Online Technologies, and Implications for Performance Management

Over the past decade, nothing has been more revolutionary to business than the advances made in online technology and the internet. Businesses use the internet for everything- from online transactions and e-commerce, to management of inventory and supply chain. So it is only fitting that we explore the implications of this technology on the discipline of performance management. In particular, it’s interesting to look at how online technology initially supported performance managers, how it has evolved, and how we can best harness the power of its future advances.

During the mid ’90’s, most of us can remember conversations with those “far out” colleagues, telling us what this ” internet thing” was going to do for the world. Most of us scoffed at the idea of the internet being as “life changing” as these prognosticators were forecasting. Even if we embraced some of their far out thinking, we all had some reservations with respect to its short term impact and relevance. It was a cool technology that would have it’s place in business, but would it really be as life changing as they were saying? Truth is, most of us were dead wrong. I won’t waste any time convincing you of this, since most you are reading this column online or in your email application. Better we focus our time on what it all means for the discipline of performance management.

A lot can be learned from looking at the evolution of performance management applications that have grown from these online advances. In the early days of the internet, simple email and bulletin boards made for easy and painless communication between individuals. It was also a faster and cheaper way to send information. But even in the early days (96-99 say), internet driven communication was still largely “one way at a time”. In essence, we were automating our existing processes. Little work was actually removed from our processes, and few enhancements to performance quality ever materialized. It was simply a slightly easier way to do what we were currently doing.

Once the glamour, and “newness” of these tools wore off however, people really started questioning what the broader implications of these technologies were. As security protocols were improved, more and more performance managers began to trust the internet as a way to collect and pass around information. ASP models emerged, enabling server side processing of information, bringing scale to data management, thus lowering transaction and processing costs (i.e.- everyone didn’t have to have their own homegrown system). “On-demand” became a key word in our vocabulary, not only for reporting and validating information, but for viewing results and analyzing trends. One way communication became two way and dynamic. Bulletin boards that once required users to post questions or comments, and later check back for answers, were quickly replaced by online discussions (chats) that occurred in real time. Online file sharing among common work groups and project teams became the norm for document exchange, outpacing the more traditional and static internal server or intranet vehicles. Desktop sharing quickly became a preferred way of presenting (live or recorded) information via tools like WebEx, Placeware, or Readytalk. The age of online COMMUNITIES was born, and what a difference that made for performance management. From data mining to performance reporting, benchmarking to best practice sharing, implementation to project management- the internet became our primary tool of choice. It’s no longer a stretch to say that the internet has reshaped, and perhaps even rebirthed, the discipline of performance management as we know it.

There are many performance management tools that have truly leveraged the online technologies that are currently available. Tools like Benchmark Communities for confidential external data sharing (http://www.benchmarkcommunities.com) , Cyndrus ADS (http://www.cyndrus.com/products/ads.htm ) and Pilot Software (http://pilotsoftware.com) for internal performance reporting and analysis, and Collaboration Zones (http://www.cozones.com) for community and network communication, are all good examples of how this toolbox has evolved.

So, armed with a good understanding of how all of this evolving, where do we go from here?

First, performance managers must learn to harness the power of existing technologies to step up their value-add, and that of their organizations. Take advantage of what’s already out there. These technologies not only help performance managers do things better, faster, and cheaper, but also can help the performance manager actually incorporate the PM process into the operating work groups and culture of the organization. Use these technologies as the vehicle for getting the PM process on the desktops of your executives and operating management. Become enablers of good performance management rather than an information clearinghouse.

Second, be “at the ready” as new technologies emerge. For example, the advent of “web services” provides a very smooth and easy way for information to be passed to and from performance managers via the posting of data elements to corresponding “subscribers” of that information. This technology alone will likely reshape the practice of data surveying, offering a far more efficient and secure vehicle for collecting and managing data. If you’re not already familiar with web services, and what it will mean for you, its time to start exploring. Most of these technologies will not arrive on your doorstep in a nice package. Effective performance managers will stay abbrest of these developments, and work with these technologies to invent creative ways in which the technology could be applied to their business. New opportunities will be born.

Third, you’ll need to think hard about how you will control the flow of information both within and outside the organization, in the presence of these technologies. This will likely be your most significant challenge. Right now, people throughout your organization are exchanging information with the outside world. That’s right- operating practices, data, benchmarks, you name it. A lot of this this takes place in the spirit of organizational learning, but even more occurs for the sake of career development and personal gain. You and I both know that as information sharing and community exchange technologies become more proliferated, it will be increasingly difficult to put the “genie back into the bottle”. Good performance managers will learn to live with this reality, using these technologies to create lead time advantage over their competition, rather than attempting to “dam” the free market flow of ideas and learning.

The leaps we’ve seen in technology will no doubt continue. They have, and will continue to offer opportunity and challenge to performance managers as they traverse their careers and continuously redefine the PM discipline within their organizations. Harnessing tomorrow’s technology will be a central element in that success.

-b

Author: Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience and has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at bob.champagne@onvectorconsulting.com


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