Monday, June 8, 2009

Our Digital Lives (ECM), Cars and Changing Expectations

Recently, I’ve been researching how students manage content and collaborate with instructors and their peers. The younger “digital natives” are already significantly exposed to web technologies and different devices they use to connect online. Even older students now complete more than half of their coursework online these days. Outside of the classroom online collaboration continues at similar pace – the result being that much of young people’s lives are taking place on the Web.

I was thinking about this research while listening to reports about the final demise of GM and wondering how much that meant to students vs. older folks like myself listening to the bankruptcy unfold on Fox News. Cars were once quite important to me, including Corvettes, Camaro’s and maybe even the first Hummer. I was proud of my first convertible and probably thought it helped define who I was.

Less than a dozen years later my relationship with cars has changed considerably. While I can afford more significant models these days, I don’t purchase them. Certainly my own life changes have affected this, but I think it’s more than just that. Like today’s student’s, I’m collaborating online more than ever. In fact, I’m enjoying the benefits of not traveling as much, staying out of my car, and generally being more efficient participating in meetings, sharing documents, and collaborating with co-workers online almost every day.

My car sits in the garage a lot these days. That doesn’t bother me too much. I save money on fuel and its always ready if I need it to go somewhere. I took about two minutes to choose it. I just said, “I’ll take that silver one”, and I was done. In contrast, I spent hours choosing my last laptop and the applications I customized it with. I agonized, but finally switched to a Mac and soon discovered important new ways to develop and manage content with iLife, iWork and Quicktime.

Most importantly, I’ve begun to define myself via online services today much more than I do through cars. Linkedin, Twitter, email and blogs are where I interact with others and often how I begin my day. These online collaboration tools help me better communicate about my work. When combined with enterprise content management applications, like Xythos they also help me develop and share important documents and files that are the foundation of my business.

I may be a bit different from other late boomers in my business/persona migration to the web, but probably not by much. However, I’m certain that those on their way into the workforce will be the most digitally active ever. They’re going to expect web services at least as good as those they use at school or home and the freedom to flexibly employ them. That means from wherever and when ever they need them.

As the boundaries between work and the rest of our lives become less clear, I suspect that our cars will become a less significant part of our average workday. Hopefully, that will mean that we get to enjoy them more when we do use them and not associate them with insufferable office commutes anymore. With Cisco just added to the Dow Jones Industrial Average as GM was removed it almost seems like the highways of work themselves are changing from physical to digital ones too.

I guess the good news is that it’s a lot easier to transport my digital self to work projects these days. Now that I’ve invested some time better defining myself online, it seems more enjoyable too. Yes, there are fundamental changes rocking the economy, but they’re not just financial ones. The nature of work and how we perform it is changing rapidly. Isn't it time to get yourself and your business content online so that you can enjoy the extra time and cost savings too?

You’ll be doing yourself and the environment a favor. Who knows, with those extra carbon credits you’ll earn, you might even have time to enjoy that convertible again…