Knowledge Workers Without Limits

REDMOND, Wash., May 19, 1999 — Since the first discussion of Information at Your Fingertips in 1990, the mission of Microsoft Corporation and its chairman Bill Gates has been to create technology that removes barriers between information and people. Addressing more than 100 of his peers at the Microsoft CEO Summit today, Gates announced a vision of knowledge workers without limits, which will revolutionize the way that people use technology to create and share information.

“Cultural factors need to change so that people are rewarded for sharing information, rather than simply having it,” Gates said. “Physical barriers to bringing people together must be addressed and technology should be in place to make meetings more effective. My greatest focus is ensuring that technology evolves so that interacting with PCs is as easy as it is with people.” Using demonstrations and citing real-world examples, Gates previewed technology to address several of these challenges.

Unlocking Corporate Memory

Most companies have an infrastructure full of different ways to store data. However, these systems rarely work together well and don’t allow knowledge workers to get a complete picture of where data, knowledge and resources exist within the company. Gates highlighted a solution at KPMG that enabled the firm to tap into its corporate memory bank to provide targeted information to the right people at the right time.

KWorld, the KPMG intranet, tracks key attributes of people based on their business area, industry focus and location, and relates it to information from internal and external sources so that workers are provided with one snapshot of all information and people related to their jobs. In order to test KWorld, KPMG staff put the solution though a hypothetical situation, such as a fast-moving merger of two of the firm’s clients.

KPMG needed instant access to a broad set of internal data and Web-based information, as well as the ability to pull together all key members of the global team in order to make decisions and recommendations. What would have taken 80 hours in the past took only one hour in the test and resulted in a smarter firm with a deeper understanding of customer needs.

Digital Dashboards Help People Arrive at Better Decisions

To help knowledge workers access all of the information relevant to their jobs, Gates outlined the concept of a “digital dashboard,” which would provide people with a single place to go for all personal information such as email, schedule and tasks, as well as external data from web sites and corporate memory data, including sales tracking and customer-contact information. These digital dashboard solutions don’t replace existing systems, they build on what the organization has in place by pulling multiple data sources together in one easy and accessible place. This makes it easier for developers to create and for knowledge workers to use.

Wireless Connectivity – Flexible Access to Knowledge

Knowledge workers need access to information, regardless of their location or what device they’re using. Mobile phones, tablet PCs and palm-sized PCs all need to be part of how people collaborate. Gates described how advances in wireless technology will allow all types of data, including email, voice messages, news and Web sites, to be accessed from any device in a format that makes sense for the person and the situation.

Following a successful tryout in the Windows CE group, Gates said, the entire Microsoft campus will have a wireless infrastructure within one year. “Going wireless will revolutionize meetings at Microsoft,” Gates said. “Because all key information will be available anywhere, anytime, on portable devices, meetings will become more effective as a place to brainstorm ideas and make decisions.”

Meetings Without Walls

By leveraging smart wireless devices and software solutions such as videoconferencing, email and intranet technology, the physical barriers between people can fall and information sharing can happen anytime, anywhere.

Due to the global nature of the oil business, British Petroleum (BP) relies on technology to bring its disparate workforce together to solve problems. When an equipment failure brought operations to a halt on a North Sea drilling ship, the engineers were able to provide an equipment expert in Scotland with digital pictures of the faulty equipment. While talking via videoconferencing technology, the expert was able to diagnose the problem and walk the engineers through the fix. The problem was solved in a matter of hours, whereas in the past BP would have been forced to either fly the expert to the ship or bring the ship into port, resulting in huge costs and loss of time.

Reading Online: Parity with Paper

While most of today’s information is stored electronically, reading long documents on-line has never been practical. Gates showcased a new technology, called ClearType, which will make it be possible for people to read information on-line as easily as they do on paper. ClearType will achieve this by increasing on-screen resolution from the grainy 90 dots per inch (DPI) we see today, to near laser-printer quality of 270 DPI. This higher resolution will allow people to have a richer experience while reading on-line.

Smarter Computers Enable Smarter Workers

Talking with another individual is still the easiest way to share information, because other people have the ability to see our gestures and facial expressions, listen to our tone of voice and understand what we are trying to communicate. Gates said that we should start to expect computers to do the same. The more effectively computers can communicate with people, the less time knowledge workers will have to spend trying to solve problems with their computers and the more time they can spend innovating and sharing ideas.

Practical Steps for Knowledge Workers Without Limits

After previewing future technology, Gates gave several practical steps that the CEO audience can apply immediately. He said that companies need to make a real investment in their digital nervous systems so that sharing information is easy and expected. Examples of basic first steps include implementing email and electronic forms, as well as creating a single place to store and access corporate memory.

Gates also recommended that the CEOs make mobility a priority for their workforce. Finally, Gates said, if the CEOs create a showcase example of a digital dashboard within a company, other groups will see what is possible when technology and a knowledge-sharing culture come together.

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