Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Implementing non-"manage risk, reduce costs" IT projects

Olivier Amprimo over at the Headshift blog has a very long and interesting post on "Taxonomies > Sensemaking > Adoption". First of all Olivier points us to Marchand's strategic information alignment framework. This model is pretty well-known. Nonetheless, I took another good look at it after reading Olivier's post and even printed it to hang in on the wall as a constant reminder. Why?
Well, Olivier shows us why many innovative IT projects struggle. I advise you to read his whole post, but I'll pass some main points - I hope I got them… - here:
In theory, IT policies are to address the four elements evolving in a sequence "manage risks" > "reduce costs" > "add value" > "create new reality".
In reality this taxonomy displays two distinct (and often non-compatible) behaviours:
-    manage risks and reduce costs
-    add value and create new reality
This is a good reminder! This is why the big PDM and ERP projects get all the attention, and social media projects, but also intranet projects, don't. Olivier stresses this point:
While social computing is today clearly in the "add value, create new reality" side, most managers stick to "manage risks, reduce costs". The ROI debate on 2.0 apps last year, right when social computing was getting attention to boardrooms, is a clear signal.
How come?
One reason is laziness, another one from Andrew McAfee is busyness and a third one is about sense-making. As Patrick writes: "managing costs usually requires an intimate knowledge of your internal process and constant information flows to monitor and control them". Trick is that social computing addresses knowledge activities (knowledge, not information).
1.    Knowledge is immaterial;
2.    Measure is only applicable to material elements;
3.    Knowledge is not measurable;
4.    "What you can't measure, you can't manage";
5.    Knowledge is not manageable;
6.    Knowledge is not managed.
(…) However, when you look carefully the "manage risks, reduce costs" is all about rationalisation (exploitation), while "add value, create new reality" is all about innovation (exploration).
This is something to really keep in mind when we set up non-"manage risk, reduce costs" projects. Olivier also explains how this can be done using taxonomies. I won't summarize that part. He does extend the above-mentioned point by saying:
Given the fact that the bigger the organisation, the more entropy (complexity, peculiarity), creating value in IT today means embracing what looks like "chaos". (…) Organising IT "chaos", recreating coherence (organisation that makes sense - cosmos) in this long tail world implies shifting from system centricity to user centricity. Quality Management is all about that and Knowledge Management is getting down that road too (the link is the "learning organisation"), so that there is nothing new in the shift. Coherence is to be created at user level by providing him/her with a relevant set of tools so that s/he can manage exceptions, not by implementing a an organisation-wide one-size-fits-all set of tools and prohibiting situated initiatives (typical of economy of scale approach).
That's where social computing is relevant: it helps creating user tailored content.
(…)
Great, but so far end users still have to manage social computing tools and legacy tools. They often have to navigate in between systems via a long string of clicks or different toolbars to access all the information they need to perform properly. The result is that coherence is not complete, yet.
This is interesting, I find. I reminds me of the discussion I had with Rod Boothby of InnovationCreators about their 'The IT Flower'. The Flower also, but in another way, shows how social computing tools and legacy tools should fit together. 'Should', I say, because they don't. Indeed, this gives us knowledge workers a hard time, constantly switching between these tools, while we'd rather only work in the first set. That’s because our work, for a large part, consists of coping with and maintaining chaos.
To round up: I think the interesting thing about our intranets is that they are moving from the set of legacy tools to social computing tools (- although even as legacy tools, they have hard time keeping the attention of high-level management).
Thanks, Olivier, for this insightful post.

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