In the 1970s and 1980s, many writers mused that the increasing computing capability available to business and government was going to greatly reduce the work required to run our economy and society. We were told that in the twenty first century, our biggest challenge would be to decide what to do with all our leisure time!
Books such as Alvin Toffler’s “Future Shock” and contemporary magazines accurately predicted many aspects of a twenty first century knowledge society. However almost all futurists included in their predictions an anticipation of a huge reduction in the amount of time dedicated to our work. Mechanix Illustrated published an article in 1968 titled “40 Years in the Future” (by James R. Berry) which confidently stated:
“People (will) have more time for leisure activities in the year 2008. The average work day is about four hours”
The reality has turned out to be very different and it’s time to start asking, how did they get it so wrong?
In my last post I argued that we are retaining more data than ever. It is the way we are applying this data that seems to be at the root of the problem of organisational complexity.
This is not an academic argument. Technology projects cost too much and are getting much more expensive despite the continual reduction in the cost of the computing capacity itself. Despite the elimination of many, if not most, clerical roles from organisations, we are seeing a shortage of available staff to run our businesses. The status quo is not sustainable.
In the 1980s most businesses had just one way to complete each major process such as bringing on new staff, registering new customers and creating products. By the 1990s, businesses introduced call centres and online channels with many different processes – each of which were mirrors of their original process but, ungoverned, created their own unique data.
By the twenty first century, we understood the need to bring this disparate data together in the form of master data. Unfortunately understanding the need and implementing the necessary discipline are very different things. Few organisations today have successfully integrated the disparate stores of complex data that define their core concepts.
With these distributed instances, many additional processes are required to deal with security, customer services and maintenance – to name just a few typical business requirements. With all of these new processes, it should be little surprise that projects today cost so much more than ever before.
Perhaps if we understand the cause, we can start to change our business practices and make the case to invest to transform our process-oriented organisation into information-driven businesses.