I have a friend who has spent most of his working career at (IT) Director level in a major international firm in the oil industry. He has now left his previous post and embarked on what I think is the most interesting new venture I’ve seen in years. Consequently, I hope you’ll bear with me as this is quite a long blog piece (and in fact is the first of a series of three), but I really do believe this is an exceptional undertaking that I hope will become a major success. If it does, it stands a good chance of helping transform the way in which we work, not just in Britain but across the whole world.
This new company will draw on my friend’s experience in oil and gas, and in particular the way in which multi-national companies have struggled at times to recruit IT talent locally and/or make effective use of colleagues who are spread across the globe and could collaborate better to achieve their common goals.
Now we’ve known for a long time that VOIP, Skype and other technologies allow communication across the immense distances that separate north, south, east and west. For an international oil business the focus is very often only on the software to integrate and support the different strands of the business to improve efficiency and productivity on a worldwide scale.
However, we also know that technology on its own is only part of the answer. Without investing in best practice training for their employees on how to lead, manage and work in teams which have little or no in-person contact, they risk missing out on the return on investment (ROI) the technology project promised.
When an organisation invests in the people and the technology to support its globally diverse workforce, it has the means to make the technology ROI a reality by engaging and retaining the top talent from anywhere in the world.
Whether you like it or not, the world is shrinking as communication gets better and better, businesses develop in far flung places and the theory of comparative advantage is increasingly demonstrated, reducing prices across the globe, providing employment and higher wages in developing countries and driving up living standards in previously impoverished parts of the world.
Historically, this communication began with the voyages of discovery from the 15th century onwards. Sail, eventually, gave way to steam, which then gave way to planes and while we are not yet living with Star Trek Transporter systems, who knows where this will all end? In the last few decades, the internet has revolutionised the way we work, rest and play and no-one I know thinks we have seen the end of mankind’s ingenuity.
Yet despite this, there is still reticence and conservatism, if not downright hostility at times, to the onward march of progress. A recent example from another friend of mine who works in the print industry illustrates perfectly how the world is changing. He wanted an administrator to help with his work. His boss, the Chief Exec, said, “let’s put an advert in our paper”, to which he retorted, “no, I’ll get a graduate from India who can do the work overnight, so it’s waiting for me in the morning, and it will cost us less money than someone less qualified in the UK”. So he did. And it works brilliantly.
There are lots of other examples of organisations trying, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, to find new ways of improving productivity and profitability, whilst also improving the quality of their employees’ work-life balance. Essentially, the problem is the prevailing mores of the workplace, which, in the western world in particular, are often hidebound, risk-averse and fearful of change. We appreciate technology, but don’t want to push it too far. Don’t believe me? Look at the computer on your desk. The vast majority of people don’t use a fraction of the computing power contained therein, and, in all probability don’t want to think too much about it.
So while we all marvel at what technology can do, we need a change of mentality before we can really maximise its benefits. Which brings me back to my friend from the oil industry and his new business venture.
He experienced all the above: the conservatism, the difficulty of forcing through change, the risk aversion and, eventually, the realisation that actually this worldwide integration of IT support with clear virtual team strategies and training, made a significant difference to the success of the business. Skills shortages in one country could be plugged by recruiting talent from elsewhere in the world and then using existing technology to communicate, collaborate and integrate the whole IT support and development function, reducing downtime and costs, increasing productivity and efficiency and, ultimately, profits too.
This experience is what has inspired him to develop his new business. Of which more next week…
Gareth Biggerstaff, MD, Be-IT Resourcing