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At a time when businesses are compelled to demonstrate their agility and resiliency to successfully navigate a fast-changing marketplace, it's not the organization that can create these qualities, but rather the line managers.
That's the provocative message C.K. Prahalad, a professor of business administration at the University of Michigan Business School, had for CIOs and IT managers during his opening keynote address Sunday night at InformationWeek's 12th annual fall conference in Tucson, Ariz.
Suggesting that the IT infrastructure should be the last piece of the organizational puzzle, not the first, Prahalad said line managers are the key to adjusting to an economy in which consumers are driving values as much as the companies that sell them products and services. This means those managers need the ability to quickly reconfigure their resources, and such quick actions require access to real-time, contextual knowledge.
But as Prahalad pointed out, that raises a complex issue with which businesses must grapple: The same managers who need real-time knowledge don't really want it. "If you had the information, you could act, but once you have the information, you have no reason not to act," he said. "It means the monkey is on your back." As a result, Prahalad recommended that companies spend significant time on what he called the "sociology of managing."
His comments were food for thought to Greg Glass, VP of information solutions and services at Video Products Distributors, an intermediary between movie studios and movie-rental retailers. Video Products doesn't have the complex issues large companies operating disparate IT systems are facing, so Glass plans to introduce some of Prahalad's ideas about line managers back to the company's executive team in the hope that they can take full advantage of being a smaller, more nimble business.