(via Bits and Bytes) The true value of IT will come not from information or technology per se but from the social side. Therefore anthropologists and other social scientists will become more important to Information Technology (IT) Departments than IT itself, says IT analyst Tom Austin in an interview by Fast Company.
The interview does not deal with user centered design but with shaping a climate of creativity in the workplace in the Web 2.0 era with Facebook, Twitter, blogs, wikis and other online social network tools:
A new species of Information Technologist is emerging from the primordial ooze of Web 2.0 – social scientists and humanists who focus on human behavior more than software code. (…) As computer systems become ever more automated and transparent, attention will shift to how to use these tools as social lubricants in the workplace.
MySpace or Facebook will become models for business interaction, Austin thinks:
Look at teenagers today. They’re teamagers. They work on projects as a group and think nothing of doing it that way. I expect to see that kind of thing percolate through the enterprise as an unstoppable force over the next two decades.
Austin tells about companies that are using websites like Facebook to help reinforce or build a social network inside the company to enhance collaboration and productivity:
They use a variety of tools where employees are encouraged to create a personal page where they share not only name, rank, and serial number but also information about prior jobs, interests, hobbies, other skills they may have, projects they’ve worked on, and so forth. That becomes a dynamic and important tool for navigating through the network of people inside the company to find others who may be able to help you.
In this world of the “ad hocracy” that we live in, where people get thrown into project after project, it helps to look at information and figure out, these three people I’m meeting with tomorrow who I’ve never met before. What are they like? Is there something we share in common – a hobby, a background, education, a boss we hated – that you can use to strike up a conversation?
The problem with IT today is there are too many engineers and not enough social scientists. Look at the numbers of features and controls we put on how things are done. That’s an engineer’s approach, versus some of the free form approach of Enterprise 2.0 and social networking.
There is another business anthropology story in the news: In the article Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?, New York Times author Sara Corbett writes about the work done by Nokia-researcher Jan Chipchase, a “human-behavior researcher” and “user-anthropologist” (but with a degree in design, not anthropology):
His mission, broadly defined, is to peer into the lives of other people, accumulating as much knowledge as possible about human behavior so that he can feed helpful bits of information back to the company — to the squads of designers and technologists and marketing people who may never have set foot in a Vietnamese barbershop but who would appreciate it greatly if that barber someday were to buy a Nokia.
He works in a similar way as many design anthropologists:
Rather than sending someone like Chipchase to Vietnam or India as an emissary for the company — loaded with products and pitch lines, as a marketer might be — the idea is to reverse it, to have Chipchase, a patently good listener, act as an emissary for people like the barber or the shoe-shop owner’s wife, enlightening the company through written reports and PowerPoint presentations on how they live and what they’re likely to need from a cellphone, allowing that to inform its design.
The whole article in The New York Times is interesting but quite long. For a summary including comments see the post over at Neuroanthropology Cellphones Save The World. For more information, see Jan Chipchase’s blog
For an earlier entry on Jan Chipchase, see Capitalism and the problems of “High speed ethnographies”
UPDATE (14.4.08) Anthropologists are part of a research team that wants to find out how mobile phones might be used to allow people to share content with each other >> more information at The Engineer