Pitfalls of Presence

By David Coursey  |  Posted 2005-03-08 Print this article Print

How many times have you been happy to be in a place where nobody could bother you? With presence this might still be possible—if your bosses allow it—but even then, people will know youre hiding out. And not just the people who walk past an empty cube or find a closed office door, but everyone, theoretically, in the entire organization.
If this is the electronic replacement of "face time" which must be spent in the office looking busy in order to earn ones keep, presence isnt such a bad thing.
But what I think it represents is something else, a sort of hyper-presence in which you are required both to be in the office and to be available for a quick IM or video conference with the foreign offices 24 hours a day. Sure, it may be convenient to do that from home, but wasnt it better when we could get a good nights rest? Larry King, the talk show host, used to have a routine he did about how "management never sleeps." When a caller would mention his or her employer on Kings overnight radio show, the host would go into a monologue about how, even at 3 a.m., management was watching over the employees. "Management," King would grandly announce, "never sleeps!" In actual practice, I expect presence to be something else that flows downhill. That is, everyone above you in the food chain will know where you are, but except for your immediate boss you wont know where the corporate chieftains be chillin. Presence may also have the undesirable (to management) side effect of changing communication that goes up one department, crosses to another department at the senior manager level, and then rolls down the food chain to where real work takes place. Make it easier for workers in the trenches to find and get in touch with one another and soon well have lateral communication. This would be where one corporate player talks to another player without bosses and chain-of-command getting in the way. This might actually reduce communications bottlenecks, but lessen the ability of management to stay in the middle of everything. Click here to read more about Microsofts real-time communications product suite, including Office Communicator 2005. The PC-to-phone interface is likely to find many fans. Everyone I know who has a VOIP telephone integrated with his or her Windows desktop just loves it. They like having voicemail appear with all their other messages, playable through their computer speakers without their having to punch commands into the telephone keypad. They also like the tight integration they get between their personal telephone directories and the corporate telephone book. Ive made a lot of fun of the announcements, but this only goes to show how difficult computer-aided collaboration really is. If the technical aspect of maintaining a system presence for every user isnt enough, if the challenge of making a PC network and a PBX work together isnt enough, we still have all the human factors with which to contend. Tuesdays announcements are interesting. They will be a challenge for enterprises to implement and probably make sense more for new installations than as retrofits for old ones. A company where I used to work did VOIP implementation with strong desktop capabilities when they moved from one building to another and had to buy a new PBX and servers anyway. I cant imagine a retrofit would have worked nearly as well. The social issues Ive lampooned here will eventually be worked out. But they will require some new thinking about what the employer-employee relationship is supposed to be and when work stops and private time begins. This technology has the potential to slide the balance way toward the employers side. This is not technology that people will chide IT departments for not implementing right away. I doubt your CEO will inquire about Live Communications Server with the same urgency that he uses to push "money-saving" Linux. Still, if Microsoft gets this right, a tighter link between computers, communications and users could be very profitable all the way around. Contributing Editor David Coursey has spent two decades writing about hardware, software and communications for business customers. Before joining eWEEK.com, David was executive editor of ZDNet AnchorDesk and has been a columnist for PC World, ComputerWorld and other publications. Former executive producer of DEMO and other industry events, he also operates a technology consulting and event management business. A full bio and contact information may be found on his Web site, www.coursey.com. Check out eWEEK.coms for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.

One of technology's most recognized bylines, David Coursey is Special Correspondent for eWeek.com, where he writes a daily Blog (blog.ziffdavis.com/coursey) and twice-weekly column. He is also Editor/Publisher of the Technology Insights newsletter and President of DCC, Inc., a professional services and consulting firm.

Former Executive Editor of ZDNet AnchorDesk, Coursey has also been Executive Producer of a number of industry conferences, including DEMO, Showcase, and Digital Living Room. Coursey's columns have been quoted by both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and he has appeared on ABC News Nightline, CNN, CBS News, and other broadcasts as an expert on computing and the Internet. He has also written for InfoWorld, USA Today, PC World, Computerworld, and a number of other publications. His Web site is www.coursey.com.

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