Companies are delayering (again) and pushing decisions to the surface of the organisation, where there is direct contact with customers and partners, in order to be more responsive. Some companies, Zara for example, are making this into a science as they re-engineer their organisations to maximise agility. To do this companies are empowering the people working at the customer and partner interface to solve the problems in front of them, without intervention from head office or middle management.
One interesting effect of this is a shift in the coalface of Enterprise 2.0 adoption. We’ve been focused on the white collar, office bound knowledge worker as the adopter of Web 2.0 tools in the enterprise, with mobility limited to the ability to work from a local coffee shop or an executive tweeting from the airport lounge. However, with decisions devolving to the customer and partner interface we are finding that the middle layers of our organisations are being trimmed, and their responsibilities transferred to the people with direct customer or operational contact. Knowledge workers are being superseded by task workers: people focused on consuming information in the field to solve operational or customer problems.
Think about how Toyota structures production lines—the whole LEAN story—empowering the people on the shop floor (traditional task workers) to solve problems. Or the utility field worker on maintenance, who used to work under instruction from the depot but is now mobile, working remotely. Or the transactional shop assistant who’s focus is shifting from the financial transaction to customer management. And so on.
To a certain extent, Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0’s traditional target, the white collar knowledge worker, is being eliminated by the very technology that is intended to empower them. And their replacement, the situated task workers, has been ignored by the Enterprise 2.0 rollout. Or, even worse, we’ve deliberately locked down their computing environment to prevent them going off task.
This creates an interesting challenge. How do we move from our early adopters and use our new collaboration tools and technique to support (and not distract) these task workers, situated in a challenging operational environment?