Digital citizens ‘tear down the walls’

Digital citizens ‘tear down the walls’

Walls exist elsewhere in modern enterprises, however sooner or later these walls must come tumbling down.

One of the IT industry’s most hotly debated problems might finally be coming to an end. For years, IT managers have been chastised for not being sufficiently business focused. The lack of business alignment has been the topic of countless editorials, surveys and self-help groups. Perhaps the most enduring image has been the self imposed “wall” between Business and IT. This wall has emerged in many forms, either as organisational chart boundaries, or in senior committee and governance structures. Sometimes the differences have become so chronic that frustrated project managers have spoken openly about project specifications being “thrown over the wall”.

Walls exist elsewhere in modern enterprises, however sooner or later these walls must come tumbling down.

Indeed, August this year marks the 50th anniversary of the building of one of the world’s greatest symbols of division, the Berlin Wall. Just like the Berlin Wall, the time has come for the IT industry to tear down its own greatest symbol of division and descent.

However unlike the Berlin Wall, divisions in the IT industry are coming down without revolution or fanfare. In the end, the combined impact of generational change and consumer IT has been responsible for breaking the divide, despite the failed previous efforts of countless committees and training courses.

In past decades, frustrated business executives would declare “I am not an IT person” and “I’m not interested in technology”. Now, frustrated business executives are more likely to demand greater corporate access for their iPad, or better connectivity for their privately-purchased technology. Graduates these days have already lived a lifetime with the internet,and social networks. They are now demanding access to social networking and improved technology, as part of their conditions of employment.

Today’s IT challenge is not about managing and maintaining the walls that create separation and boundaries, but to find efficient and effective ways of tearing them down.

These changes are not just limited to the corporate world. Citizens are now demanding to engage with government and industry in fundamentally different ways. Indeed, the recent series of natural disasters provide some very useful insights into how much citizen expectations have changed.

During the recent floods in Queensland, the Queensland Police Facebook site became a national phenomenon. Replacing traditional forms of public communication, citizens turned to social networks in droves. In a single peak day, visits to the Police Facebook site equated to almost 10 times the population of Queensland. More importantly, the Police Facebook site received 11,000 comments from the public, delivering valuable real time feedback.

As well, a recent United Nations report into last year’s Haiti earthquake, observed that citizens were found texting for help from under the rubble. In addition, citizens successfully used social media to message friends and relatives overseas to seek assistance. The UN report found what came next, was “like drinking from a fire hose”. An entire population mobilised with their own personal technology to provide their own assistance.

The earthquakes in Christchurch and the Japanese tsunami provide similar examples. In both cases cloud and crowd sourced systems were developed and commissioned with in days, using the combined IT capabilities of citizens and volunteers.

In each of these examples, modern-day people power has managed to break down barriers. They delivered robust and pragmatic solutions where traditional development methods could not.

These are just the first tentative steps, in what may be a long period of change. Even so, a number of clear recommendations are emerging:

* Social networking is already a powerful force in the community. Now is the time to consider its use within exiting business processes and systems under development.

* Large, risky projects are giving way to smaller projects that can leverage existing internal and externally sourced services.

* Citizens and business colleagues are now emerging as valuable partners. It is better to embrace their enthusiasm than hold back the tide.

It is now time to tear down walls, not to build them.

Kevin Noonan is research director at Ovum.

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Tags social mediaovumcio. leadership

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