The fatal flaw in thinking in terms of knowledge management is in adopting the perspective of the organization as the relevant beneficiary. Discussions of knowledge management start from the premise that the organization is not realizing full value from the knowledge of its employees. While likely true, this fails to address the much more important question from a knowledge worker’s perspective of “what’s in it for me?”. It attempts to squeeze the knowledge management problem into an industrial framework eliminating that which makes the deliverables of knowledge work most valuable–their uniqueness, their variability. This industrial, standardizing, perspective provokes suspicion and both overt and covert resistance. It also starts a cycle of controls, incentives, rewards, and punishments to elicit what once were natural behaviors.
Suppose, instead, that we turn our attention from the problems of the organization to the problems of the individual knowledge worker. What happens? What problems do we set out to solve and where might this lead us?
This approach also leads you to a strategy of coaching knowledge workers toward improving their ability to perform, instead of training them to a set standard of performance. In this respect, knowledge workers are more like world class athletes than either assembly line workers or artists. There are building block skills and techniques that can be developed and the external perspective of a coach can help improve both. But it’s the individual knowledge worker who deploys the skills and techniques to create a unique result.
There is an increasing discussion about the next-generation Internet and Web. Came across an article by Jeremy Allaire who writes about 10 trends for Internet 2.0: Broadband, Wireless, Devices, Rich Clients, Web Services, Real-Time Communications, Hosted Applications, Big Data, Paid Content, Software Manufacturing Economy.
After I read this News.com story about EDS launching a service to management Windows desktops – ” With the new service, a company would be able to pay for some desktop applications on a subscription basis while charges for such things as data storage and help desk services would be based on usage. The service is dubbed myCOE–for my Consistent Office Environment.” – I couldn’t help thinking that we should position our Emergic Freedom as exactly that. Remote Management of desktops, Zero-touch – all the buzzwords are there. For a fraction of the cost. Also, given the new virus flavours popping out, a “virus-free” Linux desktop could go down well. In fact, this is probably exactly what Sun will do with its Mad Hatter service.
Reuben pointed me to this TIME article about the emerging Indian middle-class with its spending power.
[There] is a new breed of consumer in India young, increasingly wealthy and willing to spend on everything from mobile phones to sneakers to French fries. In the not-too-distant past, such goodies were off limits to all but a fortunate elite in India, but a rapidly changing economy is making the higher life available to more and more of the country’s billion-strong population. College graduates are landing well-paying jobs in a host of emerging industries that barely existed in India three years ago: retail chains, fast-food restaurants, mobile-phone companies and especially call centers, data-processing firms and other businesses that do “back office” work for U.S. companies. KSA Technopak, a management-consulting firm in New Delhi, estimates that these young adults command $10.5 billion in cash to burn. The spending of these college grads is rising about 12% a year more than twice the pace of the economy’s growth.
The youngsters are part of a middle-class boom in India. The National Council of Applied Economic Research estimates that the number of people living in households that earn at least $1,800 annually considered the minimum for middle-income families has increased 17% in just the past three years, to more than 700 million. At this income level, Indian families can purchase motorbikes, televisions and refrigerators. The organization expects the number to rise an additional 24% by 2007. “Income is growing like anything,” says R.K. Shukla, a statistician at the National Council. “The future is very rosy in India.”
I am not so sure about the 700 million figure. That would make it 70% of India. Considering that that is how much of India lives in rural areas where incomes haven’t gone up much, I think there maybe an error in what TIME is saying.
Anyway, what is definitely beyond doubt is that there is a great propensity to spend among the growing middle class. One can see the results: malls, multiplexes, restaurants, mobiles and the softer (dumber) stories in most of the Indian media.
If we shift the context from the developed markets to the emerging markets, then much of what Nicholas Carr says is not very relevant. This is because IT adoption in these markets has barely scratched the surface. IT is not being used in many of the enterprises and industries as infrastructure, it is a luxury for the most part. In a country like India, the installed base of computers is only about 8 million 1 computer for every 125 people. My estimate is that of the 3 million small and medium enterprises which employ over 30 million people (an average of about 10 each), there is only 1 computer for every 10 people. What can these emerging markets and enterprises learn from what Nicholas Carr has to say?
The first learning is that IT needs to be treated as infrastructure by these emerging enterprises. Without technology, the situation is akin to the wars the US fought in Afghanistan and Iraq the enterprises have little chance of survival over the long-term when competition invades their territories. IT in the emerging markets is a disruptive innovation that can help redefine industries. IT must become part of the DNA. This needs management vision which looks at connected computers as not just machines to be given to typists and accountants, but a productivity tool that needs to be given to every employee.
The second learning is that business processes need to be re-thought and re-engineered around IT. The question to ask is: how can my business be done differently if everyone in my organization had a computer connected to the Internet on their desktops? This is where the efficiency and productivity gains will come. In these enterprises, there is plenty of scope for IT-driven optimisations. It is possible that, taking Carrs views to their logical end, that every enterprise would have IT as part of its fabric. This is good because then the entire industry becomes more competitive and better placed. It moves from a low-equilibrium of non-consumption of IT to another, better equilibrium, as described by Carr.
The third learning is that enterprises must focus on the affordability aspect of IT. Just because IT has become cheaper in the developed markets does not mean it is affordable in the emerging markets. The basic desktop software (MS Windows and MS Software) can cost almost as much as the annual per capita GDP. The solution is not non-consumption or piracy, but seeking out affordable solutions which make IT a utility. This is in fact where the next set of opportunities for technology companies lie.
The fourth learning is to see what opportunities the commoditisation of IT in the developed markets opens up for organisations in the emerging companies. Indias software and BPO (business processing companies) have so far done well to capitalise on this trend. As the US and European companies seek to cut costs, they are looking to outsource non-core processes to lower cost markets. This is where the emerging markets have an opportunity driven by the telecom revolution. More such opportunities are like to come their way in the future.
So, as IT becomes less a source of competitive advantage and more a source of competitive equivalence in the developed markets, enterprises in the emerging markets need to think about how IT can help them catch-up and even leapfrog. Even among these enterprises, there will be winners (the innovators and early adopters) and losers (the laggards).
Tomorrow: Affordable Tech Utilities