Thoughts on ways to improve the management of professional services firms

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How do we manage on-line technology?

Today I just wanted to look briefly at some changes in the internet and communications world.

Quite a bit of my time this year has been spent on ways of making on-line more effective from a work process and training perspective. I summarised some of my conclusions in one of my weekly columns in the Armidale Express, Belshaw's World - the online myth.

I mention this because Australia's IT Wire has reported on a study commissioned by Ericsson across 33 OECD economies, including Australia, that found that a doubling of broadband speed produced a 0.3 percent increase in the GDP of that economy - $A3.9b in the case of Australia. I don't actually doubt the results, they are what I would have expected, but they did remind me of the difference between the general and the particular.

There is no doubt that the new communications technologies and most recently the internet have been a tremendous aid to productivity improvement. They have also created entire new business sectors. And yet there have been real downsides.

To my mind, the most important ones fall into three classes:

  • business activities have been damaged or even destroyed that are still of value to many
  • business processes that should have been changed have survived because automation allows them to be carried out at a lower cost. Worse, the investment in the automation then makes them hard to change
  • the new technology has facilitated a variety of controls and regulation at organisation and government level that greatly adds to overhead costs.

The message that I am trying to get across in a lot of my current writing is that we have yet to develop the best model for operating in the new environment. I have also tried to argue that if we don't do this, the incremental costs and problems associated with the new communications and computing technologies may ultimately impose risks and costs that will bring the whole system down.

This is quite hard to argue because it actually requires the adoption of a new and questioning mind set.

Take as a simple example, the way in which many firms are now trying to control or even limit email. Email is just so easy, is now so deeply embedded, that effective management is quite hard.

In some ways, on-line is like a drug, a quick hit with later problems.

I am not arguing that the technology should not be used. I am arguing that it should be managed.  

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