For an IT service provider, it's often easy to forget that
there is a human/social aspect of our work. Often, the reactions of people to
our technological deployments can surprise us, because we are so focused on the
technical side and "helping business to work harder/smarter." An
interesting consequence of this fact was brought to my attention today, and it
made me have one of those "aha!" moments.
A colleague of mine happened to have the foresight to offer
up a Wiki-like tool to a group of individuals who often work together to form a
political agenda. Prior to this Wiki experiment, the group of individuals
worked on their agenda via e-mails and meetings, not unlike many of us do on a
day-to-day basis. However, it was decided that it would be an efficient and
effective use of technology to stop the e-mail carousel and the numerous
meetings to work on the agenda via a Wiki tool. Makes sense doesn't it?
All the conversations are recorded in one place and everyone
has the opportunity to comment. Furthermore, there would be greatly reduced
travel (if any) and people could comment/collaborate at anytime, day or night. What
a technology tour de force!
Proud as mother hens, the technology was rolled out to the
group of users with fanfare and high hopes. After all, this was the perfect
application of technology to aid in a process. Why would anyone disagree?
Whoa! In our zeal to provide the whole "work smarter"
shtick, we ignored the fact that we were in fact changing a complex social dynamic.
Think about it. If the normal process for hammering out any sort of outcome is
to meet face to face and exchange e-mails, there is a great deal of room to
practice the use of power. You know that in any sort of meeting, it is easy for
one, two, or a just a handful of people to control the conversation. Some
people will get their points across while others may never be heard from.
Taking things from a face-to-face process to a virtual one
means that some people who are adept at controlling meetings suddenly find
themselves with less power to influence, while those that might not have ever
had their voices heard, suddenly have a voice. In a Wiki, everyones voice is
the same volume.
Needless to say, as the process moved forward, we found
those that loved the idea and those who had some disdain for it. Bet you can
guess which camps they probably were members of.
Now, those that are more tech-savvy know that even in the
online world, there are ways to get your voice heard above the din, but it is
harder to do so and harder to squelch voices than in our normal conversational
activities. My guess is that as the experiment proceeds, some will become
experts at the process, but overall, I think it is a healthy exercise that will
lead to better outcomes.
But to take a moment to pause and think about how our
activities actually can and do change the social dynamics of an organization is
actually both daunting and breathtaking at the same time. We deal on a daily
basis with the basic processes of our organizations--shaping them, enhancing
them, or unfortunately, sometimes detracting from them. There are few other
functions, other than IT, that can cut across an organization and introduce
change like we can.
As someone said before, "With great power, comes great
responsibility," and we need to be cognizant of the fact that what may
seem to be a change for the better when we introduce new technologies, may in
fact have some nontechnical disadvantages that we did not anticipate. This insight
is especially important to analysts, architects, and developers.
So heading into 2006 and anticipating the rush of new
technologies appearing on what sometimes seems a per-second basis, it is
important to take a step back and remember that we work in organizations made
up of humans. Our work does have consequences--some intended and some not-- and
it is worthwhile to have a step in our planning processes to consider what
those consequences might be. Call them part of your risk management plan, if
you need a place to put that kind of thinking, but take the time to do it. Itwill prove worthwhile in the long-run.