Laying the foundation to be a century old company
The tour of century old companies have been insightful and provided a good idea of the do’s and don’ts of building the next century old company. Some companies are protected by legislation and national interests. These tend to have an unfair advantage as their business model is unfairly tied to government support. From my observations in accounting, oil and gas and telco, these industries will not die because they will not be allowed to die. Which leads to having zombie companies with unproductive staff. Both GE and IBM on the other hand do have some form protection from government but it is not their core business. They will not be at a stage like Kodak where there is certain death, but growth and maintenance of their large dinosaur appetites will require a lot of work and transformation through new ideas and pruning of old ones.
Setting up IT
The ability to transform is tied back to the infrastructure and environment. The environment will attract the right type of people. The people control the culture. When people are no longer focused on supporting business as usual items, they will likely be dreaming of the next big item or looking for their next job (likely in a different company). The goal is to make sure they have the right support to grow their dreams and ideas.
From a tactical standpoint, it is always good to revisit practices. Laptop assets only get depreciate over the span of 5 years. A lot can change in the tech space in 5 years. However the foundation and ethos must remain the same. Enlightened IT setup will enable staff to do their best work and contribute value from the get go. Hardware, software and general IT infrastructure
Sometimes financial decisions and market conditions may set unwanted precedence. It is important to remember these must be temporary. Middle management that takes over the space must not have their way and set up beancounting to become business as usual. All departments should no longer be viewed as cost centers or profit centers. Merely centers. They should all be customer focused and be self sustaining. The RenDanHeYi model from Haier is great as it provides agility for small teams. However at an infrastructural level, basics must still be provided for. Things that we take for granted such as electricity and running water have corporate equivalents. Management level must see these items and support them. The departments that run them also need to be aware of the need to generate profit to support their own costs. The feedback loop must be their to prevent infighting. Self resolution is better than escalation. This brings me to a often ignored basement of the corporate structure — IT support.
Most people see IT support as a cost center. And companies waste countless hours in meetings debating the costs and support level. But if we flip the model on its head, IT support is a pulse on the company:
- What is done right?
- Where are the points of friction?
- How savvy are the employees?
If planned properly with risk management and days protection this is an enabler and an honest source of truth for how a company is fairing (replacing the bs annual voice of employees survey that yield little to no actionable value)
The common tickets present the usual pain points that should be addressed either as a new internal product or the flow needs to be fixed. This moves away from fixed time reviews and addresses the problems in a more timely manner (the lead time to delivery will because the next point of focus)
Just like roads and bridges, companies need infrastructure to allow to flow of ideas and information.Imagine a scenario where employees can deliver value from day one. Not because they are slave driven into doing it. But because they are enabled. Good decisions can help create and sustain such a scenario.
As a company grows from a founder dependent organization to employing their first employees it would be focused on survival. But once paychecks are secured the next critical path is to setup processes. It sounds disgusting and counter intuitive however business are meant to ensure continuity and reduce risk. Processes with proper feedback loops will keep themselves up to date and remove the zombie processes that exist in old organizations.
IT will need to integrate and keep up to ensure processes are working and fix broken integration. IT must support and not serve as a hindrance to business activities.
Onboarding an offboarding sets the start and end of the employee lifecycle. Some companies go further into looking at post offboarding and setting up an alumni network.
This can be mapped back to business objectives. Employees can focus on doing their best to deliver value to the company and their personal growth. Personally I think this would be a great boon to stemming employee attrition.
A lot of friends suggested I move away from this legacy concept. However to me the intranet is the most basic infrastructure required to build upon. Google search algorithm does not really make sense because page rank is based on links and most Enterprise searches would be based on documents. The more recent phenomenon has been the addition of wikis to company intranet. An additional phenomenon has also been having a social platform within the corporate structure. These include solutions such as Facebook at work or Yammer.
My friends did suggest moving away from the intranet on together and having a file based system such as OneNote or maybe even notion. this removes the overheads needed but it doesn’t really give the ability for the company to scale in my opinion. There still needs to be a one stop space for people to quickly search and find the required information. In essence, it would be similar to a consumer offering of Google (for searches), Facebook for additional/ lighthearted information and Whatsapp/ telegram for communication. Intranet also serves as a self serve portal for people seeking help with processes/ documentation. If processes are integrated properly, the intranet can become live documents that update themselves over time.
I mentioned earlier that assets both in terms of hardware and software needs to be assessed thoroughly. The key criteria would include:
- Future proofing
- Integration out of the box
- Learning curve
- Local/ global support
Presently I think Microsoft has an upperhand with their Autopilot and Intunes MDM solution that can be deployed across laptop assets. But what if employees can be issued mobile phones that can extend to desktop mode like the Samsung Dex concept?
Android Q will supposedly have this feature. And personally I intend to move my whole company towards this mode of working (you will enable the folks to be fully remote as long as they have their phone, a USB-c adapter for monitors, keyboard and a mouse). The general costs for a full set would still be 30% to 50% lower than purchasing a full laptop setup (most users only use office suite anyways).
From a software perspective tooling is important although over the course of my career my managers will tell me that if you know what to do your tool is secondary. That is likely the biggest lie ever. My counter argument to them is, if you need me to dig a trench, get me an excavator, not a spoon. This is once again where I believe the technologist and IT support role should merge. The insights from the gaps in the company will present itself in support tickets. The technologists will have an opportunity to build a product that can support the business and yield better results. Pivotal tracker that is built in house is a nice example. Then it boils down to whether the product can be monetized outside the context of the company. If so that is perfect, it has created a new business model for the company to expand into.
I have focused a lot on IT and technology above. And without the right people, companies will decline. However as with any unicorns, you must have the right forest to allow them to feed and grow and stay magical and hidden. If technology and processes are set up right, it becomes a positive feedback loop to attract the right people to join. Then you will have laid the foundation for a century old company.
With a little luck and the right stewards, they will guide the company through each crisis and transform them to fit the needs of the times while maintaining the right purpose and value.