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Set for the scrapheap

THIRTY YEARS AGO, company operations were beholden to comptometer operators, typing pools, drawing offices, reprographic departments and manual switchboards. Where are they today? They were wiped out by the PC, mobile phone and outsourcing.

Today, IT and security are the latest contenders for displacement. While IT departments busy themselves with the next office upgrade, firewalls, controlling employee web access, data security and the growing population of mobile workers, the workforce is increasingly circumventing these controls by using their own laptops, pads and mobile devices. And why not? Why wouldn’t you exploit cool apps and social networking to increase your efficiency?

Even if we take the most charitable view of IT and security, it is hard to see how they can compete with the capabilities of HP, IBM, Google and Amazon, for example, in terms of cost, security, utility, user-friendliness, responsiveness and service levels. Companies typically spend more than £2,500 per head every year supporting a single desk, while Google and the rest do a far better job for £100 or less. This IT/security status quo is untenable and about to be swept away by cloud computing.

So, if IT and security are going the way that typing pools went 30 years ago, what should they be doing to help the company and its people, and what must they become to provide positive contributions to the bottom line?

At board level, the chairman and directors are like the crew of a Boeing 747, looking at their instruments and seeing the angle of every passenger seat, the temperature of every cup of tea and coffee, and the colour of the socks of every passenger. They are awash with information and struggling to see how high they are flying, their speed, direction and fuel status. More critically, business decisions are made using instinct and experience, without any situation modelling and decision support.

Companies do not generally model their operations, customers, competition, markets and the economy. Board-level decisions are made on the basis of distorted information that has been progressively filtered by a daisy chain reporting process. It’s not so much that people are fallible, it’s that they are influenced by many things – their own survival, prosperity, optimism, naivety and sheer lack of experience.

As a matter of good business and management practice, internal process reporting should be as automated as possible, and all human influence removed. The same is true of decision making and customer care. Sadly, most companies are on the back foot with labour-intensive manual processes.

Meanwhile, IT and security departments employ really smart people wasting their lives on the mundane. How much better it would be if they engaged in the automation of data-gathering, analysis, information extraction, business modelling, war gaming and decision making. A dynamic and up-to-date understanding of the market, competition, customers, suppliers and company operations could only improve overall management, decision making, investment, outcomes and long-term sustainability. Intriguingly, the exploitation of company metadata often presents new business opportunities that are far bigger than anyone realises, but this remains invisible and untapped in most companies.

Flying blind is not only dangerous; it is uncomfortable. In today’s connected and fast-moving world, with growing numbers of international competitors, the management techniques and thinking of the 20th century presents an untenable and risk-prone model. To be a leader in any industry means constantly refining and updating business models and operations by engaging the latest technologies and applications. The hidden resources needed to address this opportunity are available today, but they need diverting away from the mere upgrading of PCs and servicing of printers. ?

 

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