It was as the Chinese say, an ‘interesting’ week. At the beginning of the week there was the BusinessWeek European Leadership Forum, held in London and (well) attended by CxOs including some from very well known household names. At the end of the week it was the European Union Information & Communication, Technology, ICT, Secretariat event in Lyon, and again surprisingly well attended with over 4000 people present.
As so often now seems to be the case it’s the differences that seem to hold the messages. The EU ICT event focussed on what is changing, how the new technologies could be applied, with costs seeming not to be the issue. Instead the issue was can we afford not to move smartly forward in adoption to meet the expectations of the citizens of the EU in requiring better services. May be that message does contain a second message about doing ‘more for less’ but it certainly wasn’t the prime issue. However there was a common theme beyond all of the further sessions around a wide variety of ‘issues’ all of which seemed to be in the need of being addressed with EU funding and that is ‘mass participation’.
Exactly what will happen when the population of the EU at large, and of other developed nations, is both ‘online’ and ‘technology literate’? The answer is simply that nobody knows, through Researchers say that the Gutenberg Galaxy, the text book on the impact tat printing had on the world over time is the best guide to the probable issues. And with the banking crisis very much in mind, what will happen if people act using local, or personal, guidelines, at a EU wide level when all the simple, single actions become complex, integrated forces? If Warren Buffet thought complex financial instruments were ‘weapons of mass destruction’ at least they were only in the hands of an irresponsible few.

The conclusion seems to be that many commercial enterprises are going to have to add Risk Management’ skills to their investment in Business Intelligence, and that some of those out of work members of the Banking sector might find their expertise in this area in demand. However to make Risk Management work requires the identification of risk elements and the production of Risk Models, both of which mean more external information needs to be available. Add to this the ‘democratisation’ effect that providing access to access to information and communication seems to drive, and the answer arrived at is that Governments have to lead the way in becoming more transparent in operation, and in making ‘good’ quality data available.
The increased need for ‘transparency’ came up again at the BusinessWeek European Leadership Event. Actually at both events it was either linked to, or seen as the outcome of, the need to re-grow ‘trust’ which together with Cash forms the essential oil of trading relationships. A colleague, Carl Bate, first showed me the equation:
Trust = (Intimacy x Credibility) / Risk
The challenge that kept coming up was the limited resources that were available to ‘invest’ in doing the right thing if ‘credit’ dries up and forces Enterprises back onto their cash resources. Perhaps it should now be updated to read:
Trust to do Business = (Transparency x Credibility) / (Risk x Cash)
What does all of this have to do with Technology and a CTO’s blog? Well it all has a scarily similar feel to 1990, may be now 1991, and the severe recession that lasted into the mid nineties. Okay the causes were different and the credit crunch provides some notability different aspects, but the real point is that then, as now, this was coupled with technology change. We forget that in 1990 the term IT wasn’t in use except amongst a minority of people, much as with the term Business Technology today. The Computing Services Manager ruled over Mainframes in the corporate data centre, plus some Mini Computers running departmental applications, whilst trying to prevent the spread of the PC and the low cost departmental networks that came with them.
Then, as now, the users were driving the up take of new technology using departmental operating budgets for the cheap technology and avoiding centralised capital expenditure procedures. The well targeted use of PCs improved departmental and personal operating efficiency by promoting better use of shared information giving rise to changes in business architecture, and perhaps business models. Today it may be maligned by some, but Business Process e-Engineering and Matrix working is a fact of life, as is the focus on Information Technology and the important tools of ERP, and EAI, to keep the IT based business operationally coherent and financially manageable. Until we got to the mid 90s and the deployment of ERP this was a revolution based on user driven, low cost new technology acquired mostly without centralised capital funding, and it worked.
Ring any bells with you about where we are today? Take a look at the edge of the enterprise to see what users in the positions that most can make a difference are doing with Web based technology and Software as a Service, SaaS, then consider what the IT department is doing to try to stop them., and then remember who won, and why. The real lesson should be not to allow it be done in a dysfunctional manner as with the PC, and the massive work to recreate a coherent Enterprise in the mid 90s. Actually this time round the auditors probably wont let that happen again!