EDITORIAL IN CURRENT ISSUE
|Vol. 4 (3), March 2011|
|From Editor's Desk:|
Researching the New
As strategy researchers, we must recognize that the dynamic arena in which a strategist toils has changed significantly over the last decade. Chief among the reasons for the change is the new position that Information Systems (IS) has taken in the corporate environment over the last decade or so. Where a look at the past reminds us that hard assets such as plant, property and equipment were once the chief concerns of strategist, a look at more recent trends shows that the primary strategic concern to most companies is the acquisition and management of information. In fact, the ability to gather, evaluate and use information is chief among strategic competencies valued for its ability to improve strategic positioning. However, if the technology playing field were static, becoming compe-tent would be simply a matter of purchasing the resources and all would be well with the strategist, but this is not so. Technology is advancing evermore rapidly and requires frequent expenditures of valuable resources to update hardware, software and even user competencies.
The time base for acquiring new technology and competency is not the same as it was even a decade ago. Rather than having the leisure to take a year or two to gain a strategic asset and become competent with it, the contemporary strategist works within a time frame of months or less. In some highly dynamic environ-ments, technological competence can become obsolete in a matter of weeks. Enter the strategy researcher. It is the researcher that is often the first to explore newly discovered truths, identify new trends and expound on changes to the corporate strategy-making arena for practitioners.
Among the more common environmental
changes the strategy researcher must keep in mind changes in the
organizational structure that are either forced by a
technological change or are made possible by a technological
solution. For example, adopting basic technologies as simple as
email, text messaging, computerized word processing, automated
time and attendance monitoring and other HR functions
individually might not change much in an organization. However,
one of their synergistic effects is that the span of control for
managers is enlarged. To say it differently, it does not take as
many managers to manage the same number of employees.
Additionally, these technologies make the individual employee
more efficient such that it likely would take fewer employees to
perform the same amount of work.
There are many other changes that have been under recent study that business is only now beginning to understand. For example, organizations are increasingly reliant on the intellectual capital they possess and must constantly adapt their use of technology to meet market demands. The role of IS as it relates to Sales and Marketing functions has seen a shift from a support role to that of a core strategic competency. Another significant change that is occurring is with regard to employee demographics, another of the important concerns of the strategist. Many young employees do not remember a time when a computer was not readily available to everyone. Most have a working understanding of basic computer operations, are experts in using browsers, are efficient in identifying information in online databases, are adept in most modes of electronic communication (both synchronous and asynchronous) and may even have become well versed in developing customized personal websites from using MySpace and other online social networking services.
Change comes easy for the younger employee because that is all they have known. Older employees, on the other hand, while having more industry experience, generally struggle to develop the skills necessary just to maintain basic functionality. Because the technology they were exposed to in their younger years did not change significantly, they are generally not accustomed to change and often are intimidated by it. Gaining new technology skills for these workers is a complicated and difficult affair at best. This struggle is not even limited to the actual technology. How society, and hence businesses, deal with rapidly changing technology is also a worthy focus for the researcher.
Consider for a moment the current state of law regarding information. Jurisdictions for information related crimes are often blurred, as are the laws. So, where would one file suit against an online company when products were not received as promised? Common ethical practices have not yet developed to cover what is acceptable and what is not covered in issues related to Cyberspace. For example, while it is generally not permissible for an employer to go snooping around in the private residence of prospective employees, human resource managers often don't hesitate to take a look at private Facebook pages, MySpace sites and more. When it comes to issues of ownership of online information, even more questions abound and legal systems simply have not yet caught up. Additionally, the trend is that these issues are becoming more convoluted as jurisdictions enact solutions piecemeal.
Because trends such as these are driven primarily by IS and because IS competency does not come cheap, organizations are forced to spend significant resources gaining and maintaining competency, not just in the IS department, but throughout the organization at all levels. The need for employee development with regard to technological competency is no longer a luxury, but a strategic necessity. Add to this the societal demands for immediate gratification, transparency, environmental good citizenship, privacy protection for all stakeholders, etc. and the job of the strategist becomes one of constant, expensive, and necessary change. This leaves the strategist in the difficult position of trying to gather as much information as possible in order to stay ahead of the game. Among many sources of information lies the researcher, who provides much needed information about the environment, congealed into a readable form, to clue the strategist to possible solutions. Regardless of the business, the environment that the strategist and the researcher operate in is changing ever more quickly and some would say, even more unpredictably.
That being said, does it make sense that the basic premise for training strategists and researchers needs to stay the same as it has for years and years in our business schools? Should we continue to stick to the old school method of training strategy by teaching basic business fundamentals such as Accounting, Economics, Law, Finance etc.? Of course, those lessons are necessary but should not we also be training strategists to adapt, innovate and assimilate information? Wouldn't it be wise to include even a basic requirement that all business students take a class in organizational development and change, or technology management? It seems clear that the old school method of strategic planning, where a strategic plan was developed and then reviewed periodically, is no longer relevant. It seems now that the strategist must be innovative not only in his solutions, but in the way he comes up with those solutions. Stated more clearly, the smart bet is on changing more than just the nature of the solutions developed by senior managers. It is time for a new paradigm in the discipline of Management itself.