Surveys on Knowledge Worker applications and Social Networking


social networking

The concept of a Knowledge Worker has been around for a long time (Drucker, 1959) but it is still a slippery term to define. Sometimes it's synonymous with Information Worker; other times it's a sub-category. It can depend on the company using the term - IBM favours one, Microsoft another. Sometimes it's reserved for a minority who work on unstructured tasks and goals which they achieve through free-form collaboration with others - not to be confused with workers who process information in structured tasks. Sometimes it's the majority, pretty much anybody who uses IT is an information worker.

And they all now work in the "clever" economy.

This slipperiness may be one reason why it's hard to define Knowledge Management applications and to understand fully surveys carried out on the habits of information workers.

There's a survey just out from Forrester that falls into that category. Intriguing and useful in part, but affected by the problem of knowing the makeup of their 2001 respondents.

For example, we learn that Email, word processing, web browsers and spreadsheets are the only applications widely used. But then we're told that while 60% use a word processing application, only 42% create documents. I can't reconcile that statistic with any of the knowledge worker environments I've worked in, so have to assume there is a difference here between information and knowledge workers. Some of us may wish it was true we didn't have to write documents, but have never got that lucky.

The survey does have an interesting graphic on different types of applications and how frequently they are used i.e. hourly, daily, weekly, monthly. Email clients (57%) and web browsers (35%) are the only applications used hourly to a significant degree. There is also an interesting age difference in the use of social networking sites: the 18-29 age group uses these sites extensively during non-work hours, but when they are at work they don't. At work, both they and the 30-43 age group only access these 13% of the time.

The reason for non-use at work may be explained by a different survey. This one, carried out by Robert Half Technology, surveyed 1400 CIOs at US firms. They asked which statement most closely described company policy on visiting social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. The results were that over half (57%) replied "Prohibited completely" and a further 19% said "Permitted for Business purposes only".  So it is still the case that bigger companies (who would tend to have a CIO role in the first place) are blocking social networking sites.

The decision to block social networking sites isn't necessarily because corporates don't accept their use for collaboration among knowledge workers. It is usually security and data protection that is the cited reason. It's also possible that sites like LinkedIn might be deemed more business-use than say, Facebook, and are allowed. Or, it could be that we are in the transition phase between an old way of working and a new one.

In the meantime, I'm off to update my LinkedIn status and Tweet about this.

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Paul Walsh

Written by Paul Walsh

Paul Walsh was one of the founders of Cognidox. After a period as an academic working in user experience (UX) research, Paul started a 25-year career in software development. He's worked for multinational telecom companies (Nortel), two $1B Cambridge companies (Ionica, Virata), and co-founded a couple of startup companies. His experience includes network management software, embedded software on silicon, enterprise software, and cloud computing.