Patrick Slesinger is director and CIO of Wallem Services Limited, a Hong Kong based ship management business with some 6,600 staff. Earlier today we discussed the way in which Wallem has transitioned from being a top down, command and control directed business to one where openness rules. My interest was in discovering how companies that are characterized by power fiefdoms can successfully change.
In shipping, it takes master engineers around eight years to reach the pinnacle of their profession. They tend to be contemptuous of ship captains, taking the view that captains are merely the people who stare out the front of a ship that wouldn't go anywhere without engineers. They rarely share information except on a 'need to know' basis. Wallem had information stored across multiple systems both packaged and in-house built applications. While systems could 'talk' to one another, there was no real way for anyone to obtain a complete operational picture. Wallem's solution was to implement Attensa's RSS solution to expose and organize data that is then dropped into a corporate blog.
That's all very well, but my question was how this might provide improved decision making, given that the company culture reflects command and control characteristics where knowledge is power. "The way we expose information means there is nowhere to hide. In the past, individuals would horde information but that's no longer possible. If a person needs information but doesn't have access they can ask why in public via the blog. It no longer makes sense for people to horde because there is a subtle form of peer pressure in play. If a person is hording then it impacts that individual's perceived reputation within the business," says Slesinger.
I was surprised that something as simple as RSS could be used in this way and wondered whether the culture is being forced to change. "If you try and force something it will fail. We took the view that a subtle approach, where users would realize value for themselves was more likely to be successful. Even so, you can't assume the culture will magically change. It is a constant battle but one that's getting easier to win as the company gains more experience in how RSS benefits everyone."