It looks like I’m going to have a lot more time on my hands now that my Calgary Flames are being badly beaten by the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. It’s not over yet but it will be soon if the Flames keep playing the rest of the series the way they did in the first two games. Oh well, more time to blog, right?
Speaking of blogging, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Barry Oxby of Sierra Systems last week at the monthly CIPS luncheon. Each year for the past several years Barry has shared his views on the trends shaping the world of IT. His past predictions have proven prescient, correctly calling Y2K as the non-event of our lifetimes and identifying web services as slow to catch on way back in 2002 (we’re just getting there now). He was also good enough to admit some of his predictions haven’t quite hit the mark (like calling Google a ‘side show’ in 2004…oops).
This year, Barry framed his discussion with his thoughts on how social computing is going to change the way we work (you can find his entire presentation here). He noted that ‘prescriptive computing’ has failed miserably and used an interesting model to illustrate how he feels organizations will interact in the near future. Here is his “New Hierarchy” model:
Barry used this model to talk about how traditional organizational hierarchies are changing to accommodate the way that individuals want to interact, both internally and externally with business partners, customers and suppliers. This is driven by an increased availability of easy-to-use collaborative tools and an increased familiarity in using these tools in our everyday lives. It also tends to be the domain of those people now entering the workforce who have “grown up digital”, but not exclusively. To me this is an excellent visual representation of the Enterprise 2.0 concept popularized by Harvard professor Andrew McAfee. In a nutshell, Enterprise 2.0 tools are social software applications like blogs and wikis used behind the firewall that are free-form, optional to use and egalitarian (or at least indifferent to formal organizational identities). See this post for more detail on Enterprise 2.0.
What is interesting to me is not whether organizations will change as Barry predicts, but how quickly. Expecting a baby boom-era engineer to start blogging about her projects might be a bit ambitious, but then again maybe not. What if it finally gives her the tools she needs to share information with a far-flung team and gather feedback in a way that no amount of “reply-all” email ever could? If the tools are easy enough to use and are as unconstrained as their Web 2.0 brethren, why not? But there’s the rub. Many (most) organizations are going to struggle with granting the freedom necessary to enable free-form collaboration. Putting this is a Calgary context, can we really expect large oil and gas exploration and production companies to be the first to embrace corporate blogging? Probably not. Yes, many E&P’s are starting to deploy collaborative tools to enable project teams but these tend to be constrained by traditional organizational boundaries.
To me, that’s one of the great paradoxes of the oil and gas industry. While there is a stunning array of technology employed to make sense of seismic data and to communicate with drilling crews in Zama and beyond, the same level of investment doesn’t tend to be made for things like collaboration tools that don’t have as clear a cost-benefit relationship. That doesn’t mean there is no cost-benefit relationship, just one that’s much more difficult to quantify.
Further compounding this problem is the fact that many companies are organized along geographical lines (often to the point of a single company really being several vertical companies complete with their own admin staff and IT budget) and there is often little, if any communication between groups. This may make sense when running drilling rigs or gas plants, but it has always struck me that there’s a huge opportunity for the organization that can tap into the collective wisdom of smart people from throughout the company to find more oil and gas and to pull it out of the ground cheaper, faster and safer than everyone else. Enterprise 2.0 tools seem to be a good fit, but how is this going to happen? I see three things that need to be in place:
- Trust that the community will police itself;
- Tools that are easy to use and just flat-out work, and;
- A business problem to solve (i.e. a need for innovation, communication challenges in dispersed project teams, etc).
I recognize that I’m generalizing here, but it has been my experience that oil and gas companies don’t tend to be world leaders when it comes to communicating across organizational boundaries. I’m not as familiar with other industries but I imagine this sounds familiar to at least some of you out there?