?I have retrained my word processor,? said Albert. ?Now it starts every sentence with the word ?global?.? With no brain to speak of, it must be sheer instinct that leads Albert Gherkin to such inspirational, career-influencing tactics. He invited me to try it out.
?Professor Kit Grindley,? I typed, modestly. Out spewed, ?Global Professor Kit Grindley?. ?It has a certain ring to it, Albert? I confessed. He gave me a copy of the agenda for his next progress meeting as another example. It read: Global Progress Meeting: Global Chair ? Albert Gherkin.
(1) Global outsourcing policy
(2) Global restructuring of IT department
(3) Global AOB
?Shouldn?t that last one read AO global B?? I asked. ?It should,? he replied. ?But it wouldn?t have that ring you admired so much. In particular, it would stop ringing the chief executive?s bell, which is now dinging in a most satisfactory manner at every mention of the magic word,? he said, almost licking his lips, ?and which would be silenced for ever by the gibberish you suggest ? you know how IT-speak frightens him.?
Having suffered some global restructuring myself, I have the time to reflect on today?s great advances. For someone like my successor Albert, now the IT director of one of our major companies, and delivering what he modishly calls ?World class IT?, I see clear Inner Sanctum possibilities, providing he rides the big wave coming.
As my assistant, he didn?t have to ride the first one. He watched me zoom skyward on the escalating technology which baffled the board in the 1960s and 1970s, and he had, I believe, a genuine admiration for the way I justified IT spending by claiming people savings. We never saved anyone, except from boredom.
As fast as we took over their rule-following tasks, they invented other, more interesting and more sociable things to do. But, as I wasn?t responsible for any of these people, the trick (amiably referred to as user-bashing) was to blame the managers who were.
Tough, value-for-money questioning by top management in the mid 1980s sent me tumbling into the water, and Albert jumped on to my surfboard and began to climb the next wave of communications technology.
He cleverly avoided any value-for-money objectives, justifying his spend by promising downsizing, and when that turned out to cost more, by outsourcing the whole of my carefully accumulated legacy.
He survived until the rest of the company was also outsourced, and found himself in charge of the network and infrastructure that held together an international web of contractors, subsidiaries, partnerships and alliances. What power!
I await the third wave eagerly, because I think he will fall off it. The trend to watch isn?t IT. It is population which, it seems, will rise from 5 billion to 8 billion by the year 2020. All the growth is in the undeveloped regions, nearly doubling from 4 billion to 7 billion.
Many of these people want to move from a subsistence economy to a wage-earning economy ? where they are paid about 45 per cent of the wages of the developed regions. Of course, Albert?s IT will allow them to do it. Networked groupware means it doesn?t matter where your production and selling is done. And 45 per cent of cost is not just tempting, but downright compelling.
?And so,? I told Albert, ?with production and selling gone, the third wave company will look pretty small.? He stared at me. ?Are you seriously suggesting we won?t employ anyone above the 45 per cent cheap labour rates?? ?No one, apart from the seven guys on the board,? I said patiently. When it comes to intellect, I?m afraid I just leave him standing.
He wrote to me a few days later.
Dear Kit, you could be right. I?ve just worked out your sub-contract earnings. They are exactly 45 per cent of the wages of my last two analyst programmers before we had to let them go. By the way, I?ve re-programmed my word processor to be more selective with the magic word. Yours ever, Global Gherkin.
Forty-five per cent. And I live in London, not Bombay. Ah well, a wage packet isn?t everything. Never mind the total quality, just feel how global it is.
Kit Grindley is Price Waterhouse professor of systems automation at the London School of Economics.
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