Emergent enterprise (and disruptive technologies)

[Originally posted on “Lofty thoughts …” 28th May 2009]

I was pointed towards this article from a non-traditional source – retail banking. I think there are some lessons to be learnt from it, foremost amongst those being “have a little courage”.

Quite a while ago I posted my first blogpost on what was being called then “disruptive technologies”. I didn’t like that term then, and I still don’t. I said at the time that there was no way one was going to get Web 2.0 technologies adopted in any organisation – if you called them disruptive. I used the term Information Services 2.0 to describe the type of changes that I felt need to occur within a central IT Services organisation if it was going to be able to “consume” web 2.0 apps into its service offering. Since then we have seen Library 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 emerge as terms describing very similar ideas. I refer you to Brian Kelly’s really excellent blog for further discussion on these and other web-related matters.

However in James Gardiner’s blogpost he makes it clear that giving employees unexpected freedom to express themeselves can have unexpected and to be welcomed consequences. He says …

“Unsurprisingly, a year on, none of the doomsday scenarios
hypothesised when we made it possible for staff to create their own
internal communities have come to pass. Of course, such a fortuitous
outcome would largely be expected by everyone who participates in broad
web based communities externally. It was not, however, to long term
traditionalist used to iron control, but they have largely been
mollified by the lack of significant negative consequences.

But now we are beginning to see a new phenomenon. I call it
the Emergent Enterprise: staff are not only having their say, they are
actually changing the way things work in material ways.

You see, along with social media, we gave our people the
ability to create rudimentary business process and publish those as
well. The idea was that workgroups would be able to automate things
they did on a day to day basis easily, and without any input from the
central IT function.”

Now you can see that this has a distinct hint of “lean thinking” in it, so yet again a concordance between the lean and the emergent enterprise as typified by Cardiff University’s Modern Working Environment programme. James goes on to say …

“My real interest in this “emergence”, however, does have
to do with the strategic questions which face us going forward. As
innovators, we know the biggest long-term threats to institutions
rarely come from large, established competitors. No, it is the start-up
crowd, with their nimbleness in responding to boutique opportunities
and niche segments which are the competitive issue here. The problem is
there are so many of them that a strategic level response is neither
possible nor appropriate.

But an “emergent” response, forming and norming by itself is
just what is needed. Then, when a competitor becomes strategic, our own
response will have grown to the point where it can be strategic as
well.”

… and this strikes a real chord with me. The Emergent University in a post credit crunch world will be a nimble university, one that has enabled its staff to effect change and one that is fully equipped (and that means educated and trained staff) to make full use of its strategic technological investment. James’ closing comments are these …

“What I don’t doubt, though, is that emergent behaviours in enterprises
– especially banks – will be one of the most powerful competitive
weapons we’ll have in the future. You see, everyone always says that
“people are the most important resource” and that “the war for talent”
will be one of the great competitive battlegrounds in the coming years.
The thing about the Emergent Enterprise is that it allows all that
great resource to actually make a difference.”

And I say amen to that too!

Shared services by stealth

A colleague (Huw Gulliver) was talking to me the other day and he was recalling the “good old days” when we got things done by talking to each other and realising that doing things together just made plain sense. In some situations the idea was so strong that the business case was easy to make and it was then easy to secure external funding to do it – the Welsh Video Network being a case in point; in other cases it was more a case of sharing expertise and working collaboratively together to just get things done. At other times the funding was there, we just had to work together to deliver the solution – the Metropolitan Area Networks of North and South Wales being good examples.

What these projects did however was to encourage IT staff in different institutions to work together towards a common goal in their joint interest. This is the thought I’m seeding/reminding you of today. It’s not a great revolutionary thought, but it’s one that has to be shared because in times of gloom and doom the natural tendancy is to look inwards and think about preservation, rather than think imaginatively (outside the box) and progressively. So that’s where the “big idea” that Huw shared with me comes in.

What if all the institutions in Wales were to share rackspace as a policy rather than thinking of a mega data centre type initiative. You would get disaster recovery on the cheap. In the good old days we used to look for sites that ran the same hardware/software to provide such a service, and very few such schemes actually worked. The beauty of this idea is that the hardware is owned by the home, not the hosting, institution; you’re just borrowing rack space. The electricity charges are offset by you hosting for someone else. The network charges are insignificant, given our exceptional wide area network in Wales. All you need to do is move kit around. Here comes the trick!

Starting from this point, which is self-interest business continuity, you can so easily ramp it up to be off-site data storage with those sites that have the capacity providing additional rack-space at a cost far less than could be found commercially. The trouble with traditional shared service initiatives is that the first step – “giving it all away” – seems so scarey. Doing it this way lets you review your decisions and options every step of the way.

Think about it!