Five fearless predictions for the smart business of the 2010s

'Burst' productivity replaces rigid workplaces, service brokers mediate markets, social responsibility becomes the business, intelligence becomes network-borne, corporate culture adapts.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer on

The year 2009 is drawing to a close, essentially ending a decade filled with fear, fluff, and finagling.  But it was also a decade of progress in management -- with a greater grasp of the power of information technology and networks, as well as greater enlightenment as to the roles of organizations as employers and consumers of resources.

What will the decade ahead -- which we'll call the 20-tens -- bring? What kinds of businesses will we see by the end of the year 2019? What will be the qualities of a "smart business" in this new era?

Here are a few predictions, or what I like to call HBIs (for "half-baked ideas") about the changes businesses can expect over the coming decade:

  1. Rise of the "loosely coupled" organization. In information technology, systems are being deployed along the service oriented architecture (SOA) paradigm, which is based on the fact that all applications and interfaces that are brought together to address a process do not depend on each other and operate independently -- they are "loosely coupled." Likewise, organizations will be increasingly built with this model -- as separate services, brought together from various sources through some sort of "broker" of these services. Many businesses offer services or resources pulled in from partnering service providers, rather than building or producing the products and services themselves. The broker's job is to connect these services to their markets. Thanks to new technologies, what was a linear supply chain is now close to being a synchronous network, affording greater visibility and control over processes. It's already happening -- telecommunications companies offer conglomerates of services from contracted outside providers.
  2. Fading of the mandated 40-hour workweek: By "mandated," I mean the government definition of employment as a locked-in requirement that workers are required to be physically present at their workplaces for an eight-hour-or-longer stretch. While this will be essential for certain occupations, such as public safety jobs, many professionals and knowledge workers will be servicing employers or clients on a more informal or contract basis. The barrier between work and personal life, already fuzzy in many cases, will collapse altogether with information technology and social networking. As Anne Zelenka of Web Worker Daily described it, we have a new emerging definition of productivity in the networked age. That is, individuals engaged in the “burst” economy are valued for the their ability to deliver information and insights, regardless of the time and place from which they were working -- versus employees compelled to merely keep “busy," and are judged on their attendance on a 9-to-5 basis. And I like the way author and futurist John Naisbitt put in several years ago: organizations are evolving into "confederations of entrepreneurs."
  3. Corporate social responsibility grows from being a sidelight to part of the business itself. Corporate social responsibility began in the 1970s and 80s as a PR-driven initiative run within its own silo, separate from the business side and dependent on subsidies from the business. Over the last decade, we saw many forward-thinking companies bake corporate social responsibility more deeply into their corporate culture, and in some cases, become the business itself. Being socially responsible means being managed in a participative way to encourage innovation at all levels, being responsive to community needs, and better managing natural resources. Over the coming decade, with the emphasis on sustainability, green technologies and community contributions, many, if not most organizations, will see the opportunities to grow their businesses this way.
  4. Rise of the "Intelligent Web." There’s no doubt we’re casting more of our business intelligence and analytic requirements to the Web, through collection and analysis of social networking data as well as use of third-party cloud services for the same. We’re looking beyond proprietary internal ERP and BI systems internal to the organization that hold only barely a fraction of the insights that the Web at large can bring us. A term one expert applied to this phenomenon is that business intelligence is becoming ‘collaborative intelligence,’ thanks to the confluence of SOA, WOA, and social media approaches. Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, says "linked data" will unlock information from siloed systems to the Internet, to help drive new innovations and decision making. "When you connect data together, you get power in a way that doesn't happen just with the Web or with documents," he says.
  5. Companies will open up to more innovation from without. In order to better leverage the resources of the Intelligent Web, companies will increasingly open up their corporate cultures to outside innovation. Crowdsourcing and social networking are already providing ways to reach out for fresh thinking and ideas. This was confirmed by a study of CEOs released a couple of years ago by IBM Global Services supports the ideas put forth at the Wharton conference. In the survey of 750 global CEOs, IBM found that successful companies are becoming more inclined to rely on outside sources for innovation. The barrier that will be overcome by 2019 is corporate cultural resistance to the approach. "What we're talking about is moving from inventing to connecting," Larry Huston, managing director of 4iNNO in Cincinnati, Ohio, and former vice president of knowledge and innovation at Procter & Gamble, said at a UPenn Wharton conference this year. However, changes in corporate culture are often needed, and this is not an overnight process. As the decade progresses, and forward-looking companies embrace such global innovation, many others will begin to see the light.

Those are just five HBIs of major currents that will sweep the business space over the coming decade. We'd love to hear your ideas on what else can be expected in terms of smart management and smart business during the 20-tens!

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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