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Handling the Hidden Costs of Mobile User Notifications

29 Jan 2016 by Howard M Cohen

Anyone who has spent time working with microprocessors knows that an IRQ is an “interrupt request.” This is a hardware signal that temporarily suspends the current program running on the processor to run a special “interrupt handler” program.

Your next consulting practice will call for you to provide IRQ handlers for human interruptions, and interruptions to human processors (brains) caused by notifications, warnings, advisories and other messages coming from all devices, many instigated by the users.

As Rachel Emma Silverman summarized in the The Wall Street Journal, “Even though digital technology has led to significant productivity increases, the modern workday seems custom-built to destroy individual focus. Open-plan offices and an emphasis on collaborative work leave workers with little insulation from colleagues’ chatter. A ceaseless tide of meetings and internal emails means workers increasingly scramble to get their “real work” done on the margins, early in the morning or late in the evening. And the tempting lure of social-networking streams and status updates make it easy for workers to interrupt themselves.”

Here’s more proof digital technology is interrupting and distracting us:

  • There is such a thing as the Information Overload Research Group (IORG). This group of researches, practitioners and technologists from a variety of industries is dedicated to reducing information overload.
  • In a March 2015 “Real Time with Bill Maher” interview, Arianna Huffington pointed out that Steve Jobs would likely have “not led Apple to global dominance if he’d had an Apple Watch nettling him with notifications.”
  • A software product that “learns what email is important to you and filters out what isn’t — saving you hours” is called SaneBox. And it is lauded by such paragons of sanity as Business Insider, TechCrunch, Forbes magazine and Tony Robbins.
  • “Digital overload may be the defining problem of today’s workplace,” declares Harvard Business Review in a June 2015 article, Conquering Digital Distraction. “All day and night, on desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones, we’re bombarded with so many messages and alerts that even when we want to focus, it’s nearly impossible. And when we’re tempted to procrastinate, diversions are only a click away.”

According to the Gartner Group, “As mobility moves into its maturity phase, its impact becomes less self-contained under the banner of mobility, and instead spreads across the computing infrastructure. Security, manageability and productivity are the key themes presented in Gartner’s “Predicts 2016: Mobile and Wireless” report published Oct. 13, 2015. Their predictions support the concept that mobility is becoming more invisible as it pushes its challenges into every traditional area of IT, forcing those areas to become more robust. It is important that IT continually use mobility as the ultimate test of the viability and completeness of all strategies that become part of any IT or vendor's overall plans."

Before mobile

In the 1970s, when Steve Jobs was first showing his wooden-box-built Apple I computer to the Homebrew Computing Club in northern California, computers were called simply, “computers.” Apple became the first “personal computer,” quickly followed by the IBM PC.

It wasn’t until there was a “portable computer” that we started calling them “desktop computers.”

For years now, analysts have predicted the demise of the desktop computer as the market gives way to “mobile computing.” When the desktop disappears, it’s likely that everything will be considered “mobile,” and we’ll probably end up calling all mobile computing devices, simply “computers,” “communicators” or “devices.”

More than a device

Mobile Device Management (MDM) was just the beginning of a mad rush to mobile management. The rest reads like an alphabet soup of acronyms, including Identity & Access Management (IAM), which incorporates Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), which allows users to access applications managed by Mobile Application Management (MAM), incorporating Role-Based Access Control (RBAC), using data with Mobile Information Management (MIM). And it’s all meant to enable your corporate Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) initiative. Put it all together, and you end up with Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM).

With management of the device, data, identity, network, servers, storage and applications, there is one element that hasn’t yet been addressed — the user.

Managing mobility costs

The objectives of all mobile management initiatives — MDM, IAM, MFA, MAM, BYOD and EMM — are to reduce costs, mitigate risks and improve productivity.

Yet the greatest impact mobile computing may have destroys user productivity due to constant interruptions and distractions from the notifications computers, mobile devices and wearable technology bombard them with every day — ultimately resulting in significant cost increases and major risks.

In a May 2013, The New York Times Sunday Review article, “Brain, Interrupted,” writers Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson reported, “Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine, found that a typical office worker gets only 11 minutes between each interruption, while it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption.”

And according to a July 2015 Harvard Business Review article, “Just Hearing Your Phone Buzz Hurts Your Productivity,” a study by the American Psychological Association “reports that the reverberations of new notifications can distract us, even when we don’t look over to see what they could be. It found that just being aware of an alert can hurt people’s performance on an attention-demanding task.”

Download Gartner’s “Predicts 2016: Mobile and Wireless” report to find out how to use mobility to both test the feasibility and comprehensiveness of your customer’s IT strategy, as well as help them limit interruptions and distractions.