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Can measure, can’t manage?

Can IT really drive good business behaviour?

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Clichés like ‘can’t measure, can’t manage’ stick around precisely because they are so difficult to achieve. Providing business managers with information about what their staff are up to is something that should be a fundamental use of IT, and indeed we have all spent happy hours tapping away our timesheets and capturing our actuals. Haven’t we?

The reality is that while we see vendors and pundits waving their arms about such high-faluting aspirations as corporate performance management, all many organisations achieve is the creation of historical data, documented in spreadsheets and archived in obscure perpetuity.

There’s a good theory, borne out of workflow and document management, that we might be able to see measurement as a by-product of how we use the IT in place. Tasks can be allocated, effort recorded and results reported on the fly, collated and presented back to management in a comprehensive manner to help guide decisions and so on. Think portals, dashboards, intranets and so on, all sharing information on who’s doing what, how and when.

But is this possible in practice? There are a number of counter arguments, not least that the biggest weakness with any such tools is not what’s happening inside the computer, but who’s sitting in front of it. I remember managers who, even once they had attended all the training courses and learned all the practices, still messed with the heads of their staff and achieve little of substance. We can apply the GIGO (garbage in/ garbage out) principle to poor management; and speeding up bad decision-making only results in more bad decisions.

One of the main issues is what to measure. It is a fallacy to think that any measurements are the right ones – measurement drives behaviour, and not always in the way intended as we have seen with such things as government targets. Then there’s how to measure – for such facilities to work, they face the challenge of fitting with the day to day activities of staff.

Fundamentally then, there seems to be a gulf between what’s possible in principle, and what’s usefully achievable in practice. If you have any first-hand experiences of how IT can be usefully pointed towards improving the way businesses are managed, or indeed if you have any horror stories to share, do let us know.

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