Blackberrys, PDAs invade your privacy

A silicon.com jury of CIOs applauds the productivity driven by small wireless devices but warn that they may be infringing on your personal life.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor
BlackBerrys and smart phones may have had a huge impact on executive and employee productivity but they also have a negative impact on work/life balance by making it more difficult to switch off from the office.

A recent survey by RIM found an average BlackBerry user converts one hour of downtime to productive time each day and ups their overall team efficiency by 38 per cent.

All of silicon.com's 12-strong CIO Jury IT user panel agreed BlackBerrys and smart phones have improved their productivity but warned it can have a negative impact on work/life balance without judicious use of the off-switch.

Kevin Fitzpatrick, CIO at Sodexho UK, said: "Improvement in productivity has been huge--the ability to respond immediately has been a real bonus for the company. Work/life balance swings dramatically to the company side of the scales."

Alan Shrimpton, IT director at Avon and Somerset Constabulary, said: "I can now use down-time--waiting to collect daughters, train journeys--to continue to read and action emails, which means I don't have a huge queue waiting for me when I'm next in the office. It has, however, extended my working day."

But for others the ability to use mobile devices and check and respond to email on the move reduces stress. Steve Gediking, head of IT and facilities at the Independent Police Complaints Commission, said his latest PDA has given him an efficiency gain of about half an hour a day using otherwise dead time.

He said: "For example, after a recent long weekend I would normally have returned to around 150 emails. Instead, I spent an hour on my PDA the night before I was due back into work and the next morning I walked in to only six mails that required attention. Not only did this make me more efficient but it totally reduced my stress levels."

For one IT director the BlackBerry has replaced the need to take a laptop for many work trips. Michael Elliot, IT director at toy maker Hasbro UK, said: "I connect to files and email on reaching affiliate offices or via the internet. Most mail can be dealt with through the BlackBerry and it doesn't break your baggage allowance or back."

Paul Haley, IT director at the University of Aberdeen, said: "Having used both a BlackBerry and Windows mobile devices I can honestly say that they have significantly improved the efficiency of myself and my colleagues. The technology both increases output by enabling what would otherwise be unproductive downtime to be used positively, and is liberating in that it allows flexibility and responsiveness. But the technology can be seductive and may lead to an 'always on' culture."

But most agreed the productivity gains are worth any disapproving looks from partners at dinner parties when still responding to work emails at midnight.

Ric Francis, executive director of operations at the Post Office, responding to this CIO Jury question from his device, said: "The BlackBerry has definitely extended the capability of utilizing 'dead' time effectively--trains, taxis, 10-minute waits or answering questions like this. The key is not to make it a way of life. Definitely a change for the better."

Sue Yoe, director of technology, information and facilities at banking payments body Apacs, said: "I use a BlackBerry but have a separate phone so that I can forget about work emails but still remain connected for emergencies."

Rob Neil, head of ICT and customer services at Ashford Borough Council, said: "I think my BlackBerry has definitely improved productivity. I'm not sure about work/life balance but my wife has a very strong opinion on that subject since I got it."

One organization that has just rolled out BlackBerrys to its senior executives is IT recruitment job website Informatiq Consulting. The company's IT manager Spencer Steel said there was an initial reluctance to sit down and wade through email on a daily basis but the "elder cynics" are now converted.

He said: "We are all benefiting from quicker response times to things that need action 'now'. Communication between department managers is much quicker. The only problem I now foresee is the medical bill--key people are now walking the offices somewhat zombie-like, transfixed to the screen and not paying much attention to anything else. I swear our MD is going to trip over the photocopier soon--there's always hope."

Today's CIO Jury was…

Alastair Behenna, CIO, Harvey Nash
Michael Elliot, IT director, Hasbro UK
Kevin Fitzpatrick, CIO, Sodexho UK
Mark Foulsham, head of IT, eSure
Ric Francis, executive director of operations, The Post Office
Steve Gediking, head of IT and facilities, Independent Police Complaints Commission
Paul Haley, IT director at the University of Aberdeen
Rob Neil, head of ICT and customer services, Ashford Borough Council
Alan Shrimpton, IT director, Avon and Somerset Constabulary
Spencer Steelb, Technology Manager, Informatiq
Consulting Richard Storey, Guys and St Thomas' NHS Trust
Sue Yoe, Apacs

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