Work in the 21st century

Work in the 21st century

New technologies and, more importantly, new concepts are going to change the way you go about your business, says Paul Montgomery.

We have been writing a lot in this magazine over the past year or so about some of the newer information management innovations. Enterprise information portals and knowledge management are giving knowledge managers the power to replace the old IT-centric way of viewing technology with a new focus on the customer, and means to help employees get closer to them. We have to be careful not to reify the technologies, not to say that the software itself is an agent of change, for that is patently silly. In reality, the new applications merely reflect the needs of user organisations as they undergo internal change.

Alongside this convergence of technologies we are seeing a breaking down of old hierarchies and practices in the workplace. The vast majority of employees involved in managing information, especially in the companies whose managers read this magazine, are still desk-bound members of a bureaucracy which extends across all industries and is the opposite of the new corporate term: "customer-facing". What's more, especially at a higher level, valuable information is only available to a certain class of managers. These companies are starting to realise that the information which these pen-pushers hoard can be a source of revenue, or at least cost reduction, and these employees should be empowered to use the knowledge they have to benefit the whole organisation.

Salespeople have the same access to corporate information on the road as the bureaucrat sitting in an office.

It is difficult to identify the impetus behind this operational shift. Competition is driving many industries, like telecommunications and banking, whereas other areas like the public sector are being driven by a a mandate from on high. Whatever the catalyst, the change is being seen on the floor by employees who need to be more mobile, and more flexible in their work practices to be able to handle this change.

When this is seen in a technological light, it is easy to identify which trends are supporting this change. Intranets can be used to break down the old hierarchies by making information available to every employee. Old-style applications like business intelligence, enterprise resource planning and document management have been shaken up by the corporate portal concept, which takes the information out of the hands of a chosen few and brings it out on to the intranet.


Another key ennabling technology is the laptop PC. The ability to take processing power on the road with you, along with the increasingly pervasive coverage of Internet access and the recently gained access to strong cryptographic solutions for communications security, has meant that salespeople and other customer-facing employees can have much the same access to corporate information repositories on the road as the bureaucrat sitting in an air-conditioned office.

This was brought home to me as I spoke to Ross Dembecki from Microsoft for this issue's digital dashboard feature. Microsoft is the champion of the PC-centric way of looking at technology, although it is trying its best to update its thinking in line with its customers who might be drifting to the thin client world of corporate portals and network computers. Ross' view was that all this was theoretically possible, but he was sceptical about how many knowledge workers would actually want to make the change.

"If you're talking about somewhere like a call centre, then thin clients are good, but if you're talking about employees with unpredictable work environments, we don't see thin clients solving these people's problems," he said. "These people will still be carrying their own processing power and data stores for a long while yet."

Is he right? Only you readers have the power to make his words into truth or lies. One thing is certain: this wave of change is not one which you can ignore.

PS: On a personal note, I would like to thank all of the readers and industry members who have helped me over the past two years with Image & Data Manager, especially all those at Knapp Communications.