Documents in Englisk;
Politica aziendale e risultati economici
Patterns of inefficiency
After the crisis at the beginning of 90’s, IBM
has reinforced the policy of linking employee income to Company results
(Variable Pay etc). Even Unions’ bargaining in Italy has contributed to this
connection, with "Premio di Risultato"
(Premium based on Results) agreement, signed for the first time in 1998
and then renewed in 2000.
These components of employees’ wages come on top of the traditional share
offers, another obvious source of shared interest between the Company and the
Independently of the (sometimes tough)
discussions inside Italian Unions regarding advantages and risks for the
workers in accepting such a policy, we now have a de facto situation in which all IBM employees have a direct
interest in the Company’s performance. For this reason, Union Representatives
in IBM, in order to represent, defend and advise the workers who have elected
them in Works Committees (Rappresentanze
Sindacali Unitarie, RSU), have to analyze such performance and signal
difficulties and mistakes in achieving it.
This means adding a new topic to the traditional bargaining matters but, then
again, someone has dubbed it New Economy...
The National Metal Mechanical Workers agreement,
in Italy, has provided for commissions (Osservatori
paritetici in sede aziendale, Company joint observators)
that could deal with this matter; the European Works Council
could also be a suitable Forum for it. But the real obstacle is that Company
decisions are made and policies discussed far from Italy and Europe: they are
worldwide directives taken at Armonk, USA. For this reason we hope to
participate in a worldwide debate on these topics, that concern hundreds of thousands employees in more than 140
countries around the world.
The following is an initial contribution to such a
debate, focusing on some inefficiencies in the internal information system .
a Workflow Management System
One of the most urgent needs for IBM is the
creation of a company-wide workflow management system. At the present time, the
innumerable rules about business management are not implemented in an automatic
system and are only written in
English (or in some other national idiom) somewhere. This means that:
is not a strong control of completeness and consistency amongst the rules (to
translate a bureaucratic system of rules into a formal language, or code, is a
good way of checking whether it works or not).
document flow is carried out “manually” (copying and pasting fragments of text
or tables, forwarding notes and so on) which is highly error-prone and a large
waste of time, energy and attention.
are few consistency checks between data, and automatic updates are infrequent.
documents are sent to “persons” not to company-wide defined “roles”, with
continuous problems rising from job changes, dismissals and so on.
is not clear whether IBM has a policy concerning electronic signatures (in
Italy there is a law relating to it). However, IBM Italia is certainly not a
paperless company (This was dramatically revealed by 2000 fire in South
Building, Segrate, Italy.)
checks and statistics on bureaucratic work are very difficult to obtain.
Consequently, it is very hard to increase productivity; paradoxally, bosses try
to track operational efficiency by requesting “manually” calculated statistics,
that subtracts time from essential activities and itself represents a good
example of an inefficient way of working.
lack of rationally defined and proficient security controls leads very often to
completely withholding access to internal applications from controlled
companies, joint ventures and so, making cooperation with them more expensive
and less efficient.
internal mail system is overstressed and at the same time there is a pathological
creation of thousands of DB’s which are only used for small groups and/or for
short periods of time.
applications are maintained due to a lack of a suitable alternative; the
internal Information System looks like an archeological site, with layers of
applications for each technological era. Even when these applications are
substituted by newer applications, it appears only to satisfy the needs of
narrow functional areas, without a global vision (that should led to choose or
design a company-wide ERP).
single functions, inside IBM, are pushing their own IT solutions in order to
satisfy their needs and goals; so the former IBM Information System is turning
in an archipelago for ill-connected islands, each of which is ruled by different
technical platforms, standards, non-company-synchronized archives, user interfaces, and reporting.
From the employees’ point of view, this means that a significant part
of work time is spent in activities with a very poor professional content
(imagine having to describe them in your curriculum, for instance).
IBM has often followed a policy of adopting tools for internal use
which are different from the rest of the world, or continuing to use tools that
the rest of the world has refused or abandoned. We do not wish to name them, to
avoid useless polemics, but we present
this situation as well-known to the average employee.
