Web 2 – Beyond Space and Time
Traditional organisational structure has been historically determined by constraints of space and time. Space and time has determined who you are able to interact with. A striking symbol of traditional organisational life is the meeting – the traditional organisational decision making method– a system defined by space and time.
Culture can be defined as the circulation of meanings within a community – people in a community share the same experiences and the meanings that are derived. When we talk about company culture we are often referring to the values shared by the people in the company space at certain times. Business “gurus” are aware of the importance of company culture and the importance of “getting together” and “doing things together” – whether this is around the coffee machine, in company events or even on team building exercises.
The organisation provides a structure for organisational culture – space, time and systems for access and interaction. The traditional organisation provides for its people – individuals slot into the company structure and carry out defined roles. The first stages of IT usually automate the manual system and this is the case with most company IT systems – they implement the organisational structure that has been derived through time and space – the company provides systems which define how its people interact and operate.
Companies are embedded within society – their employees, customers and products are part of society. Companies are also exposed to the same forces as society – globalisation, developments on the Internet, the pressure to produce faster and cheaper etc. The traditional method of decision making in companies is under pressure to cope – it can be difficult and costly to bring people together in time and space for meetings with the speed and flexibility required by a faster changing world. IT is mostly responsible for these pressures and hopefully IT can provide a method of meeting them – the problem and the solution come from the same set of tools.
Web 2 and Internet social networking systems provide the tools for new ways of interacting and they are changing the cultural and business environment we live in – I can’t help thinking of the Ostrich or dinosaur analogies here – we can ignore the environment, carry on as we are, become irrelevant and become extinct. The alternative is to be sensitive to changes in the environment, adapt accordingly, exploit those changes, remain relevant and successful or at least survive.
It has taken many years but companies now routinely use the Internet and “web 1” as an internal and external communications medium (email, web sites, on-line purchasing etc) – the Internet is integral and embedded.
Awareness and use of Web 2 and social networking is more difficult than for “web 1”. Web 1 implemented current organisational structure so that people and organisations could understand and use it. Although there are specific toolsets for Web 2 many people and organisations feel uncomfortable about their use – this is because their use is based upon a different paradigm (paradigm 2) . Paradigm change is fundamental and as a result can be quite uncomfortable – it depends on your mindset. However, with increasing numbers of people (employees and customers and of course business and markets) using web 2 and social networks companies and other organisations must start to consider these technologies or risk becoming irrelevant.
Web 2 and social networking allows us to go beyond the traditional constraints of space and time – we can interact with people globally at different times – we no longer need to collect bodies in the same room at the same time or worse still collect bodies in multiple spaces at the same time (video conferencing).
Without the constraints of space and time boundaries can be made softer. Web 2 and social networking are useful in crossing boundaries – customers can interact with employees, employees with other employees and employees with those in other organisations. For example, some companies are now using web 2 and social networks to replace traditional focus groups – real customers providing feedback to real employees about products in an interactive way.
Organisations should be starting to explore and experiment with the use of web 2 and social networking – this could be like pushing against an open door as increasing numbers of customers and employees are already using these systems and are familiar with the way they work. Organisations should consider running fewer meetings and explore setting up social network groups to create inclusive decision groups that cross boundaries.
IT departments should be leading on the application of web 2 and social networks – more than most departments IT is familiar with constant change and development – they should be able to explore and exploit the use of these new technologies.
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