No single story defines America’s Old West. Instead it is a series of individual stories… Big stories about Big characters doing big things. Usually with big guns. The West and the Gun are inseparable. “God didn’t make men equal Smith and Wesson did!” and Winchester, “The gun that won the West!” are two typical sayings that give a glimpse into Old West thinking. The gun was an equalizer that let any man stand tall and stand alone. The West is where America forged the idea of the American as the rugged individualist. Just one man with a gun could do just about anything. The well-armed individualist could free a town from oppression, take back stolen land, right wrongs and in the end marry the town’s school marm. While the hero of each story was always a one of a kind, the second banana in the story was also more interchangeable, not just one of the guys but someone who came off the assembly line. I don’t mean Scruffy the loyal sidekick, or Lightning the
trusty horse, I mean… the gun.
In the early days of the west, a gun was one of the most complex pieces of technology around. Clocks might have more complex workings, but they weren’t built to stand up to the explosive punishment of gunpowder. Guns needed to be built in large numbers, and they needed to be repaired in even larger numbers. If guns were still handmade, they would have been too expensive and too fragile to play the pivotal role they did in the West. Even before the days of Old West, gunsmiths understood this problem and pioneered
the use of interchangeable parts. Interchangeable parts made guns easier to make, which in turn made them affordable. Where interchangeability really counted was when the gun had a problem. Without interchangeable parts gunsmiths were too few and far between to maintain the millions of guns scattered throughout the small towns of the West. Perhaps most importantly, the gun industry established some of the earliest industry-wide manufacturing standards. One of these standards was ammunition; regardless of the model or the manufacturer, any gun designed for 44-40 caliber ammunition could use this ammunition regardless of which company manufactured it. That was a huge advantage, whether you were an army officer or a gang of cattle rustlers.
But let’s get back to our own Wild West. We each work for firms that developed their own standards for internal services. Some believe that their services are proprietary, and that they shouldn’t share information or standards. Others just don’t see any value in shared standards. Even within the same firm there may be different standards in different departments. Think of the software used in each department, the types of furniture used by different groups, the hours of operation of different services. When groups don’t have reasons to interact, they don’t have reasons to develop common standards. But just as America’s West helped to accelerate many trends, not the least of which was the use of
interchangeable parts, so too will the coming of Cloud based sourcing make our work environments more similar, and more efficient. As each firm absorbs “interchangeable parts” from the Cloud, they will move towards greater standards and efficiency.
Just to understand how this will work, let’s take a look at a typical corporate service and see how it has evolved so far, and how it will continue to evolve. In this case, let’s use a document center as an example:
- Software: Once upon a day only firms wrote their own word-processing software. Later, they bought third party software. That was a step in the right direction, but products were incompatible. Almost all word-processing software today is based on Microsoft Word, or actually bills itself as a “Word Clone”. Other types of document editing software all offer some form of MS Word compatibility.
- Add-In’s: As document centers spread across investment-banking, legal and other industries, some of the individuals working in these centers developed strong technical abilities. They created macros and custom shortcuts to increase their personal productivity. As these centers grew in size, these individual
productivity tools became a problem; while individuals may have worked faster,
the custom code in the macros made future editing by other operators more difficult. Centers developed their own “standard” macros, purged any individually developed software and increased efficiency. Still later, Microsoft introduced similar macros in periodic updates. Still other macros were developed by numerous third party groups. Standardizing the “custom” aspects of each document center made the centers (and software upgrade cycle)much easier to manage.
- Training: With more standard software, the training burden is reduced. We still need an training group, but most work can be handled by outside groups. With greater standardization, a new worker can reuse more of their experience and get up to speed more quickly.
- Hiring: Positions within a document center are highly specialized, but not so numerous that a typical HR officer understands the difference between an experienced secretary and an experienced document processor. In the past, a secretary may have performed similar functions, but would not necessarily have the skills or inclination to work in a modern document center. However, document center job descriptions have followed the same direction center functions, becoming more similar from firm to firm. Because of this, an HR department today can quickly find the right fit for a new position.
- Storage: Creating document is one thing, finding a document when you need it is quite another. Individual centers have each taken a stab at developing or customizing document storage systems, with mixed results. Just a few years ago,
corporations developed their own software, but today virtually every firm buys third party document management software. Once Cloud based storage becomes
dominant, document management products will advance quickly. Just like changing a cell phone provider, I will also be much easier to migrate from one provider to another, allowing you to test different providers and quickly find the one that best meets your needs.
- Security: Document centers create files with information on client deals, awarding of contracts, hiring and firing decisions, legal decisions, and other confidential actions. A document center cannot operate if it is not secure. Yet, firms usually assume they are secure without true testing of this belief. Cloud based services use 3rd party firms to test and verify security, simulating cyber-attacks and break-ins. Also, by dispersing data through different providers, any single breach cannot expose an entire firm’s data. Keeping all data on a single network is like building a bank robbery in the old west. The bank may be relatively secure, but it stands out on a map of the town and it tells the robbers where the money is. If you’re in the business of robbing banks, knowing the next bank’s location is key to staging a robbery.
- Access: Cloud carriers are all about access, they want the largest number of users. That’s why they exist. In a corporation, some groups pursue greater access and some pursue greater restrictions. That’s why Cloud services will be the first to develop new solutions to access issues… more of their resources are dedicated to
finding access solutions. Expect a larger number, and more elegant, solutions from the Cloud. Over the next decade documents will become universally available. This will revolutionize editing and “consumption” of corporate documents… just as the digital consumption of news stories and books have been revolutionized in the last decade.
Interchangeable Cloud services will “conquer” corporate services, just as interchangeable parts allowed guns to conquer the Old West. It’s time to check out the Cloud, and make
sure that you’re packing the biggest guns you can find… and that’s my Niccolls worth for today!