I was interviewed last week for an article on how companies are using collaboration technologies to reduce operating costs during the current economic downturn. The article, entitled Virtual Conference Victory for Cisco Systems, was published in the Technology section of the Financial Times today.
When I spoke with the author, Joseph Menn, I tried to make it clear that using Web-based collaboration technologies like video conferencing to avoid travel costs was simply a baseline management activity. The most effective organizations use these technologies in bad and good times to not only minimize operating costs, but also to maximize productivity. After reading the FT article today, it was clear to me that Joe had indeed understood my point.
There is a larger story here though. The quote from me that was actually published,
“There’s a real, fundamental change going on in the way we work, both as companies and as individuals.”
is a c. 5 second sound-bite of a much longer conversation, in which Joe and I discussed how enterprise collaboration and social software are changing the way organizations are structured and how work gets done. Most of that didn’t make it into the article, but that’s OK. We can discuss it here.
Increasingly, organizations exist to provide specific assets and services to employees, including:
- a clearly defined and shared business mission and strategy
- a favorably recognized brand
- marketing and sales
- project management
- bookkeeping and accounting
- legal services
- organizational knowledge networks and repositories
Individual employees can provide pretty much everything else they need to work efficiently and effectively themselves.
The role that corporate IT departments play has evolved markedly over the last decade. Ten years ago, IT departments laid infrastructure, built and deployed applications, and managed both as their primary function. The focus was not on the end user. Today, the IT function is viewed as providing assets and support services that enable workers to do their jobs in a productive manner. A huge and important change in perspective has occurred.
I believe we are nearing the time when entire organizations will make that same shift of perspective. Hierarchical command and control structures already have (mostly) given way to matrixed organizations. The next step in organizational evolution will be the formation of networks of individuals who work together to solve a specific business challenge, and then disband. The organization will support their endeavors by providing the assets and services listed above. Organizations will endure only as long as they can continue to form networks of knowledge workers and supply the assets and services those workers need.
How do I know this? I already work for such an organization!