17th level Hacker

Corporate Decentralization

The trend all over seems to be decentralization of the corporation. This is certainly true of software development here in the US, where more and more of the work is farmed out to lower cost workers in India, China, Russia, or just about anywhere else. But offshoring is just one particular aspect of a general decentralization. Institutions are attempting to become leaner, faster, more responsive. They use technology to farm traditionally internal functions out to external consultants, and they use technology to dissolve the internal hierarchy. The elimination of middle management and bureaucracy in general has called for new tools to support the organization. Traditional ERP and CRM systems fall flat here. Those tools were mostly made to support the old processes, they never enabled the major changes that technology reallyrepresents.

A new set of tools is needed. One that allows for fluid communication between any members of the organization, not only communications along the lines of traditional power hierarchy. The tools have to be able to cross organization boundaries and extend to outside consultants, customers, service providers, partners, and sometimes even competitors. The corporate world has a great model to look at in determining the possible avenues of progress here. The open source community has organized huge groups of people to collaborate on projects, frequently with what seems like no organizational overseeing at all. This community hasproduced, among other things, the most popular web server in use on the Internet today. It’s a process which definitely works, and I think a deeper understanding of why it works would benefit current executives immensely. Many business people look at open source as an anomaly. They see a group of radicals who don’t really hold any relation to “the real world”. But an understanding of the open source motivation actually leads to a further argument in favor of decentralization.

There is a misconception held by those outside the open source community that the major motivations of programmers working on these projects are pride, humanitarian interests, social interaction, or a number of other marginal feelings. Throw out that misconception. The major motivation is the direct need of the programmer for quality software. There might be professional need for a good embedded system on which to build, need for a good image manipulation program, need for a desktop which can present text in Arabic, or any other of a number of requirements. But the major motivation for the group taken as a whole is the production of software that they can use. It’s the free market effect at work, something that every business person should be able to realize once they see it. It doesn’t matter that traditional learning says that corporations should be able to build better software, cause that’s not the way that it has been working. That traditional learning needs to be thrown out, cause there’s an error in there.

If this could be done for the software production business, I think it’s possible for other industries as well. Maybe even inevitable. I think we’ll eventually find that a dispersed group of highly involved and highly motivated people, loosely connected, can be applied to any number of problems which traditional thinking says are best served by a highly structured organization. As this realization starts to work it’s way into other industries, I think the tools currently supporting open source programmers will migrate out with it. Corporate intranets will start to look more like community special interest sites like rootprompt.org, mozillazine.org, kernelnotes.org, or handhelds.org. Personal status updates will look more like blogs. There’s excellent information about one possible configuration of Internet collaboration technology used in helping to realize the corporate goal of decentralization. I’ve been looking very hard at applying blogs and similar technology to the issues also. I expect there will probably be a number of updates here revolving around that issue. If you have an idea you’re thinking about applying within your organization, and you’re looking for help getting it running, contact us. We’re always on the lookout for groundbreaking solutions to participate in.