performance is always an issue – waiting times of several seconds to retrieve some data are not acceptable. Some of our users even got a notion that they have to feed our systems with information, so that a computer can make a mediocre decision. We don’t want to take our users for fools. Perhaps we need to augment our vision for an Intelligent Enterprise a bit more: The Intelligent Enterprise requires intelligent people.

Humans need tools for creation and production, not only for operation and consumption. Marx’s theory of alienation comes into my mind: The alienation from the self is a consequence of being a mechanistic part of a social class, the condition of which estranges a person from their humanity. Considering computer users to be part of a social class as well, you could claim that the condition of the digital space has estranged them. Is it possible that the imbalance between producers and consumers of digital products and services resulted in a situation where users have lost the ability to determine life and destiny when deprived of the right to think (conceive) of themselves as the director of their own actions? I don’t think that it is the general case, but watching a video gamer play I sometimes doubt that he is acting fully on his own authority. Playing games might be okay for consumers, because they are wasting their own time. For enterprise customers I would see it as a risk if digital tools were keeping them busy or merely treating them as auxiliary persons. Productivity as well as quality would suffer if this were the case. Enterprise software should empower people instead of locking them in. This is a design problem, as I tried to explain in a previous Unreal blog.

Empowerment is the freedom to make your own decisions. My bicycle is a tool that gives me this freedom. Sneaking through the traffic I can feel with all my senses that I am part of the world and part of the machine at the same time. When I cycle I want to be an active road user. I don’t want to be one of these distracted minds connected to their smart phones while their bodies are being shifted around. I think I am not the only member of the digital workforce who sometimes feels symptoms of alienation. If you haven’t yet read Matthew Crawford’s books you may check out his article The Case for Working With Your Hands.

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