This means that:
From the employees’ point of view, this means that spin-off
is more difficult because other employers are not prone to hire people trained
on products that they either ignore or do not want to use.
skill upgrading does not create Human Resources assets immediately useful for
added-value operations on the external market; in other words, it is more a
cost than an investment.
experience cannot be easily imported into the IBM Information System,
renouncing to the advantage of “cross fertilization” with other environments.
development costs are not shared (or only to a very limited extent) with other
customers; used-only-by-IBM tools have a very slow pace of development, if any,
with a negative effect on Company’s efficiency.
using widely-accepted, state-of-art tools leads to poor practical experience of
the world in which IBM’s customers live, and compels them to buy it expensively
from external experts and consultants. However, nothing can really substitute
the direct experience of using those tools.
important information is stored in these only-internally-used tools, the
communication and information sharing with external subjects (customers,
suppliers, consultants …) becomes a continuous source of delays, reworking and
drawn from the first two points
IBM should change its mindset as a self-supplier of IT solutions. It
should decide to make use of the best-in-the-world solution both for itself and
for the market, or to buy the best products and make its people learn from
them. A fundamental step is to drop the middle and high management myth that
IBM’s internal processes are too complicated and are unique in the world. Under
the shelter of this legend, ten of
thousands of women and men waste their time in activities that a well-designed
information system could do instead, and far better. These activities have very
little value in terms of personal curricula and external labour market, and
represent a well-hidden but dramatic loss of money and efficiency for the whole
The Human Factor
About ten years ago, IBM Italia decided that most of the secretarial
support was superfluous, because the electronic systems could offer a more
proficient and cheaper help – maybe the same thing happened in other countries.
This opinion reveals a substantial misunderstanding about both how to use
humans and machines and how to save money.
Taking into account the drawbacks mentioned before, technology can
substitute parts of many traditional secretarial tasks, such as distribution of
documents; but even in this trivial case, we can observe that only a thinking
being can distribute the right documents to the right people at the right time.
The alternative is the daily waterfall of “CC” messages that springs from the
- More generally, even if technology offers a valid alternative to
secretarial support, as a minimum it requires a continuous change of the mind
framework – for instance, scheduling and rescheduling a meeting while preparing
an offer, with a significant loss of concentration and mental overload; that
is, it is not important that organizing.
a meeting requires four hours without technological support and forty minutes
with technological support; however, it requires a switch from “my-task” to
“meeting-thinking” and then another switch from “meeting-thinking” to
“my-task”, sometimes scores of times in a day if the meeting is troublesome. In
other words: the greater efficiency of the system generates more decisions and
increased complexity; so now we need more secretarial support than before, and
- On the contrary, IBM has hidden the cheaper, but measured, work of
secretaries inside the more expensive, but not measured at this level of
detail, time of professional and low level bosses. (High level bosses, of
course, have more and more secretarial support and personal assistants).
Let us suppose there are two IBM managers, in a
middle-sized country, that have to cope with a recurring annoying problem of
some kind. The first one is smart and pro-active, and so decides to invest some
resources to solve his problem; the second one is conservative and apathic
and decides to do nothing. The winner
is very often the second, because after a certain time the centralized “Company
solution” arrives that obliges the first manager to throw away his/her
investment and reconvert the way of working of his/her employees, while the
second one has just to follow the rules, having done nothing before. This systems has at least three bugs:
is very difficult on the periphery to understand if and when a problem is going
to be addressed by the center; rumors and contradictory pre-announcements may
circulate for years while the unsolved problem is always there.
seldom, in IBM’s history, has the center adopted a solution originating from
the periphery, and even in these rare cases they have been adopted as a
temporary measure while awaiting the official solution, with little or no
advantage for the function that has made the investment to solve the problem.
(And the official solution is not always better than the provisional one).
the periphery, this system systematically rewards and pushes inert managers
versus creative ones: and the results are apparent to everybody.
Tender is the Night
At the beginning of 2001, an IBM Italia works council
has repeated a 1996 survey about the de facto work time of IBM employees:
it is apparent that this has increased from 1996 by about 5% -10%, and fifty
hour weeks and public holiday and vacation working is more and more diffuse.
If this happens, troubled times are on the horizon for the
quick-and-dirty solutions preferred by the management.
Milan. May the 1st 2001