Building software to accurately reflect the work “place”

Although IT vendors can proudly claim that computer technology is nearly ubiquitous in business today, many managers remain quite skeptical of the ability of software solutions to help them learn about the different realities of business practice. In spite of constant technological “innovation”, many clients rightfully question whether any supplier is able to deliver business applications that makes as much sense to their “end-users” as it does to their IT department. As an initial contribution to this blog on Marketing & Innovation, let me set out here some of the foundations that I will try to develop in the months to come.After having listened to hundreds of managers in diverse industries throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia, we have the firm conviction that IT is essentially a conversation, and individual markets for IT can best be understood as stories with multiple voices. This view may help explain why many operational managers feel that value of software depends less on its ability to incorporate global best practices than its ability to accurately reflect local visions, contexts and experience. In this era of “anywhere, anytime, anyplace” my ambition in this blog for the coming months will be to explore IT frameworks that amplify these voices to strengthen future success stories of business.

Deploying information technologies to focus on the complexity of business practice will require that vendors and organizations alike give some serious thought to how they design and deploy information technology. Instead of limiting our conversation to choices of information architectures, programming languages and features and functions, we would to extend the scope of discussion to explore how software can enhance or distort our views of our jobs, our organizations, and our clients. In today’s world of mobile workers, dotted-line management, multiple communication channels and “virtual” clients, information technology inevitably plays an increasingly critical role in putting the pieces of business together into a more or less meaningful whole.

The mirror image that most business applications feed back to managers today is biased around structured data, processes, and efficiency metrics. As a result, these applications tend to minimize the importance of non-structured data, networks, effectiveness, innovation and passion. Faced with this distorted view of reality, line management is faced with two options. They can “play the game” by enthusiastically filling in the tables, reports and scorecards that fit their own manager’s view of the market. They can alternatively develop personal information strategies that will help them identify, structure and qualify the knowledge that is important to their assignments, companies, and careers. Rather than blindly filling in the bits and pieces of somebody else’s puzzles, successful managers need business applications that can help them actively restructure information about the specificities of their assignments, customers and clients to get work done.

Let’s take a concrete example in focusing on one of businesses’ key technological challenges today: creating virtual workspaces that will help managers leverage information technology. Forester defines an information workspace as: “a next-generation digital work environment that provides information workers of all types seamless, contextual, role-based, guided, visual multimodal, right-time access to people, content, data, voice, business processes, and eLearning.” Faced with such functional, process-centric jargon, no wonder most managers have trouble understanding exactly how information technology will improve their business…

Let’s suggest a different approach. Assume that the information workspace should be a mirror image of the workplace that we take with us wherever we happen to be working. There are six defining characteristics of the work “place”- how clearly are they reflected in business software solutions today?

  • A vision that defines the meaning of work;
  • Actors : the managers, employees, partners and customers that produce work;
  • Interactions : the events in which we sell and purchase products, ideas and services;
  • Outcomes: the generated revenue steam
  • Gateways : communication channels that integrate the workspace into local context, culture and organization

Our contribution to this blog will be dedicated to conversations and stories designed to help managers leverage technology to learn about their businesses. In the weeks to come we will explore the methodologies, architectures and technologies that can be deployed today to build an accurate picture of the multiple realities of business. Fundamental questions that will be addressed include how can business applications capture experience rather than just the facts and figures? Can we extend the paradigm of search to identify patterns of behavior? What technologies today can help managers focus on non-structured data, networks and effectiveness? What are the technical requirements of applications that will capture organize and enhance individual visions, contexts and experience? In short, how can managers make a better use of information technology to learn about business?

Lee Schlenker

Dr. Lee SCHLENKER is Professor of Business Analytics and Community Management and a Principal Consultant of the Business Analytics Institute.

Over the last twenty years, he has led dozens of missions for Big 4 consulting groupsin the manufacturing, telecommunications, public works and service industries.

Recognized as an expert for the European Commission in learning analytics, Lee has directed or participated in studies on improving management education in the US, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Recipient of the EDSF prize for the use of technology in teaching, Lee currently facilitates various management education courses in Europe and abroad.
Lee Schlenker

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