Tech Savvy

The Stress Effect in Information and Communication Technologies

What’s happening this week at the intersection of management and technology.

Are your employees ready for their close-ups? Two blips that simultaneously popped up on the Tech Savvy radar the other day gave me pause. The first is an article, by Fast Company reporter Cale Guthrie Weissman, which describes an employee communication software platform named Odo — shorthand for odometer. Qualtrics, a developer of customer experience, market research, and employee management software valued at more than $1 billion, developed Odo to better connect and enhance the performance of its 1,100 employees.

“Not only does this program provide a way for people within an organization to chat with each other,” writes Weissman, “but it also lets employees record their own metrics and request any internal task be done. The feature that caught my eye, though, is that it gives everyone access to birds-eye cameras looking over the office’s entire open floor plan.”

CEO Ryan Smith is convinced that Odo helps create a culture of radical transparency at Qualtrics. The system with its dozens of overhead cameras ensure that everyone has access to everything. “Bolstering this are the water coolers,” writes Weissman. “On every floor in the Provo office is a drink station with a screen and camera mounted atop it. This screen connects with the other offices around the world, making it possible for trans-Atlantic water cooler conversation. The system is voice-activated, so if someone is talking to the screen in Dublin, people in Provo will see who’s on the line.”

The second blip is an article in INSEAD Knowledge, by Pawel Korzynski, Elizabeth Florent-Treacy, and Manfred Kets de Vries. In it, the academics wonder what kinds of psychological stresses information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as Odo, might pose for employees. “While ICTs have many advantages, including simplifying our access to power and information (in the sense that we no longer need to be in the same country, let alone the same office, as the people we want to connect with), digital omnipresence is creating new social challenges,” they write. “This constant bombardment creates challenges of work overload, complexity, insecurity and feelings of invasion and uncertainty; in a word, burnout.”

The team conducted a study “to identify specific personality traits that factor into the human cost of digitization.” They found that introverts and pseudo-extroverts benefit from ICTs and experience lower levels of technostress. However, they write, “the more highly extraverted [sic] an individual is the more likely he or she will suffer from techno-overload.” Highly conscientious people and people who were “constantly and readily available” through ICTs also experience higher levels of technostress.

Most important, write the authors in a conclusion that Qualtrics’s CEO might want to consider, “our study suggests that instead of implying that people have to be available 24-7, or setting rigid, organisation-wide norms for availability, leaders would do better to help people understand their individual preferences, and allow them the flexibility and training to best adapt their own optimal way to use ICTs. In this way people will see ICTs as helpful tools that come with options and choices, rather than an additional source of stress and anxiety.”

Data trumps analytics: Lately, the transformational effect of machine learning on analytics is big news, with big data taking a backseat. In these stories, the data that will be shoveled into the analytics furnace will be so readily available as to be almost inconsequential. Not so fast, says venture capitalist Nick Beim in a blog post on TechCrunch.

Beim, who is writing about startup opportunities, thinks that it will be the other way ‘round. Analytics will be a dime a dozen. “One of machine learning’s most lasting areas of impact,” he writes, “will be to democratize basic intelligence through the commoditization of an increasingly sophisticated set of semantic and analytic services, most of which will be offered for free, enabling step-function changes in software capabilities.”

Instead, Beim thinks that data will be the key element. He says, “Machine learning will have a deeply monopoly-inducing or monopoly-enhancing effect, enabling companies that have or have access to highly differentiated data sets to develop capabilities that are difficult or impossible for others to develop.”

Analytics are going to be the commodity and data is going to be the source of competitive advantage? This has consequential ramifications for large, established companies as well as startups.

How to select a CDO: More and more companies are hiring chief data officers to define their digital strategy and lead digital transformations. But what should your company look for in a CDO? Roman Friedrich, Michael Pachmajer, and Chris Curran offer useful advice guidance in a new white paper from PwC Strategy&.

The key question is what your company wants its digital leader to accomplish. In order to answer it, write the consultants, “we have defined five CDO ‘archetypes’ — the progressive thinker, the creative disrupter, the customer advocate, the innovative technologist, and the universalist.”

The architypes aren’t meant to serve as copy for an employment ad, but rather, a guide to thinking about this new addition to the C-suite. The white paper includes a handy chart — encapsulating key roles, responsibilities, organizational and governance mechanisms, and cultural requirements for each architype — for just that purpose.