Collaborative networks: Never mistake a clear view for a short distance...

Despite the apparent pace of urgent change proposed by hi tech company marketing, enterprises are more circumspect in identifying their best paths forward to achieve their goals. Never mistake a clear view for a short distance...
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor

We live in an amazing, mould breaking era in which many conventions and understandings are being challenged at an ever greater rate. From Einstein's long standing theory of relativity being potentially undermined by neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light to the broadband and mobile enabled elimination of geographical limitations in business and the resulting ease and immediacy with which we can now publish, old rules and conventions are constantly being rendered obsolete.

However, while technology companies blaze ahead in their understanding, vision and deployment of the agility and business value of cloud computing, 'consumerization' of the enterprise with 2.0 technologies and collaborative networks that need no borders, the rest of the business world is typically moving at a much lower speed. Hi Tech companies and their funders tend to believe their own industry hype and marketing speak. The rest of the business world, making difficult decisions on what is real and what's fashion driven in their quest to move forward with proven to be useful next generation technologies, are much more cautious in their decision making. Inside the enterprise no one wants to be seen as at the bleeding edge - or as late blooming slow coaches. This is particularly true in companies not making information technology products.

While silicon valley currently has a strong appetite for young engineers, the fabled march of the millennials to take over the workspace just isn't happening in a rapidly aging western society.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle

The average salary for computer programmers in San Francisco last year was about $94,310, 18 percent higher than in Texas, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That doesn't include stock options and perks that emerging startups are offering.

The unemployment rate for Americans in computer and mathematical jobs was 4.6 percent last month, about half the total rate.

Meanwhile unemployment of non geeky 'millennials' (those currently aged from 18 up to about 28 years old) is at catastrophic levels in the same area and across most of the rest of the western world, with the young returning from expensive educations to live with their parents.

To quote Derek Thompson's piece 'No Country for Young Men (or Young Women)' on the USA in the Atlantic

...It is, very simply, a tough time to be young. There are 14 million unemployed people looking for a job and millions more sitting on the sidelines or working part-time. Into this mosh pit of clamoring workers and job applications, millions of college students are graduating with thousands of dollars of debt that won't be forgiven, and they're being joined by hundreds of thousands of straight-from-high-schoolers, as well.

Myths about 'digital natives' have been largely debunked as we mature into our ever more connected world, and as many of us get beyond adolescence in our digital social interactions society is coming of age with increasingly sophisticated online social mores. More and more networked online society represents the 'real' world, from the comfy, easy digital suburbia of Facebook to the more specialized social network online environments that are beginning to supersede forums.

Sites like 'motor social commerce' site TheFOAT.com are leveraging the various multimedia and connectivity attributes of 2.0 technologies to build community. Enterprises aspire to similar momentum around their internal communities, as we discussed at the Enterprise 20 Conference last week. A key difference is the passion of the enthusiast electing to join and participate within a hobby site such as the FOAT as opposed to attempting to make an internal employee collaborative network flourish within the constraints of corporate hierarchies with all their rivalries and factional fiefdoms.

As Stewart Brand has said

"...Change is never linear. Our expectations are linear, but new technologies come in “S” curves, so we routinely overestimate short-term change and underestimate long-term change. “Never mistake a clear view for a short distance.”

In our current economical climate a confused picture has emerged created by hi tech vendor hyperbole, chronic youth unemployment (resulting in a lack of training in collaborative business practices) and an increasing reliance on existing employee knowledge.  As I've written previously the average enterprise is still outfitted with Windows XP, older IT security approved versions of Internet Explorer browsers and Blackberry phones and email devices. There is absolutely no doubt that people of all ages are using their own technology at work, whether smart phones, slates or other gear, but the provisioned equipment is very slow to change. (XP will be supported until 2013, at which point decisions will be made on next generation operating systems in many firms).

The path forward to segue from Microsoft XP era technology to modern collaborative networks is principally an enterprise design and intentions issue to achieve business value and advantage from broadly understood performance goals. Any appropriate new technologies should serve those goals and not be a limiting factor. The 'freestyle' aspects of people bringing their own technology to work could have a dark side: companies are never slow to find ways to shave costs (most IBM employees now work from home for example, saving infrastructure costs). Just as we are expected to buy smart clothes for interviews and to attend work meetings, there could come a time when you're expected to provide your own technology to perform your job.

Consistency around systems and technologies make life a lot simpler when you're working with lots of people, and information fragmentation across many silos is an increasing challenge for many. Making clear decisions on how people are to work together collectively and provisioning consistency and security has been a greatly underestimated value of IT departments in our current era as people champ at the bit for seasonal technology upgrades from companies like Apple. Ironically Apple have succeeded by doing the hard work to achieve seemingly simple yet highly sophisticated products, yet their product use in the enterprise is often associated with very ad hoc, departmental use by individuals.

Scaling up consistent, easy to understand work frameworks requires a lot of though and effort to achieve simplicity. When the economy finally recovers enough to start employing the 14 million unemployed young people - many of whom have learnt their internet ropes purely through use of 'all about me' narcissistic social networking through mobile and internet devices - their entering well designed, established and easy to understand collaborative networks will be extremely important. This is not the work of new 'digital natives' - it is at the very heart of competitive differentiation for effective modern distributed company infrastructure.


image by Sunduane

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