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Businesses must learn to cope with bottom-up change

"Permitting people to buy the IT that they find intuitively attractive has the advantages of lowering costs to the company while allowing them to focus on the value add from the information."

Alan Cane
Financial Times - Connected Business Report, page 3
20 April 2011


Got your credit card? And access to an app store over the cloud?

Then why not buy some IT infrastructure to make your job easier, more productive and more creative?

Sounds far-fetched? Not to the likes of David Elton of PA Consulting.

He and his group are keeping a close eye on the way app stores and the cloud are developing in the consumer sector as a model of how they could be exploited in corporate IT.

He accepts, of course, that it is not a working model for business today: "But a lot of it is here and now and that should be changing the way people are thinking about the possibilities."

He notes that businesses are buying hardware, software and computing power through the cloud as a way to purchase IT at higher economies of scale. What they should be doing, however, is thinking about the opportunity for people to use information more effectively.

Brian Solis argues in Engage *, his introduction to achieving success using the tools of Web 2.0, that businesses are struggling to understand the technologies and platforms associated with social computing and how to integrate them into the company's existing network of systems and applications.

He writes: "For the first time, new technologies are permeating the enterprise and business structures from the bottom upwards.

"And these technologies precipitate change, carrying the ability significantly to transform business processes and revolutionise marketing, sales, service, production incentives and many other disciplines and divisions in the process."

According to Mr Elton, "Permitting people to buy the IT that they find intuitively attractive has the advantages of lowering costs to the company while allowing them to focus on the value add from the information."

It is, perhaps, no surprise that tablet computers and smart phones are the devices of choice for many employees. They buy them for the home and use them at work.

Of course, this assumes that employees are both willing and able to make use of the information from within and outside the corporation.

This is not necessarily a given, although Mr Elton believes that most employees want to do a good job and would exploit their creativity to the full, given the opportunity.

Information, however, can also be a dangerous commodity, especially if it can be defined as business intelligence - that is, corporate data boiled down to the point where it can be used to make informed decisions.

Mr Elton accepts that there are a number of processes that have to be tightly controlled with respect to security and quality: examples are reports to the authorities or to shareholders.

Writing in the McKinsey Quarterly this year, Thomas Davenport argued that companies have to develop a new strategy for knowledge work: a strategy comprising two divergent paths.

First, free access for knowledge workers.

He notes: "The presumption is that knowledge workers, as experts, know what information is available and can search for and manage it themselves."

He says these employees are assumed to have the discipline to avoid wasting time surfing the web or watching pornography, sport, or funny YouTube videos at work.

He adds the caveat: "Of course, these assumptions may sometimes be incorrect," quoting a 2008 survey which suggested that social media use costs the UK some £6.5bn ($10.6bn) a year in lost productivity.

The alternative, he says, is the structured provision of knowledge in which employees are provided with the information at the time they need it.

Workers have few distractions and spend no time searching for information.

On the other hand, it has been applied mostly to repetitive predictable tasks.

This article has been published by kind permission of the Financial Times.

You can read the online article here.

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