Ping! Buzz! Is it a new car photo or a customer alert? – Part 1

David Gurle, CEO at Symphony

Fixing the broken enterprise messaging IoT signal-to-noise ratio

The Internet of Things (IoT) offers a lot of potential for empowering employees and increasing business productivity – getting them the information they need, when they need it, in order to keep business moving, and to inform good decision-making.

As David Gurle, CEO of Symphony says, the IoT also offers the potential to disempower employees and decrease productivity by overwhelming them with information, both important (signal) and non-important (noise). To put it another way: IoT-based messaging will push out both new car photos and customer alerts.

How can we manage the IoT to ensure that we receive the information truly needed (or wanted) – rather than whatever happens to show up on our myriad of communications channels? While information overload is a challenge and an annoyance for consumers, it’s a tangible problem for businesses. We want to empower our employees; we don’t want to overload them. We don’t want them to waste time filtering the signal from the noise.

It’s a hard task, and getting harder each year as the number of information channels proliferate, and as the volume of messages on each channel grows. I am overwhelmed with messages, and suspect that you are too. It’s only getting worse, and filtering gets harder and harder, especially because what may be a nuisance message at one moment may be important at another moment.

Some of my messages are from colleagues, customers, friends and family. Symphony messages. Emails. Text messages. Alerts via an increasingly wide array of social media outlets. Those messages are (usually) relevant, and frankly, I want to see them, but not always right away. A question from a customer is worthy of interrupting my workday; alerts on what my friends are eating today and colleagues sharing a cool photo can wait for later.

Messages sent to me by humans are only a part of the mix. The IoT is enabling an ever-increasing set of automated alerts – many of which I want, like Google Alerts on relevant business topics, as well as reports from our CRM system, and of course notifications from IoT devices like my watch, reminding me it’s time to stand and up and take a break.

The onslaught of non-stop messaging via many media – platform messages, email, text, notification on the home screen of my phone, a buzzer, a tap on the wrist – are clogging the neural pathways. It’s too hard to know what’s important to me, and what can be safely ignored. Yet each message has the potential to affect the productivity of our employees.

Signal vs. noise

Call the important messages ‘signal’. Call the unimportant messages ‘noise’. What’s signal and what’s noise varies based on context, it’s a fluid division. If I’m in a Board meeting, nearly any interruption is noise. I don’t care about a new Twitter follower right now, or even a reminder to take an exercise break. But there might be times I’m more open to interruptions.

What worries me though is the Internet of Things. What it will it mean for enterprise communications and enterprise productivity?

It’s messaging and alerts, some generated by humans who truly are trying to tell me something, but increasingly these interruptions are blitzing me from automated systems. A story matching an important search term came up in Google Alerts or in an internal news feed. A workflow system telling me that a travel expense requires my signoff. Usage reports on the platform. Those are signal. The list of noise messages is much larger.

There’s the real danger that as the signal/noise ratio gets worse, workers – myself included – will begin to tune out. When the watch, wristband or phone buzzes, you start to ignore it… and the messages pile up, just like old-fashioned voicemails when you were on vacation. “You have 157 new voicemails.” We all remember: it was best to hit “delete all” and rationalise that if it was really important, they’d call back.

Another unpleasant alternative: people will turn off the notifications and messaging systems. I’ve already done that with most Twitter and Facebook alerts going to my phone, and aggressively unsubscribe to just about anything that I can. Anything, anything, to cut back on the noise.

In other words, I’m willing to take the risk of missing an important message if that cuts back on the sheer overload. And remember, this is before widespread use of IoT in enterprise messaging, combining rich content like market data and breaking news. It’s only going to get worse.

The author of this blog is David Gurle, CEO at Symphony

About the Author:

David Gurle chief executive officer Author, inventor and leader, David’s ideas have reportedl influenced the major trends in enterprise communications over the last 15 years. He defined Microsoft’s unified communications strategy (Lync) and as head of collaboration services at Thomson Reuters introduced federated communications to the financial services industry. Before founding Perzo /Symphony, he was VP and GM of Skype’s Enterprise Business.

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