In his last and lauded book, The Great Transition, the father of software engineering, James Martin made a great transition of his own: he transformed himself from being a software specialist, an academically inclined programmer who understood and set down how software should be produced, into a management guru, a thinker who understood how companies work and ought to be run. Martin’s new book, Cybercorp, is the younger brother to the Great Transition; smaller, less academic, more anecdotal, and more populist than its predecessor, and oriented towards the deployment of new and fashionable technologies such as the Internet.
What is his message? Surprisingly – for this book is in large part a simple exposition of the ideas in the Great Transition – this is not altogether clear. While Cybercorp has a more urgent and visionary tone than many of his previous books (it is claimed that Martin has written more textbooks than anyone else – this latest brings the total to 80), the message is sometimes imprecise, and is diluted by Martin’s frequent forays into related, but not directly relevant, technologies and issues. Martin’s concern is that a genuine technological revolution is underway – maybe even a paradigm shift – and that organizations need to change radically. This much, of course, has been said many times. But he argues that the managers and many of their management gurus have not understood the technological issues involved; and that, conversely, many technologists, and their gurus, are making poor business decisions and are being given bad advice. Companies, he argues, need to replace their chief information systems officers with information architects who bridge business and systems. Modern information technology has completely changed the way that business can and should be organized. And when Martin talks about information technology now, he does not mean computer aided software engineering or corporate client-server systems, technologies which he was once associated with promoting. He means the Internet, intranets, workflow, groupware, intelligent agents, intelligent documents and the like. In fact, Martin freely admits that he helped many companies to build the technological infrastructure which now prevents them from reacting to the new rules. Martin told our sister magazine Computer Business Review that 90% of client- server systems should never have been built. These new technologies, he now argues, have rewritten the rules of business: they enable Davids to beat Goliaths; companies to market products aimed at just one customer; they enable groups to work on projects across companies and across the globe; they enable companies to scale up business around their core competencies, and to scale down their efforts elsewhere; they enable businesses to completely alter their structure, and continue to alter it. Few of the ideas are entirely new. Martin has plunged headlong into a debate where Nicholas Negroponte (the shift from atoms to bits), Michael Porter (Value Chains), Michael Hammer (Business Process Re-engineering), Bill Davidow (The Virtual Corporation) and Don Peppers (One to One Marketing) have all made significant contributions. Martin’s approach, if sometimes academic, is essentially practical, and compared with the brutality of Hammer’s downsizing oriented business process re-engineering, more humanistic. Martin’s core idea is that it is possible for all businesses, both large and small, to accurately identify the ‘value streams’ which run through an organization. A value stream, which bears some resemblance to Porter’s Value Chains and Hammer’s business processes, is a collection of end- to-end activities that has a clear reason for its existence – to deliver a result to a customer or end user. The effectiveness of a value stream can be measured, so that a company can get a clear idea how well it carries out tasks compared with its competitors, and if necessary – and most likely it will be – it can re-invent its value streams to help it become a more effective organization.
Silo and stovepipe