Entropy, the universe's tendency towards disorder, is something that organisations typically fight using smooth, predictable business processes, ideally automated by commoditised new technologies. Where we have to use humans we aim to shoehorn them into the process specification, thus reducing them to cogs in the machine. The IT function goes one better and erects a helpdesk to ensure there is a clear boundary between it and the rest of the organisation.
Essentially, businesses in the 21st century are striving to build factories, whether they churn out products or services. But the world is somewhat different outside the factory gate. War in Indonesia is not just a problem for someone else to worry about. Think butterfly wings and hurricanes. But this time the butterfly is on steroids thanks to our high-tech interconnectedness.
So here we are striving to enforce order when chaos is the norm. Given that new technologies are causing the chaos and being used to quell it, all eyes should be on the CIO - the Chaos and Innovation Officer.
I am not suggesting that we abandon ERP. I suggest that you move its management further down the value chain, thus allowing you to focus on the creation of high value through innovatively capitalising on chaos.
First, get your IT shop in order. Nobody will listen to you if their email doesn't work.
Then sell the idea to the boardroom, get HR on board and ensure that their recruitment policy is focused on acquiring artists rather than cogs.
Support those artists by extending your technology infrastructure: less workflow software and fewer relational databases, and more collaboration and creative tools.
Now the difficult bit: removing the boundaries that separate your organisation from the chaos. Only by doing this can you capitalise on crowdsourcing as a means of letting your wider community help you.
Abandon the service desk and have your people sit among the users. The increased visibility will increase mutual trust.
Identify technologies that support the creation of chaos. Social networking comes to mind. As does the cloud.
Chaos is coming and you can either be a victim or lever it to your advantage. In a world where the value emerges from activities beyond the standard business processes, you can either be a commodity cog or a high-value artist.
About the author
Ade McCormack is an advisor on IT value and leadership. Follow him at itbeaconblog.com