One of the key points from Chris Anderson’s ‘The Long Tail‘ is that different behaviours are required when managing scarce resources versus unlimited resources. The simple example is the book store versus – book stores only have limited shelf space so management needs to focus on stocking those shelves with books that will sell, to maximise value. Books that don’t sell become a costly waste of space. When you visit a web site, there is no such concept as limited shelf space. All available books can be listed – the cost and management of listing those books is negligible, putting duds on an equal footing with best sellers and opening up a broader market that can lead to increased revenue. Happy days…

IT is experiencing a similar shift. Management of information has been focused on treating disk storage as a limited resource. Yet the cost of storage has dropped so dramatically that it is no longer such a problem. Not all IT departments appear to have noticed this change. When I talk to customers who have deployed (or are about to) SharePoint technologies, the major concern they have is that employees will start creating vast quantities of web sites and uploading untold amounts of useless or duplicated information that will be splattered all over the place with no consistent navigation or management. Eyeballs roll and shoulders droop at the thought of how to prevent such a calamitous event from happening or, worse still, how to they control such a chaotic environment?

…instead of treating the situation as a problem to be eliminated, why not follow the book stores lead? At the Gartner CIO symposium in 2005, I attended a session on emerging trends and one comment stood out when discussing the impact of lowering storage costs:

“Are we reaching a time when we have ‘write once, read never?'”

If allowing employees to share information on a scale never seen before results in them being more informed about the business, more aware of each others knowledge and skills, better able to respond to customer questions and solve problems, why would you want to stop it?

…and don’t try using the compliance regulations argument. Sexual harassment and racial discrimination can lead businesses into hot water too but you don’t ban people from interacting with each other. You put rules in place to regulate behaviour and deal with those who break them (or, at least, you should). The same can apply to informatio systems, with the added bonus that many of the technologies have automated tools to do a lot of the work for you.

Technorati tag: The Long Tail, Enterprise 2.0

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