In my last couple of posts I’ve mentioned a new world of work environment put forth by the Gartner Group’s Tom Austin, with a few additions from my own perceptions. I’ve mentioned “swarming” and that we deal with more unique tasks, and today I’ll continue that theme with two other observations.
We’re seeing more and more that knowledge workers (those who spend a majority of their time on a computer screen) are being asked to deal with larger and larger amounts of data. That has at least two ramifications. One is that we need to be connected more often, and on faster lines. Moving that data around is more problematic - we can't just copy an entire dataset down to a spreadsheet and work with it. The systems have to allow us to store, process and analyze large data right where it is.
The second is that we not only deal with much more data, we have to interpret it. It’s no longer enough to quickly graph something on a spreadsheet chart, we need to be able to explore data patterns, interpret that data, and create a strategy to deal with it – all very quickly. For instance, in years gone by it was fairly common to manage a few databases on a single large server. We had time to plan, observe, and tune the systems. Now we’re asked to manage hundreds of databases on multiple servers, in mixed environments from physical and virtual machines to datacenters and cloud systems. We don’t have the luxury of spending a lot of time on one system, so we have to amalgamate that data to derive patterns for growth, stability and tuning.
Another trend is blurring the lines between work and life. I have a flexible schedule to some degree, which means I can walk my daughter to school but I’m online for work throughout the evening. While I’m on the couch with my family reading a web feed or online book, I get a notification that a server I manage has completed one phase of a task. I review the logs, and start the next procedure, all while talking with my wife. So does this mean we have to work twenty-four hours a day? No. The effects of over-work, or “burnout”, are well known, and don’t lead to higher productivity. What has changed is exactly when we work. I work throughout the day, but I also have time for things I need to do throughout the day. To be sure, not everyone has this style of work – many of us still go to work at a certain time and leave at a certain time. But most data professionals I know are contacted “after hours” to do work on the data systems.
Interestingly, the cloud comes into play here again, as does the datacenter. We need a method to manage the data on my systems from wherever we are – using a smartphone, web kiosk or other connectivity methods. I don’t have my laptop with me all the time, so I need to connect, respond and control my systems from multiple devices – some of them not even mine. In essence I share the duties I have with the datacenter or cloud staff. They keep the hardware running and I manage the data the systems contain. Having a system that I can access from anywhere keeps my from driving in, and not having to manage the physical hardware helps as well.
The key is that we need to learn to think about all the factors in this new world of work to make things easier on ourselves and those who use our data. And along the way we have to consider new threat vectors for security and system access. And we also have to learn to maintain a healthy work-life balance – even though work is only a smart-phone away.