All comments posted on this blog do not reflect the opinions of any organization that I am affiliated with. These are my personal perspectives only.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Holism: The Real Enterprise 2.0 Opportunity! - Part 4


Click Here to Read Part 1: Introduction to Holism & E2.0
Click Here to Read Part 2: Organizational Complexity
Click Here to Read Part 3: Process Complexity

Technical Complexity

In the beginning, we had no technology, well let's say no Information Systems. The advent of the computer allowed us to start doing some neat things. Initially, the operational applications helped us automate tasks and simplify our work, then later on, decision support systems allowed us to leverage the data being generated and apply it in decision making.

The rapid growth of technology in both operational and decision support systems was amazing. Basically any process you can think of, could be complemented to some degree with computer aided applications. We built each application for a specific purpose (well that seems logical) and then we built decision support systems for each of these operational applications.

No problems so far... except that each application we build is really in support of a larger process. Those companies that could "automate" information flow form system to system could further optimize their process through integration.

So.... We built lots of great interfaces. Taking "ordering information" from the ordering system, transforming the data so we can pass it on to the provisioning system. But it was a lot of work, and the number of systems out there were large, and they were never built to be integrated. Eventually we had something like this...

Remember, the whole purpose for an organization to exist is to collaborate. Why else would we group people together? The challenge though is that the systems were designed in silos, and data was scattered everywhere. Operational efficiency was a mess because of difficult, complex integration and decision support was a mess because data used in the systems were never intended for decision support. Data was inconsistent across all of these systems and non-integrated.

Eventually, the SAP's of the world attempted to think holistically about the systems, arguing that all the apps could be (should be) produced by one organization therefore ensuring tight integration and process flow. Concepts around data warehousing & knowledge management emerged both from a centralized (move all data into a single data warehouse) and a decentralized model (create ways to better integrate, transform, standardize, govern data across all the existing systems).

Not to go over the entire history of the rise of IT systems, but the key points are that "people were not stupid", sorry all you IT haters out there. We just focused on the problem piece-by-piece as requested. Without holistic context though we created a mess. Our attempts to resolve this were usually from a top-down command and conquer approach. Very tough & very costly. I should note that newer architectural concept of SOA however may help prove to be very helpful.

But how does enterprise 2.0 help? Well, it's by focusing on the individual (the person) instead of the systems. Rather than solely trying to build the ultimate system or the most rigid governance rules to force consistency of information across an entire organization, let the people in the organization organize the information and context. This could be through wikis, tags, or other social computing applications.

The self-organization of people, in an open system that allows for individuals to provide input collaboratively can result in:

1. Relevancy: Self-organization means that you will build knowledge stores of information that are relevant to most people in the organization. Rather than trying to update and maintain every piece of data, people prioritize what is relevant. Those items that are irrelevant or of less need simply get less attention. This means higher efficiency of the information system.

2. Comprehension: Having been in the IT domain for over a decade, I know first hand how the language of IT and the rest of the world is different. Structured metadata, often lacks business context. Even with metadata governance programs that leverage business input, we often miss the point and it's always a small group (or 1 person) that decides the context for everyone. Open-systems allows the entire organization to modify the meaning that will best suit the organization.

3. Agility: Individuals that are closest to a process or a change in the process are not the same folks that can offer the context the changing nature of information. Not usually anywasy. Have you ever read a data dictionary that was out-dated with no means of fixing it? Having everyone as potential editors means massive levels of parallelization, and often leads to subject matter experts contributing to their domains specifically.

4. Usability: An open, central system that enables coordinated input from an entire organization means everyone knows where to get information and how to update information in a direct way. Other attempts in BI & KM also focus on centralization, but often only from a consumption perspective.

I am not arguing against ERP, KM or BI systems and theory but suggesting we complement them with the awesome power of people. In the end, the organization really is about the people. Your people are the only way to provide understanding & insight. That's something that can't be automated. Not just a few but everyone in the organization since it's everyone that makes up the organization. With proper guidelines, 'necessary' level of governance, we may have a better way to think holistically. Are there challenges and risks? Yes. These are similar to the ones we hear about Wikipedia. But this is where you as an Enterprise 2.0 practictioner can go beyond web 2.0, consider the success factors and offer supporting processes and accountability to minimize the risk.

This is the final part of the Holism discussion. I'd love to hear your thoughts and feedback on any of the parts.

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