The world of business is undergoing dramatic change. Driven by a number of factors organizations are needing to realign themselves to adapt and evolve. This transformation is global and reaches into every business sector impacting how companies create, deliver and sustain their products and services.
This six part article introduces the reasons for the change, the size of the challenge and how some world leading trend setter companies are achieving dramatic success in this new order.
| Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
The current challenge
Almost without exception anyone in business these days learned their trade during the Information Age which arrived with the advent of mainframe computers in the 1960’s. The transformation of the way work, especially in services industries, was radical and gave birth to new ways of doing things that had remained largely unchanged since the invention of the steam engine. Alongside this information revolution a change came about in the way we organized business in order to exploit the advantages offered by automation. People talked of software and hardware; information systems; bits and bytes; system development; data processing. In fact this new way of doing work influenced every aspect of our lives and we adopted a predominantly a left brain structured approach to organizing ourselves.
The very way we designed work became dominated by ‘structured approaches’ for systems development and management. Subsequently this information age mindset grew its influence into work areas such as human resources, sales and marketing, operations and all the other ‘functional areas’ we are now very familiar with. The specialists in each of these respective functions, take Accounting for example, thought of their world through a lens provided by the information Age which ensured a structured methodical approach to change that would indeed harness the power of computers.
Everything became information centric. Think about this for a moment. What is the language you use in your particular discipline? For instance in Financial Management the talk may be of Activity Based Management systems, Budgetary control, Accounts reconciliation, Purchasing, Cost Codes and such. All these things are underpinned by ‘systems’ and we draw structures that represent information processing. Companies like Oracle and SAP prosper in helping companies understand these functional controls and databases.
The things we do as work can also be represented as processes and these are conceived, developed and distributed through the information age lens. Swim lanes, functional hierarchies, business process management systems, process modeling languages and much more. Where has this all taken us? To put it bluntly away from the customer who is, let’s not forget, the very reason why our businesses exist in the first place. If you are involved in creating processes or systems think about the designs you produce.
Where is the customer in those ’pictures’ and designs? Customers are frequently an afterthought and at best at the ‘beginning’ or the ‘end’ of a process. We draw organization models as pyramids and talk about the ‘front line’, interestingly customers are usually placed at the foot of the organizational pyramid. Our very ways of thinking isolate us from the customer and many can pretty much carry on with their functional objectives often without even thinking of the real customer as anymore than something at the beginning or the end – nothing to do with them.
Where we have taken time to think about customers we have created ‘Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems’ which are frequently islands of automation not fully integrated with back-offices – what is that the ‘back office’? Groups of people remote from the customer, processing information and occasionally needing to deal with other parts of the organization. Sometimes the apparent disconnects between different functional areas result in another initiative to ‘outsource’ work that is regarded as not being part of a core competence.
Customers then end up talking to remote people sitting on the other side of the planet with mixed results.
Some people may argue that they do in fact deal with customers – those internal counterparts in other functions. We establish customer-supplier relationships, negotiate Service Level Agreements and busy ourselves with negotiations and agreed targets. Competition for scarce resources is the name of the game as we go into the annual round of bidding and corporate in fighting. Sounds familiar? Well you are not alone as this is the way of the Information Age mindset.
Work has become so complex with the interconnection between people and systems that we seem constantly to be reinventing projects to ‘sort the mess’ out however our efforts are stilted by this very complexity with unfulfilled promises of new systems and improved ways of working. It just gets even more complicated.
There is a New Way – Part Two, next week.