Facebook vs your IT department

Walter Adamson posted a really interesting article about the scale of Facebook and the way it is able to support terrifyingly large amounts of information, constant high levels of activity, and global reach to 1,000,000,000 people with almost 100% uptime on comparatively modest resources. Comparatively, that is, in the context of corporate IT departments.

Unsurprisingly someone commented on twitter quite quickly that it wasn’t a fair comparison and mentioned the different types of applications involved.

OK, if we’re talking about the hard-core data and business systems that increasingly support the core activities of many of our businesses I might agree. But if we’re talking about the ill-conceived, badly designed, overengineered office systems that soak up the lives of so many people faffing about creating all those documents that take days to write, but no one reads, and that are stored in expensive knowledge management systems never to be found again – then I would disagree.

Given that the effectiveness of businesses relies almost entirely on communication how much more efficient might businesses be if we dropped the facade of “business systems”?

3 thoughts on “Facebook vs your IT department

  1. I used to work for a bank. The IT department existed for control. I bought an Apple III in 1982 in London to run syndication. They sent 2 men for a week from Toronto to see how I was going to bring down the bank.I have looked after my own needs for 19 years. Who needs IT? I reach all my clients and pals.My nephew runs a business with no office and staf all over. They use Dropbox and Google for the whole thingWho needs IT?

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  2. The problem with corporates is that the processes are not written down and maintained! Not the opposite!Facebook works on redundancy. It really does not matter who is there or what they say or do. All that counts is a large number of people milling around. It is modeled on an under-grad dorm as Google is modeled on a post-grad corridor. It works for what it was intended to do.Corporates have a different purpose. It actually matters which day of the week strawberries are picked in Scotland to be sent to a) the market as fresh produce or b) to the factory for jamming to be on sold into luxury food outlets in England. And these decisions cannot be made without up-to-date information (which is one of the reasons why cell phones take off in poor agricultural communities). If a large farmer in Scotland does not load up information into the collective systems because the 15 year old hired on child wages does not know how to do it or the manager who was recruited from another firm still has not figured out the the computer system, then a lot of of smaller farmers could jump the wrong way and decide to pick and deliver to the market instead of waiting two more days and to deliver to the jam factory (say).Reproducible procedures matter. It matters that there is a clearly written manual on the desk that an intelligent employee can pick up and follow – and a paper copy no less. Redundant (duplicated) processes are not helpful when we are earning a living as they come straight out of our back pocket – one way or another.And by-the-way, the example that I have used is not a typical Fayol organisation modelled on a French coal mine of the 1890’s. It is a top-of-the-range supply network run in Scotland (see SAOS). Internal processes in organisations simply aren’t markets or organisations such as undergraduate halls or post-graduate corridors designed for massive wastage.We don’t want to waste time and effort. That we do is not an indicator that the model is faulty; only that we don’t understand what we are doing and don’t do it properly. So why, you might ask, is the chaos so prevalent. You might ask that about other aspects of your erstwhile employer. Why do cultures prevail? In the case of UK, there is a simple answer. Because we are rich. We don’t have to be careful with our money. While a university is designed for students to mill around and find out for themselves that if they don’t work they will fail; the ‘big house’ can neglect the roof. Sure it will cost more to fix when they get round to it; but they’ll find the resources from somewhere. Poorer people have to work on the rule of "a stitch in time". I don’t think it is an accident that those sayings tend to come from north of the wall? And on that, read Alistair Mutch for deep and fine grained analysis of the differences in management systems in UK that are associated with the north-south divide.

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    1. Hi Jo. Thanks for commenting. I did preface my post be exempting data systems which I think of as those core systems you refer to. My criticism is of the communications stuff that could IMHO be better done by more social tools. Much of the general cost of maintaining corporate desktops is expensive and unnecessary.

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