Thought: The enterprise is ill equipped to support working in modern world

Our lives have become more complex, this problem is both simultaneously accepted and ignored by the modern enterprise.

On one hand, the enterprise has acknowledged the complexity of the modern world by enabling greater flexibility for the worker. Their human-centred processes allow home working, flex-time, Flexi-start, self-selected holiday days, job sharing etc. They acknowledge their part in helping their workers to achieve a more harmonious work-life balance.

At the same time, the enterprise ignores the impact technology has on the worker’s ability to perform. Our own adaptability and the relentless advancement of technology is, like most things, a blessing a curse. Consider the following:

Our work lives have become more complex because the technology we have access to allows us to perform beyond our natural abilities.

The enterprise has undoubtedly benefited from this coupling between human and technology, people are able to perform complex tasks with relative ease, tasks are automated and more revenue is generated with less effort (compared to a manual bookkeeping process for example).

However, people are people, we are not machines that exist solely for the utility of the companies we work for. We think about our work at home, and home at work. What we learn in one context can be used elsewhere. In short, we are beings of the world and our experience and our skills that make us valuable. To cope with the demands on our time and attention we use the same types of technology as the enterprise to support a diverse set of strategies and tools for learning, remembering, interpreting and managing the information available in the world.

One such strategy is to off-load some of our biological processes to computer-based systems. We off-load remembering to computers to alleviate the limitation of our own memories. Computers with their almost infinite capacity to store information free us those restrictions.

In addition, we enhance our ability to access information by using technological aids (such as searching algorithms) which allows us to access and make sense of the vast amount of data available quickly and easily.

The natural by-product of this technological coupling is that we personally distribute our remembering across multiple systems: books, the internet, notepads, our brains and in a work context the internal system; the list goes on.

This off-loading of memory carries two main problems for the enterprise 1) Information stored in computer systems are accessible to anyone who can use the retrieval mechanisms, thus creating intellectual property and privacy issues. 2) The controls implemented to protect the intellectual property and privacy hinder the information retrieval process.

The enterprise, rightly, take steps to protect access to their internal system but as part of the same measures, they routinely restrict access to external, internet-based, resources to prevent the leaking of information to the outside world.

This is counterproductive for two reasons:

Firstly, If resources on the internet is an integrated part of someone’s remembering system our ability to retrieve that information is compromised. We are effectively being lobotomised, negatively affecting our ability to perform. Why not tie one of our hands behind our back when we arrive at work just to compound the problem. Of course, It’s possible to argue that unfettered internet access can lead to other performance issue and interruptions but, I would imagine that more time is lost due to the impact of the loss of cognitive ability.

Secondly, People are bringing their own laptops, tablets and smartphones to work. This demonstrates both a lack of appropriate tools (another issue) and the need to have access to information resources that exist externally to the ones provided by the enterprise. This flies in the face of the reasons behind the imposed restrictions on services. Using an internal email client (which is usually unrestricted) I can send myself any information I want. I can also use the data connection on my phone to have full access to the internet.

Information is almost guaranteed to leak because in order for me to function properly I have to access the systems I rely on for remembering and retrieval.

People are part of a system, a system that enables the enterprise to flourish. The adaptable nature of our minds, and the technology at our disposal enable us to perform complex and advanced functions beyond our natural abilities. We readily accept the positive benefits of this union but this infers acceptance of the negative, making it incumbent on us to understand the impact and limitations of the tools, infrastructure and systems we make available.

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