Friday, August 22, 2008

Does Technology Create Transparency or Mirages?

Many companies implement huge IT packages to get better visibility into what's happening and to (presumably) get more control, but this begs the question, does technology give you better transparency? Theoretically, it should and even could. Practically, technology may create mirages more effectively than a desert.

Why Does Technology Create Mirages?
Transparency comes from corporate strategies that value transparency. Technology effectively supports that approach if it exists or it obfuscates if one is not careful. If the departments and groups implementing the technology want people to know what they are doing, then you'll get a lot of transparency. If the departments and groups do not think it is in their best interest to have people know what they are doing, technology will not help; in fact, it will probably show you a corporate mirage. [Editor: Sort of like I help you look intelligent.]

Just like in the picture above, the peaceful and attractive house with bushes around it reflected in the lake is a mirage, sophisticated managers can manipulate technology to show whatever it most benefits them to present. Technology is not a magical elixir.

How can Technology Provide Transparency and Control?
If there is:
  • Clear thinking about the business objectives
  • Products and services that customers value
  • Business models that support the required infrastructure to deliver those products and services and create reasonable profit margins
  • Appropriate incentives to motivate employees to deliver those products and services
If those things exist, there will be transparency and control will not be a problem. Technology enhances the processes and systems a business uses to do its work. So, will adding technology enhance your transparency or create corporate mirages?

Photo Credit: mbz

1 comment:

Dr. Jim Anderson said...

Andy, Good post but I disagree with your basic premise. At the end of the day, technology in all of its different forms is just a set of tools that we can use. It's what we do with these tools that really matters. As you pointed out, technology has been used to build some incredible smoke & mirror machines that have hidden the truth (Enron, Worldcom, etc.). My disagreement with you comes not from the (hopefully) small number of cases in which folks are actively trying to hid things, but rather from the much larger number of cases where technology was implemented incorrectly and ended up giving the wrong messages. One case in point would be Levi, the jeans company. They were at the top of their game in the mid-90's and their IT systems told them that they were doing fine. However, because they were measuring the wrong things, they got knocked off of their high perch.

I guess all tools are only as good as the people who are using them.

- Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting