Wednesday, October 05, 2011

We're all internet organisations now

For the last fifteen years there's been an interesting 'us vs them' going on in the world of organisations - both commercial and public sector.

The distinction, real world versus online (businesses or organisations - take your pick), was made using fairly clear lines. Whether the organisation had physical shopfronts or offices you could walk into. Whether they made and products that sat on a shelf, or were comprised of zeros and ones. Whether their workers sat in the same buildings, or were spread across the world, kept connected via the internet.

People in 'real world' organisations considered themselves as serious workers, producing real things for real people and could look down on 'virtual organisations' as producing little of substance or longevity, being fad chasers who would not survive.

Equally those working in online organisations considered themselves as more agile, adaptable, collaborative and smarter than those in 'traditional organisations' and saw themselves as the inheriting the world from the dinosaurs.

As someone who has worked on both sides of the fence I've seen many subconscious prejudices play out, leading to poor investment decisions, marketing strategies ignoring major channels and structural decisions that did not take into account the full range of cost-effective options.

However over the last few years I have noticed a major shift in attitudes amongst both groups. A new respect of why there are differences in how organisations operate based on the products they happen to make.

At the same time digital technologies have become essential for all organisations, the internet a vital backbone for connecting their brains with their hands and legs, for informing decisions and communicating with customers.

In essence, in a variety of ways, all organisations are now internet organisations - supported and empowered by the world's data networks.

Where organisations still produce physical products and services, these are designed, produced, marketed, distributed and sold with heavy reliance on digital solutions.

Where the currency of organisations is information, this is also collected, analysed and distributed electronically.

What this means for government is that Departments are also now internet organisations. We have internalised the use of email, online research and consultation and the use of digital technologies to organise and instruct our staff and produce and distribute our products and services.

This has happened to such an extent that few government agencies could continue to perform efficiently if you removed their internet connections and email links from the world. A weakness? Perhaps, but also a strength.

So if you ever have anyone telling you that online organisations don't produce anything of value, aren't 'real', won't scale and will die out, tell them to think about how their organisation would cope if it lost its virtual presence and digital links.

It's about time we began embracing and leveraging this for organisational advantage.

We need to kill any of the remaining 'us vs them' thinking and ensure that all our top management embrace, understand and can most effectively use digital technologies to maximise our productivity and efficiency.

We're all internet organisations now.

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