Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Connecting everywhere and all the time, and its impact on structure in markets and organizations – 1: starting a new series

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on August 31, 2011

This is the first installment of a series that I have been developing in my mind as a set of disconnected posting ideas, but that I will be bringing together here.

I have been thinking about the role that ubiquitous computing and communications can have within an organization on its hierarchical structure, and on how it can drive disintermediation – the removal of intermediary layers and access control points in a system. I add that I have been thinking through both the pros and cons of this as any change motivator as powerful as our new and emerging capacity to connect to share information can have either profoundly positive or negative impact on an organization depending on how it is implemented and integrated into the organization and its culture.

At the same time I have been thinking about the impact that ubiquitous computing and communications is coming to have on the marketplace, also considering disintermediation processes and effects but in this case looking at individual businesses as black box entities – not considering their internal processes or organization but rather focusing on their visible market-facing surfaces.

I decided this morning to consider these two perhaps seemingly separate sets of issues as fitting into one larger paradigm and the result is that I am going to assemble a short series, with a goal of outlining some of my thoughts on each of them, and on how they do in fact strongly interconnect.

I am going to begin by considering the individual business or organization and its table of organization.

• Organizational complexity leads to increased complexity in its table of organization.
• This can come from need to coordinately manage and organize multiple product and/or service lines, and it can arise from a need to organize and locally coordinate client facing expertise to more fully and effectively meet the needs of specific marketplaces (e.g. consider businesses that span private sector and governmental customer bases, and even those two sectors can have a lot of variations within them, such as military procurement versus sales to local public school systems.)
• This can develop from need to meet the specific needs of geographically diverse and dispersed marketplaces and customer bases, and with language and cultural and other factors entering in, each regional or national market having its own requirements for effective product development, placement, marketing and sales.
• This can be maintained coming out of mergers or acquisitions where a now larger organization maintains duplications as a means of preserving known brand recognition and brand loyalty.
• I have written this up to now in terms of larger and even multinational organizations and conglomerates. But even much smaller organizations can elaborate a more complex table of organization and for a variety of reasons – structuring it along functional lines if nothing else, or to mark off and designate separate identity teams for specific high profile, ongoing programs or initiatives for example.
• And organizational complexity can just arise with time, and simply happen organically as people rising through the ranks build their own teams and set boxes and lines on the table of organization that they are responsible for.

At the same time, there are pressures to simplify and flatten tables of organization. I have written a number of times about the need to develop and maintain lean and agile capabilities in order to remain flexible and competitive and certainly in a rapidly changing marketplace (see, for example, my 10 part series: Virtualizing and Outsourcing Infrastructure, at Business Strategy and Operations.)

• Table of organization simplification and flattening can occur as a response to marketplace forces as I have already discussed in that posting series.
• This approach can also be pursued as a directive from, and even as a core business practice from a business’ founders and owners. I have particularly seen that where they approach a new business as a means of addressing inefficiencies that had blocked them earlier in their careers and where they seek to prove a more effective way to do things.
• And the increasing capability of our emerging ubiquitous computing and communications systems, coupled with development of effective internal information infrastructures can bring with them the capability of anyone in an organization to be able to reach any other, and in information-rich contexts (e.g. see Connecting an Organization Together, Version 2.0.)

But if over-complexity and the barriers that it creates can breed problems and inefficiencies, so can a completely flat and open-door organizational structure too. And I find myself thinking of a very common problem that I see in organizations of all sizes, though particularly for smaller, lean startups and businesses that seek to operate according to an ongoing “startup mentality.” Managers can find themselves drowning from having to hands-on involve themselves with too many issues and tasks that others should be taking care of – and without their having to see the ongoing operational details. This can come across as micromanagement, and it can look like a failure to find and keep a focus on the right priorities and at the right overall decision making level. I am thinking of a particular organization I have worked with as an example of how this can play out as I write this, but the issues and problems I write of here are in fact fairly wide-spread. In that, an otherwise effective CEO never seemed to have enough time in the day to simply step back and really consider the big picture – so he was never actually able to pull away from the details to think or plan effectively at an overall strategic level.

I am going to continue discussion of complexity and flatness within the organization in my next series posting, picking up there where I am leaving off here. You can find related postings, and certainly on the topic of the individual business and its marketplace at Business Strategy and Operations.

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