Many organisations are still organised by specialist function, which was fine for low-tech 18/19th century paper based processes and knowledge systems. Fundamentally, they still use the model of separating functional specialisations advocated by Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations (1776). Fortunately, there are better ways in the 21st century.
Organisations structured around their processes and using modern user-managed technology would enable the harnessing of functional specialism where needed as part of processes. Shifting the power to front line process owners from functional teams such as IT, Finance, HR will lead to a more natural flow to operations. It will also align services, responsibilities and technology with business priorities and customer needs. Departments should have end to end responsibility for one or more processes.
In their 1995 book Reeningineering the Corporation Michael Hammer and James Champy identified the elimination of hand-offs between teams as key to efficient processes. Whilst most major organisations have had process reengineering teams and since moved on to business process optimisation they have not really removed functional silos. Such silos seem extremely resistant to change, perhaps because most senior executive cut their management teeth running functional departments? Too often processes remain bounded by the departmental structures.
The constant focus on information technology (IT) as business enabler is an outdated model. IT infrastructure for most business purposes is, or should be, a commodity simply provided as a background service. The “cloud” has brought this into clearer focus but the same should be true of traditional third-party hosting and even data centres.
"Big" information technology tends to be a drag on business change. Many organisations are hostage to centralised IT and expensive software development and systems implementation. Process owners and customer facing services cannot make changes to meet their business needs but have to work to timetables, and expense, defined by centralised technical functions and external suppliers. IT and especially large-scale systems implementation do no not appear to have made the same sort of productivity and responsiveness gains made by operational services.
Liberation of the end user and their processes has not happened despite the personal computer revolution and wider computer skills. IT services still run, pretty much, as though they use a large centralised mainframe. In my 1999 book The Information Edge, I highlighted the growth of informal, local systems based on spreadsheets and local databases that actually met frontline needs. The situation has become even more diverse with the cloud, e-mail, web services and mobile applications; this is because IT departments often still have a legacy mind-set that IT must be centrally controlled.
The joy of consultancy and mentoring is the opportunity to talk with interesting people and understand their challenges, issues and opportunities. In fact for me it is less about talking and more about listening; asking questions that get behind the issue and make the client think. It is the pleasure of helping people achieve their dreams.
Clients, and others, suggest that my strength is that I come at matters from different directions and see past the obvious. Apparently I make people think differently about the problem and together we find new connections and fresh solutions. It is not for me to judge how accurate that assessment is but I do love ideas and applying imagination to business and personal challenges.
This facelift of Solidus will move it away from corporate dinosaur speak and consultancy weasel words. The aim is to be open, honest and to use straightforward language avoiding consultancy mumbo-jumbo. These frequent "Thoughts" will be opinionated but hopefully well-mannered and based on clear thinking and experience. If such ideas upset some people I am sorry but we were probably never going to have the chemistry necessary for a successful consultancy or mentoring relationship.
With The Plundered Planet Paul Collier is contributing to new thinking on the economics of sustainability on an increasingly crowded planet. With the increasing affluence of the major populations of India, China and Brazil joining the developed nations in exploiting natural resources that new thinking is needed. Without it future generations will be impoverished and standards of living of the major economies, including the newly affluent, could suffer.
Professor Collier breaks his analysis and argument out across five headings.
The first part of the book describes what is meant by plunder in the context of the book’s title: The Plundered Planet and the nature of poverty especially for the bottom billion. The author examines the value put on natural resources by current economic theory and starts to explore the options.
In Aerotropolis John Kasarda and Greg Lindsay suggest that the future lies with cities that are designed and built round airports. The airports provide a focus for business and jobs. Globalisation means frequent business travellers want easy connection between home and airport. Yet it may all be a utopian view whose time has passed.
The ideas in Aerotropolis are interesting and challenging. They are based on John Kasarda’s extensive academic, consulting and proselytising work. The book is structured around a series of case studies of airport and city development since commercial flight began. However the principal coverage is of the period since the Second World War with particular consideration of the use of the aerotropolis model as a vehicle for economic development in emerging markets.
Martin Wilson was brought in by one of the junior departments in a sensitive government programme. As a junior partner the department could not be seen to be disruptive but it had serious concerns about the programme scope. Martin explored the issues on an individual basis with the other parties and especially with the programme director. It showed that all were aware of problems with the programme direction, “the elephant in the room”, but felt powerless to deal with it. In just six weeks of sensitive negotiations Martin was able to generate consensus and get the programme redesigned and heading in a more appropriate direction.
Sometimes a programme or project needs fresh thinking to get it running smoothly; it may be that a health check has exposed issues.
Solidus has considerable experience with putting projects and programmes back on track. Usually it is a case of a project team using Solidus to facilitate an exploration of the challenges. Often the team are too close to the issues, Solidus helps them step back to “see the wood for the trees”. The client can then often resolve matters themselves. In extremis Solidus can take over project leadership until it is running smoothly.