Monday, July 28, 2008

End of the IT revolution - organisational rigidity

In my last post, I posed the question Have we come to the end of the IT revolution? Now this really should be a rhetorical question.

Over the last weekend I was a speaker at the 2008 conference of the Australian Federation of Intellectual Property Attorneys or FICPI. There Peter Williams from Deloitte Digital set out cogent reasons why the internet should provide a base for a continuing IT revolution. Despite this, I am sceptical.

In this post I want to look at some of the institutional rigidities that have emerged in modern organisations that work to prevent gains from the internet. Then in the following post I will look at some of Peter's arguments as to just what might be possible if those rigidities could be overcome.

Consider the modern organisation. It is likely to have the following features:

  1. A web site used to promote the organisation and its services or products. This may include password protected areas to allow staff and possibly customers to access services and facilities.
  2. An intranet used to give staff and in some case customers access to key information. As much as possible, this will be used for specific internal functions to reduce load and costs. As a simple example, as many HR functions as possible will be worked through the intranet.
  3. Great dependence on email to communicate within the organisation and between the organisation and its customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.

It is also likely to have the following features:

  1. A central IT department that attempts to control the whole process.
  2. Rigid rules governing what can and cannot be put on the web site and intranet, along with formalised content approval processes.
  3. Rules governing use of email. This may include limits on the size of attachments, as well as the number of adressees.
  4. Rules governing what can and cannot be loaded to specific computers, along with approval processes.
  5. Monitoring systems to track traffic and to identify improper use.

Now I understand all the reasons why these features exist. However, in combination they have become a real drag on the effective application of new technology.

The problem here lies not so much in the rules, but in the way that they are applied. A further problem lies in the focus on cost cutting as compared to performance improvement. The type of problems that can arise include:

  1. It takes so long to get new content up that people no longer bother.
  2. Individual authors who want to do new things cannot access the necessary knowledge because no one is responsible for making it available.
  3. Experimentation becomes impossible because the hurdles that have to be jumped to do so are just too high.
  4. Required internet access crashes because of things like spam filtering devices that give you an error messages.

The net effect in many organisations I know is that the new technology, and especially the internet, becomes something to be controlled rather than managed.


Anonymous said...

Dear Jim, I am new into your blogs and in Australia. However, I am a veteran in the internet industry and I think there is one piece missing in your post. In the real modern organizations, the network should not be so rigid and would have appropriate areas where employees and customers could share and expose ideas. This is actually the idealab concept, that is present in some of the most upbeat organizations around the world. The collaborative and open process provided by the internet environment is the true spirit that should reign in the networks. The companies that understand that and do not fear to be open will really benefit from this concept and will contribute for the permanent Thought Revolution.

Bruno Fiorentini

Jim Belshaw said...

Hey Bruno, welcome to the world of Australian blogging and what a great comment.

You have really captured the problem. Yes, the organisations that can limit if not do away with controls will benefit. But organisational dynamics and especially the modern focus on risk management limit this.

I can understand the risk management problem. However, the need to reduce risk at organisational level has now become a major performance improvement problem.