The final quadrant of the Digital Architecture framework is the one which I believe poses most challenge to traditional models of management of technology (and maybe even management of people) in businesses today. The external-facing supporting activities that, for the most part, boil down to how we communicate with other people.
For many years, this was how we interacted with others face-to-face, and on the telephone. In the past two decades, however, the way in which we interact with other people has been transformed, first by email and more recently through social networks (including instant messaging services provided by the likes of Skype and BBM) and Cloud-based consumer services like DropBox. This isn’t to say that face-to-face is any less important – just that we have a plethora of tools available to us today that enable us to exchange information and have conversations with people within and outside of our own organisations.
The challenge for traditional technology management approaches is one of control. Technology engineering made it so that the world was absolute and unambiguous – or at least that was the promise that was made. In fact, event in the systemized, process-centric systems that came out of that world, Excel and Hotmail were the dirty secrets by which people actually got work done, coping with the ambiguities that are the reality of human interaction and work.
Then the smartphone arrived. When I started work in the mid-1990s the most powerful computing experience was in the office, and the best network connectivity was in the workplace – homes (and remote working) were limited by slow modem connections over standard voice telephone lines. Then home broadband emerged, and combined with cheaper PCs (and increasingly long hardware replacement cycles in the workplace) the best computing experience became that in many homes. These days for many people the “best” (not necessarily the most powerful, but the most usable, convenient) is the one that we carry about in our pockets.
But these services aren’t just impacting on the ways in which we work and interact as employees – they are also now significantly changing the way in which we interact as customers and client with our suppliers. Have a bad experience with a brand? Want to get it sorted? Social networks are the way to go – even to the extent of paying for exposure as one disgruntled BA customer did last year. How these new channels are integrated into the internal customer handling systems and functions appears to be a major challenge, and in many cases it appears that a well-judged Tweet can quickly bypass layers of customer service process.
All of that happens, of course, in the context of marketing groups themselves trying to use these channels as ways to communicate at a mass media scale.
There are many complexities in the way in which these types of services integrate across into the back-office support functions, and also up into the customer-facing product services. This is further complicated by the way in which “ownership” in a management sense is very blurry, with multiple parts of organisations (often all the way down to individual employees) staking a claim. We’ll explore this further in the next couple of articles.