Friday, July 16, 2004

How Web-savvy are your employees?

We have been providing e-learning courses in various areas of "Web savviness" for a few years now -- targeted primarily at the layperson -- and it is clear to me from the majority of learner reactions that (to most users) the Web is simply a tool based on magic. Not gee-wiz magic or scary magic, just plain old stuff-just-happens magic. People are curious to understand more about how it all happens, but rarely make the effort because they assume it is all too complex to get a handle on. When they get more comfortable with it, the light bulbs go off and they see the potential.

Just as there is a big difference between those who know and understand cars and those who simply drive them, I think there is a very wide "digital divide" between those who are Web savvy and those who simply use the Web a lot. Those for whom driving is a job know about vehicles, those who drive TO their job tend to be less interested. But the Internet pervades our jobs today, so understanding it is actually rather important. And I am not just talking about using search engines.
The complexity of the magic just gets harder to deal with as internetwoking rises above the Web and mutates into a bigger, less browser-centric environment of autonomous devices and mobile access points. Miniature RFID radio price tags on products in your supermarket; smartphones and smart vending machines; wireless hotspots; GPS chips in your car, your cellphone, and (if you believe the Mexican prosecutors) your arm; home appliances that talk to each other, and to you; and a million new implications for making ordinary business processes more efficient and organizations more competitive.

For companies, having most of their employees with a superficial (or superstitious) grasp of the wired world can be a significant handicap, or even a strategic threat. For individuals, this naïveté is not necessarily harmful, just inefficient. It is not till they get hit by their first virus, or find data or identities stolen, or see their role outsourced to someone who came up with a better way to do it, that both companies and individuals realize the value of being smarter. It is usually an expensive lesson.

No comments: