Nelson Phillips (Global) - Humans vs. Machines: Managing People and Resources in Today’s Modern Enterprise Credit: Image credit: ▓▒░ TORLEY ░▒▓ via Flickr
Business Management

Nelson Phillips (Global) - Humans vs. Machines: Managing People and Resources in Today’s Modern Enterprise

I recently read an interesting scenario, where a disgruntled employee of Frost and Sullivan's embarked on a three-year sabotage spree, repeatedly squirting Cillit Bang cleaning fluid into the company's computers. The employee was apparently annoyed at the company for failing to grant him a pay rise. To me, this fascinating example points to both the vulnerability of organisations today, and the fragile nature of our human condition.

Taking the organisational aspect first; there are the growing challenges businesses face to support continuous operation and information availability. The past year has provided a perfect storm showcasing how diverse and unpredictable these hurdles can be. We've had extreme weather, major technology failures from global brands, significant security breaches and workplace disruption. We've even had a blackout at the Super Bowl.

The severity of these challenges is highlighted further in recent research from SunGard Availability Services, which found that 80% of organisations across the UK, France and Nordics, admit to not having the right resources to completely manage business availability and operations effectively. The repercussions of this extend beyond purely business operations, overlapping into staff satisfaction and morale - the research also found that the majority of companies admit that customer and employee expectations of availability are not always met, due to this lack of resource.

Successful businesses are those that can achieve a balancing act; juggling the management of technology with the interests of staff and workers. In today's connected culture, IT resources are more important than ever - acting as the hub connecting workers, data, processes and operations. The Cillit Bang incident, which caused system failures and £32,000 worth of damage to the company, illustrates exactly this - take out the computing power and a company can be crippled. However, there's no escaping the fact that staff remain the most valuable asset to any business. What's absolutely crucial is that management strategies take a holistic view, where the integration of technology is done within the context of its impact on the workforce: how will it impact the way staff work, what skills will they need to learn, what will it mean for their daily responsibilities?

Regarding the people aspect, the priority should be that workers do not feel displaced by the growing dependency on technology. This is a collective task. Businesses need to educate staff on the opportunities that modern technology can provide: increased productivity, a greater variety in how they work, and more choice in the ways they deliver value to a company. From the worker's perspective, there's the need to be vocal and demand training and clarification on the ways in which their roles could change, and the ways in which their business is evolving to deliver 24/7 availability.

As Isaac Asimov, American author and professor of biochemistry, famously said; "I do not fear computers. I fear the lack of them." What was true then carries even more weight now as we become more dependent on technology and IT, in our business lives and personal ones. This obviously brings with it potential benefits such as 24/7 availability, truly mobile operations and new ways of working, but also a significant shift and period of transition, which we all need to adapt to.

By Nelson Phillips, Professor of Strategy and Organisational Behaviour at Imperial College London

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Comments

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Steve Makin on April 12 2013

want to see the future? watch the disney film Wall-E

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Einar Flydal on April 12 2013

In Nelson Phillips' timely text, there seems to be a logical flaw between the last and the previous paragraphs: It does not follow from a warning against the vulnerability of ICT based society, that the answer is more of it. While more layers of ICT might increase fault tolerance, it certainly also adds less visibility and more complexity to the puzzle when disasters happen. The KISS principle - Keep It Simple, Stupid! - the simple and robust engineer advice. Independence and disintegration is another one. A literary more entertaining expression - still worth reading although written in 1909 - is Forster's short story "The Machine Stops". (Downloadable e.g. from manybooks.net/titles/forstereother07machine_stops.html) As to Ted Howard's highly relevant comment on markets' inability to handle abundance, take a glimpse on the icons for the different social networks on the top of the page: They all try to catch as many users as possible, knowing that the only way to survive is to be among the few ones that win, i.e. by creating scarcity where there is none. (Who wants to stay in fora the others have left?) In my country, a paid cloud service of the kind of Picasa just folded. Why? Because you can get the service for free from all the "Picasas". What happened with the millions of photos stored there? Feel free to guess! E. Flydal, prof. at Institute of Telematics, NTNU, Norway and retired from ICT R&D

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hocuspocus on April 12 2013

a naiive post written by someone who refuses to see all the insider trading.

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Mario Arancibia on April 13 2013

I am intrigued by Ted Howard's post. Can we get more of this analysis ? If you can't post a public contact, I'd be interested in getting any comments via email. mario.arancibia at gmail thanks.

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Dave Keays on April 13 2013

@Ted, I should have started counting how many times I've heard that we were "entering an era of abundance [wealth]" and we would no longer need "markets" or "monetary system" [business principles]. I think they went through the same thing in the roaring 20's which led to a major depression. I'll believe those claims when they finally come true. But I nervous unless you replace the freedom they give us to do what we as individuals need to do (trying something different and accepting the outcome).

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Kim DeVormer on April 14 2013

Not knowing the particulars of the Cillit Bang incident, I'll assume that the employee was being treated as most of the companies treat their employees-without respect. Although I can not condone the worker sabotaging the companies equipment, Everyone in the company should feel the benefits of gain productivity. Too many of The decision makers in companies today pat themselves on the back when increasing the productivity of the company through increasing tech, but forget that those employees flexible enough to learn how to efficiently work with the tech also should share in the rewards of the productivity gained. $1 million for the new tech $10 thousand for the CEO that was sold on the idea, $0 for the initiator, and $0 for the worker with new duties. Just saying!

no-images

Steve Makin on April 12 2013

want to see the future? watch the disney film Wall-E

no-images

Einar Flydal on April 12 2013

In Nelson Phillips' timely text, there seems to be a logical flaw between the last and the previous paragraphs: It does not follow from a warning against the vulnerability of ICT based society, that the answer is more of it. While more layers of ICT might increase fault tolerance, it certainly also adds less visibility and more complexity to the puzzle when disasters happen. The KISS principle - Keep It Simple, Stupid! - the simple and robust engineer advice. Independence and disintegration is another one. A literary more entertaining expression - still worth reading although written in 1909 - is Forster's short story "The Machine Stops". (Downloadable e.g. from manybooks.net/titles/forstereother07machine_stops.html) As to Ted Howard's highly relevant comment on markets' inability to handle abundance, take a glimpse on the icons for the different social networks on the top of the page: They all try to catch as many users as possible, knowing that the only way to survive is to be among the few ones that win, i.e. by creating scarcity where there is none. (Who wants to stay in fora the others have left?) In my country, a paid cloud service of the kind of Picasa just folded. Why? Because you can get the service for free from all the "Picasas". What happened with the millions of photos stored there? Feel free to guess! E. Flydal, prof. at Institute of Telematics, NTNU, Norway and retired from ICT R&D

no-images

hocuspocus on April 12 2013

a naiive post written by someone who refuses to see all the insider trading.

no-images

Mario Arancibia on April 13 2013

I am intrigued by Ted Howard's post. Can we get more of this analysis ? If you can't post a public contact, I'd be interested in getting any comments via email. mario.arancibia at gmail thanks.

no-images

Dave Keays on April 13 2013

@Ted, I should have started counting how many times I've heard that we were "entering an era of abundance [wealth]" and we would no longer need "markets" or "monetary system" [business principles]. I think they went through the same thing in the roaring 20's which led to a major depression. I'll believe those claims when they finally come true. But I nervous unless you replace the freedom they give us to do what we as individuals need to do (trying something different and accepting the outcome).

no-images

Kim DeVormer on April 14 2013

Not knowing the particulars of the Cillit Bang incident, I'll assume that the employee was being treated as most of the companies treat their employees-without respect. Although I can not condone the worker sabotaging the companies equipment, Everyone in the company should feel the benefits of gain productivity. Too many of The decision makers in companies today pat themselves on the back when increasing the productivity of the company through increasing tech, but forget that those employees flexible enough to learn how to efficiently work with the tech also should share in the rewards of the productivity gained. $1 million for the new tech $10 thousand for the CEO that was sold on the idea, $0 for the initiator, and $0 for the worker with new duties. Just saying!

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