Information technology versus bureaucracies. Who's going to win this one?
My prediction is IT will win many battles, but bureaucracies will win the war. It's just part of human nature to want to control the flow of things, and manipulate things to provide oneself cover in the event of catastrophies.
But the very idea that IT could be a bureaucracy-buster is an appealing one, and there are countless examples of its many victories. Governments hosting websites to handle everything from tax payments to fishing licenses is an obvious example of the bureaucracy-busting power of IT. The entree of social networks into the heart of corporate operations -- enabling instant, direct communication and collaboration between executives and employees -- is another example. Or the ability to log on to track logictics -- whether it's for a single package or fleets of trucks -- also takes away layers of bureaucracies in a single sweep.
Gary Hamel, co-founder of the MIX (Management Innovation eXchange) and author of "The Future of Management," believes that the end of bureaucracy as we know it is at hand, thanks to technology. In a recent article in Fortune, he explains that "the next IT-enabled revolution will upend old management models -- the structures and processes organizations use to plan, prioritize, allocate, coordinate, measure, hire, and reward."
Technology has accomplished much of what it can accomplish in terms of processes, and digitzing processes and operations. (Okay, debatable, but let's assume most IT projects have accomplshed what they set out to do.) Now, technology faces it's greatest challenge of all: "a management model that empowers the few while disempowering the many; one that favors efficiency over every other business goal and conformity over every other virtue; one that makes organizations less adaptable, innovative, and inspiring than they could be and, increasingly, will need to be.
Hamel doesn't offer suggestions as to how exactly technology will take on entrenched bureaucracies, but implies that approaches have yet to be developed. But here are a few thoughts on how this is, or will happen:
The fusion of technology and entrepreneurship: We're already seeing this in the rise of disruptive, or simply innovative businesses that harness technology and data to promote the sharing economy, or enable greater insights from health data.
Cloud and APIs: The ability to quickly pull together on-demand services for any business process imagnable, often at no or negliglbe cost, provides the ability to launch new initiatives or ventures without the need for stamps of approval from the corporate bureaucracy.
Consumerization of IT: The bring your own device trend has provided mobility and access well beyond the confines of the walls of the 9-to-5 office. Plus, the rise of BYOD is turning even the most hard-core bureaucrats into personal technology enthusiasts. (With some egging on from the kids at home.) And that can't be a bad thing.
Keep fresh ideas flowing: Hamel also announced the launch of a Busting Bureaucracy Hackathon at the MIX, intended to tap the innovative impluses of thinkers and technologists (often one in the same).
(Illustration: Joe McKendrick.)