Wednesday, April 15, 2009

From the Folks Who Tried to Make a Business out of Misunderstanding Service

It has been a while since researchers at IBM Almaden Services Research tried to reduce service to a science. Whether or not this was a desperate attempt to cast the provision of service in the same mold as the manufacturing of goods, complete with a passionate revival of "the worst excesses of Frederick Taylor's 'principles of scientific management,'" this led to little more than a fundamental truth that had undone many well-intentioned projects in decision support, the basic precept that effectiveness is not the same as efficiency, along with the corollary that businesses succeed more through effectiveness than through efficiency. Unfortunately, according to a Business Tech news report by Larry Dignan for CNET News, IBM still does not get it:
IBM is outlining a vision--and of course a new services unit to go with it--that takes a little time to grok.

Big Blue speaks about the "information journey," about fact-based enterprises, and about nudging out gut calls in everyday management for decisions based on hard, cold facts. When you boil it all down, Big Blue is talking about providing a bag of algorithms that will automate many of your business decisions.
When it is a matter of a research agenda, mistakes fuel the engine that drives our motivation to learn new stuff. When it is a matter of business, this kind of misconception becomes downright scary. Even Dignan, who is as representative of the objective world as any good CNET correspondent, could recognize that the very concept of a "fact-based enterprise" was suspect. Whether or not Dignan realized it, it takes little more than a superficial reading of Immanuel Kant to run you into the brick wall of how few "facts" there are in the world we experience (the so-called "analytic" truths, like adding zero to a number does not change that number). Unfortunately, training for business management does not seem to include reading Kant these days; and the result is a dangerously naive view of the subtle complexities of the business world. IBM has now discovered a business opportunity in that naïveté, and they may yet cash in on it. Unfortunately, just about everyone trying to run their business effectively (as opposed to efficiently) will likely be victims of this endeavor. That includes everyone reading this post, since we all are customers of at least one of these businesses; and we shall be the first to feel their pain when things start to go wrong!

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