Clues from the world of investment and finance
Object oriented thinking
Any e-business or e-commerce solution is going to need the co-operation and collaboration of a large variety of different kinds of people. They can be grouped into four main categories: financiers, initiators, organisers and technical experts. Although their roles may be completely different they will need to be able to communicate with each other and be aware of each other's strategies.
The strategies of these groups will of necessity have to be quite different, but, they will also have to be complementary. Everyone involved will have to have some common understanding as to the way in which e-business and e-commerce projects develop and evolve. This is what we shall attempt to do in these next few chapters. We'll take a pragmatic look at the kind of problems that are likely to be encountered at the higher levels of structure and organisation and try to work out how these may be solved. We can get on to the particular strategies for each of the four categories later.
The anecdote about the school children who are less clever and less talented than their peers but eventually go on to employ them has a ring of truth. The idea of the "expert in a month" being better able to organise businesses than the real experts is also generally true. The reason for this is simply a matter of available time: how it is used.
To become an expert in any field it is essential to narrow down interests in order to concentrate on the area of expertise. Any time spent learning and working in a speciality area will reduce the time available for thinking and working in others. Choosing not to become expert in technicalities frees time up time for it to be spent either on leisure activities or on a different level of organisational activity.
A computer programmer might spend sixty hours a week puzzling over the intricacies of complex software projects. A graphic designer may spent sixty hours a week creating clever visual interfaces. Not all this time though is spent entirely on coding or design; far more is spent on maintaining a level of competence. This involves reading about new developments, learning new techniques, communicating with peers and, most of all, just spinning around all the ideas in their minds. This leaves precious little time for exploring broader issues.
Business initiators and organisers may commit just as much intellectual effort as the technological experts, but, confine their research, communications and thinking time to organisational issues. In its own way, this requires a particular kind of expertise. It may not have any tangible or definable form or subject matter, but, nevertheless it requires the same dedication.
In the Industrial Age industries, initiators and organisers can acquire a generally clear picture of the broader aspects of business and its organisation. There are ample text books to study, a host of examples and case histories to learn from. There are many experienced guides and advisors. It is quite different in the world of the information age. The initiators and the organisers are faced with a bewildering choice of options and there is no wealth of previous knowledge and experience to draw upon.
Assuming that initiators and organisers are not omniscient or do not have super human brains, the complexity of choice in the design of e-business or e-commerce systems can overwhelm the ability to think logically and clearly. There are so many different ways in which systems and presentations can be initiated and organised that no single person can even hope to know enough to make a perfect combination of right decisions. This is a problem to be solved.
An initiator or an organiser coming from an Industrial Age industry might be so bewildered by the extent and complexity of information age technology that they give up on it entirely. More likely though, they will put their e-commerce strategy into the hands of somebody who seems to understand what it is all about: usually a technical specialist.
Stepping back from this situation to see it in perspective, it isn't a very smart thing to do. In the industrial world, would it make any sense to hand over control of the business strategy to a specialist engineer or a research worker? Would it be sensible to leave all the business strategy to an advertising agency or a marketing organisation? Yet, this is what seems to be happening over and over again when people with Industrial Age thinking try to get on a fast track into e-business and e-commerce.
How many initiators and organisers are happily giving people without any kind of real business experience carte blanche to design e-business or e-commerce schemes for them; trusting their commercial judgements simply on the basis that they seem to understand some of the technicalities? Many corporations put their e-commerce solutions into the hands of advertising or marketing organisations. These often have no more idea than the corporations themselves and simply pass the problem on to subcontractors: firms of technologists whose business experience is nearly always limited to creating multimedia or building pretty looking Web sites.
Only too often, the main business strategists of companies lose control of their strategies because they get lost in a profusion of technical detail. In the environment of the Internet all expert technologists, by definition, are narrowly focussed. They have to be because each area of speciality requires so much knowledge, learning and thinking time.
The plain fact is that nobody can know all there is to know about a highly complex evolving system that contains so many areas of speciality. Anyone who claims to be able to design a perfect solution for an e-business or e-commerce project is a charlatan. Yet, how many companies have put their trust in charlatans, people who claim they are going to provide them with optimum solutions? How many companies are going to be stuck with inflexible systems that have fundamental flaws? Who is going to be able to try to fix the flaws? The charlatans?
Any pragmatic assessment of the world of the Internet will see that a single, planned and logical approach to the design of e-business and e-commerce solutions must be flawed. It is the realisation and acceptance of this that must be incorporated into a design strategy
Here is an email from I received from a correspondent, Ebidie Hacker, who had recently been hired by a large advertising company who had come to realise that their reliance on technical experts was getting them nowhere:
"I run around, learning, playing with all kinds of new toys, spending their money, experimenting, making mistakes, and they pay for it, and pay me to do it, and the more audacious I get, the more they want to pay me.
Think about it---why would one of the biggest advertising companies in the world, want to hire me to give them an efficiency procedure? I am a High school dropout, an ex-rock musician. Great credentials.
The oddest part of all is that I do a good job. But I sure as heck scare the hell out of my bosses---because they do not understand how I work. The way I work also looks like chaos until the end, when it all miraculously comes together---but that is the plan. I lay a broad foundation and take risks at the same time."
This email speaks volumes. It tells of an Industrial Age company at a total loss as to how to cope with e-commerce. They bring in a person who in normal circumstances they wouldn't give the time of day to, yet, this person has a down-to-earth pragmatic approach that is achieving results.
Where then does this leave the initiators and the organisers. How are they going to be able to apply their expert knowledge of business strategies when they are out of their depth in this age of information overload? In the world of computer programming they have found an answer to this seemingly intractable problem. They call it object oriented design (OOD). It comes in two quite different flavors: top down and bottom up.