ROI Is Central, But Try To Have Fun, Too

IT people are constantly being told, “It’s not about the technology; your job is to deliver bottom-line business solutions.”

Yeah, well, that’s certainly true, but it’s also a little depressing. Many of you got into this field because technology is cool, and then you end up looking at more budgets than gadgets.

But accepting this situation as a reality doesn’t mean you give up the quest for fun and games, and – joy of joys – once in a while you can play around with something while ferreting out potential business benefit.

Take the Web, for example. Now it’s all about one-to-one marketing, e-commerce, collaboration, supply chain management, distance learning, and on and on, but at the time of its birth the Web was cool. We had Mosaic and Netscape to help us navigate this new world, visual Web tools to build with, and then the emergence of add-ons like sound and video – who couldn’t get interested in all that?

Even mainstream application development had a brief burst of fun just a little while ago. At one time there were lines of code, typed in manually, but then visual RAD tools became all the rage, and developers could paint for at least part of the coding cycle. Relocating buttons took on an artistic flair, as coders were freed suddenly from the shackles of assigning X and Y coordinates.

Although visual coding tools deliver business benefit (iterative development, time to market, collaboration, etc. ) and therefore have become commonplace, the first reaction of developers was “Hey, cool.”

Another technology that has long generated a “Hey, cool” reaction is voice recognition. Recently, it has matured to the point of justifiable investigation, because in certain environments voice is a viable productivity tool. It’s also fun to use.

We took IBM’s ViaVoice Millennium Edition for a quick spin. Writing this column with the software was equal parts enjoyment and frustration, and more than half of these words were typed rather than uttered.

It is neat to watch your words appear on the screen, but often those words are wrong, and navigating through the document is a pain until you learn the basic commands. (For example, “Move left one word” is a command while “Move back one word” is not, and will instead be rendered as text.) Like all similar software, ViaVoice’s accuracy improves with use, and in demonstrations the performance is impressive.

For business computer users, many of whom type poorly, there is a certain logic to interfacing with a computer through voice; we’ve all been talking for a long time, after all. And for people who generate a lot of documents, voice recognition may be efficient.

So if users in your organization could benefit from ViaVoice, Dragon’s Naturally Speaking or one of the others, grab a copy and talk at your PC for a while. It may help drive those bottom-line initiatives – or it may not – but at least it will be fun.