News flash! IT does its best to circumvent capitalism! | IS Survivor Publishing

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News flash! IT does its best to circumvent capitalism!


Do you have a 21st century workforce? Or is yours mired in 20th century habits?

By Bob Lewis | July 25, 2011
Topics: Industry Commentary, Organizational Effectiveness, Technology | 4 Comments »


Capitalism depends on two principles — the law of supply and demand, and the ability of every customer to take his, her, or its business elsewhere (I include “its” because the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people too, but hasn’t commented on their gender).

Principle #2 is what makes IT an anti-capitalist domain: CIOs understand that when it comes to all but their most peripheral vendors, threats to take their business elsewhere are empty, because the switching cost is almost always high, and very rarely adds discernable business value.

Worse, switching costs increase in proportion to the level of integration, which is also a major driver of business value. It’s ironic — providing more business value circumvents capitalism.

Which brings us to Lync, SharePoint, and why Microsoft-driven capitalism circumvention might be in your future.

InfoWorld’s Savio Rodrigues wrote a nice piece about Lync and its alternatives. Titled “Before you get locked into Lync, consider open source options,” (7/22/2011) it pretty much concluded there aren’t any, nor are there many serious commercial alternatives, either.

Other, of course, than doing nothing. But this being the what … 21st century? … doing nothing probably isn’t the right answer. That’s because doing nothing will give any competitors that do decide to improve their employees’ ability to collaborate with each other and with outside partners a serious competitive advantage.

Start with what Lync and SharePoint are. Lync is unified communication — a single product that provides telephony, instant messaging, web conferencing, and fax. SharePoint is … well, let’s be honest. Nobody is entirely sure what it is, but it’s a whole lot like Lotus Notes. It manages content, supports basic workflows, integrates email, and lets you create websites.

Being a more modern product, SharePoint also lets you set up internal social-network-like thingies — blogs, wikis and such.

Now I have no hands-on experience with Lync, and have only used SharePoint in very limited ways — I’m not endorsing either product’s usability or quality of construction. This isn’t a review (these are: Lync and SharePoint).

It really isn’t even about Lync and SharePoint themselves. It’s about their being canaries in the 21st century workforce coalmine. Bear with me.

What makes Lync and SharePoint so potentially interesting, and so threatening to your capitalist desire to minimize switching costs is their tight integration into the Office/Outlook/Exchange constellation of products, and each other. Once employees are using them productively, taking your business elsewhere will be a pipe dream.

Not that there’s any elsewhere to take it. Because while quite a few organizations sell products that compete with MS Office, none have products that actually do compete with MS Office.

In the world of view-from-100,000-feet punditry, Google Apps, Open Office, Symphony, LibreOffice, Apple’s Pages/Numbers/Keynote combo and so on are Serious Incursions Into Microsoft’s Turf.

In the world of having-to-get-the-job-done, though, they share an overpowering drawback: The document you send a business partner from them won’t be the document your business partner reads — they garble all but the simplest formatting. And as most businesses consider information exchange to be the point of sending documents back and forth, this is a crippling deficiency.

Sure, you can print, if you think paper is a state-of-the-art medium for information exchange. You can send PDFs, but these are only satisfactory for final publishing, not for mark-up, commenting, multi-authoring, or other forms of collaboration.

So for most companies MS Office is a given, which makes MS Office integration a big plus for making communication, collaboration, and information management easier.

Right now, like it or not, the list of qualifying products appears to consist of Lync and SharePoint.

Imagine you decide the time has come. You’ll replace your old-fashioned PBX with Lync. You put SharePoint on your buy list as well. You install them, provide training in how to use their basic features. You’re done, right?


What these products have to offer is improved individual and team effectiveness. They’ll succeed in organizations that expect employees to be sophisticated in how they handle their individual and collaborative responsibilities — to master the tools, and use them.

Does that describe your company? If it does, a Field of Dreams implementation (if you build it, they will come) will work just fine.

If it doesn’t, implementing Lync and SharePoint will be just about as successful as trying to cure a cadaver with chicken soup.

It’s like this: Companies with 20th century workforces will be at an increasing disadvantage as the 20th century stops being current events and starts being history. If that’s your situation, you might be able to use Lync and SharePoint to spark the change you need.

That’s quite different from their being the change you need.

4 Responses to “News flash! IT does its best to circumvent capitalism!”

  1. If they expect to get ahead, they should be.
    But it’s the employer’s responsibility to support and guide the deployment.

    Our online world is more complex than ever, and it’s critical to keep learning and build on your base of knowledge. That, of course, requires commitment and time and energy, and many people have fallen behind.

  2. Joe Coley says:

    My experience with sophisticated users is mostly non-existent. In supporting client users I’d identify probably 2-3 users out of a hundred who do anything much beyond real basics, and then less than a handfull of those anything I’d identify as sophisticated, or showing mastery of advanced tools and techniques.

    Are employees responsible for mastering advanced tools and techniques as part of their responsibilities? Most users I’ve run into just want to know enough to do what is expected of them, and as far as I can see, that does NOT include learning new software, or identifying new uses for software they’re already using. Most IMO will NOT accept such responsibility.

    Should they be? In an ideal world, yes! In the IT world I’ve lived in over the past 20+ years I’ve seen no evidence of a way to get there from here.

  3. Janet Jonas says:

    Frankly, 99% of the time people are not collaborating with outside entities for markups, etc. on documents. I’d say Office competitors should be looked at, because some of them are better and cheaper and provide all you need internally. Sharepoint won’t share much besides Microsoft-only document formats.

  4. Chris Olive says:

    @JoeColey: While some of what you say may be true — my experience in across many organizations indicates the percentage of sophisticated users, while still in the minority, is a bit larger — my thought is not that the issue is “a way to get there” it’s that the way is coming, like it or not. There is an entire generation of workers coming very soon into the workplace, and even now are, who GREW UP with these sophisticated tools and know how to use them in a way that is second nature. For whatever “generational overlap” there might be in the present workforce, those currently “on the out” will somehow have to realize the problem is about to take care of itself. Whether you are part of the problem or the solution, the ever shrinking now-majority or not, will be up to each individual. The “its” — the non-gender “people” called corporations — will follow a path of “natural selection,” if you will. It’s already happening. If the current broadbased undershaking of our economy isn’t evidence enough, I don’t know what will be.

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my photoBob Lewis is a senior management consultant with Dell Services. He has published these columns once a week in one form or another since 1996.

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