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Lesson 1: Transforming the Design of Organizations

Information technology (IT) provides new ways to design and structure organizations. With tools like e-mail, virtual groups, teleconferencing, and transactions systems that help coordinate organizational subunits, it is possible to create organizations where time and place no longer matter. For better or worse, IT has facilitated the outsourcing and offshoring of work. For many entrepreneurs and firms a physical location is of secondary concern.

Segment 1: Office of the Past

Host Bob Cringley visits an office of the early 1900s to show how dramatically technology has changed the way we work. Many of the tasks that subordinates performed for the knowledge worker are automated; we no longer have secretaries to type memos or to take phone messages. Organizations have adopted technology to dramatically increase office efficiencies and in doing so have changed the nature of work.

Segment 2: Anina

Anina, a fashion model and entrepreneur without a home base or an office, started by using a cell phone that she programmed herself to manage her business. Anina runs a virtual company, 360 Fashion, which provides information and insight on fashion using her cell phone camera and a laptop to manage her Web site. The lesson here? IT is all about mobility; about being untethered from a physical location. The technology makes it possible for a single person to create a business that can be accessed by hundreds of millions of people over the Internet. As WiMax and 3G technologies are implemented, there will be an explosion of content and communications that will impact businesses such as Anina’s.

 

Segment 3: Point B

Point B, a consulting firm with no offices has turned conventional organization design upside down. Instead of sending consultants to clients where ever they are located, Point B takes on clients where its employees live in seven different markets. It has no headquarters, no building of its own, and its employees work at client sites, coffee shops and in their cars. Point B rents hotel offices so that it can have meeting rooms when needed. But as we see in the segment, Point B consultants can work almost any place they can connect to the Internet. Will our conventional concept of an office disappear? Will work become more local to avoid the lost time and frustration of air travel? Virtual firms, teams and companies without offices remove some of the social interaction that most of us find at work – which raises the question of how managers will bring this aspect of work to employees.

 

Segment 4: Halo

Hewlett-Packard’s Halo system and other telepresence systems like those marketed by Cisco are great enabling technologies. The quality of the video in these systems makes it look as if someone a thousand miles away is sitting across the table. E-mail is not a particularly rich media, and face-to-face contact that is almost real is considerably better for communicating. The price of these systems is high, but as with all IT, prices will fall. Imagine being able to meet with different people around the world, almost in person, without having to get on an airplane! In the future systems like this will allow the design of organizations that consist of many far-flung locations connected through lifelike video systems. Technology will also help manage this distributed firm by collecting data and making it available to managers who must coordinate projects and monitor budgets. Every process is becoming digital, virtual and mobile.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

  • Inside the Future: Surviving the Technology Revolution, Chapter 3: Transforming Every Day Events

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