Even in the IT industry everybody uses spreadsheets. Traditional use of table calculation software (like Excel and Symphony) is a major challenge for managers, analysts and reporting teams. Because office software is distributed individually, information retrieval becomes a “Monkey in the middle” game where you need to interfere with the daily business to get relevant information. Wouldn’t it be smarter to get all relevant information straightaway during the process without having to interrupt anything?
Here is something you all may have already observed in your working area as well: the most commonly used “strategic software tool” in the world is not an ERP solution as it should be, the most commonly used “strategic tool” is an ordinary table calculation program like Lotus Symphony or MS Excel. If you ask people in different industries you can shortly see that their IT skills are rather basic and they refuse to work with complex tools. As a result end users stick with their office solution rather than learning complex ERP-Systems and their functionality.
This is a very important fact if you think about the software industry. Most engineers design complex hardware and software products with thousands of functions and features, assuming end users would require more and more of them. But in fact end users don’t really care about features of a tool; they care about if they’re able to use it or not. So while engineers build more and more complex systems, users try to stick with their simple office solutions. As a result tools grow more and more complex, while users demand simplicity.
Lack of simplicity is the main reason why people refuse new software and stick with table calculation programs instead. So here is the main challenge for IBM: build complex technology, but also keep it simple and smarter.
There is another twist that comes with simplicity: because most users use only simple software and refuse to use the complex systems, it is almost impossible for managers and reporting staff to track activities of the employees. Because office software is designed for individual use only, all work is done by isolated individuals – not by a team. Analysts and managers must somehow interfere with the employees and interrupt their work to perform the analytics they need. This does not seem to be a very sophistic way to analyze your business, because you are chasing information instead of collecting it right from the workers.
This is what I call the “Monkey in the middle” problem. Analysts and managers must interfere with their employees who are not at all interested in sharing information, because information sharing interferes with their work process. The manager acts like a monkey trying to catch the ball the different employees throw to each other. This chase can cause stress, it costs lots of money and as we all know this game very well – it can even be extremely painful.
So how could we solve this problem? Well that’s part of another post…