Reaping the Advantages of Information and Modern Technology: Moving from Bureaucracy to Hyperarchy and Netcentricity
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This article focuses on the inherent contradiction between the basic building block of most non-market productive relationships – hierarchy – and the vision inspired by the architecture of modern information technology, especially the World Wide Web, of a more egalitarian culture in public organizations. Evans and Wurster (1997) have argued that, in the future, all knowledge-based productive relationships will be designed around fluid, team-based collaborative communities, either within organizations (deconstructed value chains), or collaborative alliances like the “amorphous and permeable corporate boundaries characteristic of companies in the Silicon Valley” (deconstructed supply chains). They assert that, in these relationships everyone will communicate richly with everyone else on the basis of shared standards and that, like the Internet itself, these relationships will eliminate the need to channel information, thereby eliminating the tradeoff between information bandwidth and connectivity. “The possibility (or the threat) of random access and information symmetry,” they conclude, “will destroy all hierarchies, whether of logic or power.” We believe that we ignore the views such visionaries as Evans and Wurster at our peril. The World Wide Web, together with the canon that two heads are better than one, has created something immensely interesting and potentially transformative. The genius of the World Wide Web is, as Evans and Wurster explain, that it is (a) distributed (so that anyone can contribute to it), and (b) standardized (so that everyone else can comprehend the contributions). Random access and information symmetry jeopardize the power of gatekeepers of all sorts: political leaders, managers, functional staff specialists, and even experts to determine what information counts as evidence and what beliefs are sufficiently warranted to count as knowledge. In other words, they threaten nearly everyone with a vested interest in existing institutional arrangements. One does not expect folks to surrender position or power without a struggle. Furthermore, homo sapiens’ need for leaders is evidently instinctive, deeply rooted in our simian brains. The need for hierarchy buttresses the status quo, even where the powerful are neither wise nor unselfish.
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