Reflections on what might have been
Once upon a time a race of people lived on islands on a beautiful sea. Occasionally the people would write letters to each other and every now and again they might visit each other, making the journey on small boats between the islands. Some of the larger islands with big populations on them were able to build wooden bridges so that they could walk to other large islands close by and talk to them more often.
Then, one day, an enormous wave swept across the sea. Some people looked up and saw it coming in the distance but others were taken completely by surprise because they only looked upon their own coastline and the nearby islands and didn’t see any reason to look out into the distance. The lucky ones scrambled up onto the high ground and sheltered in the rocks as the wave swept by taking all before it. The unlucky ones disappeared and were never seen again. Following the passage of the wave there was a terrible storm and all the people on the islands could do was shelter as best as they could.
When the storm had passed the people emerged from their shelters to find that the sea had been completely transformed by the wave. Many buildings had completely disappeared, the bridges between the larger islands had gone and as if by magic, the smaller islands were no longer just islands but had become nodes in a huge nexus that reached out in every direction as far as the eye could see.
Some of the people on the islands ignored the nexus because they said it was a bad thing; they didn’t see the point of it and it wasn’t for them. They longed for the days when they would walk along their coast line and look out to the island next door. They missed the occasional boat trip to see their neighbours and all they could do was sit and talk about the way things were. Eventually these people left the islands leaving behind their empty homes and the small, grey box that was part of the nexus.
For others it seemed that the nexus was a good thing. They realized that the nexus could carry messages far beyond their immediate neighbours to nodes that were far away, to islands where organisations had new ideas and new ways of thinking that they had never even considered before. Before long ideas were flowing through the nexus and as messages passed through the nexus people added more information so that the nexus became a rich source of ideas and information.
With the nexus there was no need for wooden bridges so that even the smallest island could link to islands with similar interests. There was no need to be a big island with lots of people. In this way groups of small islands could appear as one very big island with lots of connections that improved their knowledge and understanding but even more importantly allowed them to speak with one, strong voice.
Very few people had seen the wave coming; only those that looked up and out to sea. Nobody knew if there would be another wave and so it became important to scan the horizon. Those islands that were on the edge of the great sea were able to look out and then, through the nexus tell everybody what they saw. The people could then discuss these things amongst themselves and with other nodes on the nexus so that they understood the world beyond their island and prepare themselves for what the future might bring.
It’s fashionable to prefix everything with “Social”; we have the social web and social media but it’s a mistake to think that a social organisation is a passing trend. Social is not just about gossip though the role of gossip in establishing and maintaining relationships should not be overlooked. Social is about maintaining contact, about exchanging information, about sharing experience and it has a role in the larger organisation in disrupting silos.
The twenty first century organisation cannot exist in isolation. Why would it want to? This applies not only to businesses but also to public facing organisations and the voluntary sector is no exception. It is not enough to invest in word processing, a copy of Publisher© for newsletters and a spreadsheet for the accounts. Nor is it enough to have a web site for the purpose of telling people what you do. It’s not even enough to have a Facebook page and a Twitter account. The investment in ICT should be strategic and its use should be embedded into the fabric of the organisation.
Investment in an organisation’s ICT should focus on content management. A single collection point for content that drives the communication channels using the principle of create once and use many times. An organisation’s back office system should understand that there are many channels and it should be able to use data to drive the right content through the right channel.
Communication is not only outbound. Inbound messages come via comment, via social media and via direct channels. The systems should take in feedback, encourage social engagement, allow for comment and push all of that back through the organisation and out to a new group of stakeholders. The modern organisation ‘is’ a node on the nexus and the nexus can work for the organisation.
The information available to organisations is vast and constantly updated so we need tools that keep it relevant and manageable. The combination of high level data and local knowledge supplemented by social exchange is what gives the modern organisation its business intelligence. All of this informs the organisation’s strategy.
None of this is fixed. Nothing stands still. It constantly shifts. This is where the true potential of a social organisation lies because it operates in the stream of information which it filters and shares within its own eco system. Organisations should no longer be asking the questions ‘Which laptop should I buy?’ and ‘Who can build me a website?’ Organisations should be addressing the world beyond the coastline because that is what will make them a successful, agile organisation for who knows when the next wave is due?
Are you looking at investing in the ICT infrastructure for your organisations? Why not comment and let us know what you’re thinking.
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