In scientific computing, researchers sometimes embrace a style of computing called "parallel processing." Parallel processing is a technique used to get more simulation accomplished by splitting up large complex tasks into smaller tasks that can be operated on at the same time, thereby speeding up the entire simulation. The coordination of the work being done between the smaller tasks is profoundly dependent on the speed with which the tasks can communicate - tasks which are often running on differents computers, sometimes separated by miles, not just feet on a machine room floor. In parallel processing circles, programming efficiency is sometimes talked about in terms of the ratio of time spent computing compared to the time spent communicating.
I believe that I can make a case that we - IT and ITS - are parallel processing. We're are all trying to get lots of things done at the same time. In some cases, tasks are - for the most part - autonomous from other tasks. But in most cases, tasks are dependent on all other tasks - sometimes in direct ways, sometimes in indirect ways.
Right now, the dominant form of communication in our business is email. Email is wonderful at communicating very directly about something to a targeted group of people. A fundamental assumption of email is that the To: line contains all interested parties. There are two current flaws with this when considering this "parallel processing" model for an IT function. The first flaw is that by using email as nearly the sole method of communication, our communicate to compute ratio is heading into a direction that is unfavorable. It is taking so long to process daily email queues, that we spend a lot of time communicating and less time computing. The second flaw is that the email based communications assume that only tasks or people that need to know something actually know it - when in fact other tasks and people might derive benefit from that communication.
That's where Web2.0 like communications come in.
Soon - there will be a generally available blogging service available from ITS. When it is available, it is an opportunity for each and every one of us to start to move the compute:communicate ratio back to where it belongs. Critically think about every email you send and whether or not it could be changed into a blog entry so that people can discover it for themselves and decide whether or not your knowledge is helpful to their task. Critically listen in every meeting you attend and conference you go to and think about telling the whole world about what you learned or connected from having that conversation. Instead of listening for yourself, listen for all of us and then tell us what you learned and what you think.
Directly, I've heard two criticisms of encouraging this kind of openness.
The first criticism is - "I barely have enough time to read all of my email. If you you think I'm going to read the same number of blogs every day/week you're crazy." This criticism has no legs because the concept is not to ask N people to read N blogs. The concept is to get N people to contribute their knowledge and insight to a blogging space in such a way that N*1,000,000 people can discover that knowledge and insight. For example, ITS had about 8 people attend the last Internet2 meeting in the spring. If everyone who attended that meeting had blogged the various sessions and tagged their blogs with keywords like "identity management" and "streaming video" and "mashups" and "intrusion detection" etc. - then the rest of could search this blogging space when we need to to see what's new in these areas. It isn't about reading a million blogs, it's about discovering relevant information in a timely manner. This is only possible if we're all sharing what we know.
The second criticism is - "My colleagues are critical of me when I blog or comment on a blog. They suggest that I should get back to work instead of communicating." This criticism is simply hogwash. We are, by the nature of our work, doing things in parallel. We can achieve our various goals if and only if we are communicating with each other. To not communicate is to fail. So to those people who might hear that kind of criticism, I suggest pushing back by telling your critics that communicating is a fundamental part of your job and that perhaps your critic should consider sharing something they know as a replacement for the misguided whining. I will freely admit that one can fall into the dark side of sharing - only sharing and never doing - but I don't have much fear of that happening to too many of us because of the pressures we live with to deliver.
The time is coming when you'll be asked to share and there will be a tool at your disposal to use. It will take some time to get this right - but the first step is to fundamentally change our expectations of how we communicate with each other. Share what you know and what you think.
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