ISRS’s Digital Resilience

ISRS Digital Resilience  (Understanding the Challenges of Resilience in Digital Environments)  2018

This White Paper (proposal) is largely aimed at the senior level of SMEs, which excludes me. But much of it is of more general interest.

A New Model of Digital Context

This is a key section. To take things out of order:

Digital Enterprise

It notes, with seeming approval, that:

Social media management platform Buffer has no headquarters, all employees work remotely and their salaries posted online.

I know nothing else about Buffer. But it seems to me that posting salaries online indicates that they are not simply looking to provide services responsibly, but have a broader social agenda. I have the impression that many successful SMEs are not narrowly ‘business’, but are at least supportive of broader social change, even if not formally ‘social enterprises’.

With this in mind, I note that economists – mainstream or otherwise – seem in favour of SMEs, foreseeing an increasing role for them. And of course many of todays corporate giants, such as Google, were SMEs once. Hence it seems that we could anticipate SMEs and their social agendas, such as that which Buffer seems to have, being increasingly influential, potentially transformational.

I do not entirely agree with the idea that ‘the medium is the message’, but the emerging digital context is some sort of medium that clearly influences the structures built on it, including digital enterprises and cultures. I am not at all clear that the infrastructure aspect of the current digital context is consistent with what I see as legitimate social aspirations, as expressed in social media and by some SMEs. We thus have the questions as the extent to which current technologies are constraining and may become to be ‘a problem’. As a social media platform, Buffer may well have a view on this. Maybe it could facilitate a debate on the subject by SMEs. But how citizens more generally come to a view as to whether Buffer’s offerings were unconstraining enough to support adequate debate, or whether it had involved a sufficiently broad spread of contributors?

Digital Tribes

Please excuse the extensive quote:

Digital tribes form and reform globally at speed based on common interests. Customer advocacy through social media has immense power and traditional organisations struggle to manage the effects of fast moving campaigns as issues create influential tribes. If the digital tribe of a key human resource generates a stronger motivational force than a sense of belonging to the enterprise, trusted human resources may become a threat.

My notion of tribe is of a group that shares a common sub-culture, one that I consider too narrow. I note that Buffer’s values

 focus on cultural contribution over culture fit.

To be successful, SMEs like Buffer need to be supportive of a wide variety of tribes, which means they needs to be atribal. It seems to me that this is intended to, and is very likely to generate ‘a stronger motivational force’ than a sense of belonging to any tribal enterprise. Thus enterprises and institutions may need to be similarly bold and atribal in order to survive in a digital context in which such SMEs are rampant. Inevitably, it seems to me, people who thrive in such an environment will become less tribal and hence spoiled as potential human ‘resources’. But maybe this is all good, or at least ‘as good as it gets’?

Possibly I am just reflecting the fact that report is written in ‘business speak’, which seems inappropriate to the direction in which we seem to be going. (I am not a native speaker.)

Digital Resilience Assessment

This proposal seems appropriate for an SME with no wider social role. But it seems to me that organisations that are concerned about resilience must be concerned about social issues, whether it is to resist or promote change. For example, a common approach to systems development is to find out what stakeholders want and then support them in implementing it. This seems to me inhernetly irresilient, except for the simplest case. I would rather think more broadly about the possible futures and roles, and what people may come to want, to provide the means to supporting a wide variety of ways of working, to support organisations in meeting their need as they perceive them while leaving open wide possibilities for change.

There are some obvious ‘managerialist’ obstacles to this within conventional institutions, so unless and until organisations can be reformed it seems prudent to buy in and adapt broadly used packaged solutions (such as Buffer’s). But this only gets you away from the limitations of your own specific sub-culture: one is still confined by the culture of what you see as ‘best practice’, such as ‘industry standards’. For example, one can see how an SME like Buffer might come to dominate its business area, but not how they can ensure that they will not confine social activity in some way that becomes widely seen as unhealthy, or which I might try to persuade you is unhealthy. (Think Facebook.)

My own view is that there is some challenging conceptual content to being resilient, that at some point (maybe not yet) will become a core issue for key SMEs (maybe not all). I would suggest that SMEs acknowledge this and engage (on some platform), keeping at least a ‘watching brief’. Do not assume that there is (yet) some adequate (for all time) underpinning theory to all this, let alone underlying technology or package. If you think you might be able to contribute (which I think genuinely resilient enterprises can), then please do so, somewhere (ISRS, maybe?). But I do agree that for even for senior people in most SMEs, most effort, most of the time, should for now be on some of the current issues highlighted in the white paper.

Dave Marsay







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