We live in an always-on world of instant communication, constantly bombarded with stimulating information at every turn, by e-mail, text messaging, interactive television and, of course, the ubiquitous world wide web.
There is scarcely a waking moment, either at work or leisure, when our attention is not being sought by one electronic device or another.
It seems that our lives are considered seriously incomplete if we are not absolutely bang up to date with the latest low-down on absolutely everything. This is the age of immediacy.
So why, then, are so many of our organisations quite happy to operate in blissful ignorance of what’s been going on in their world for the past three or four months?
Why do we persist with the prolonged latency between operational activity and senior management analysis that is the natural consequence of the way most of us work?
Surely with all of the computing power at our disposal we should be able, by now, to provide instant management information in real time, instead of simply sticking with the outdated way we have always done it - monthly, quarterly and annual consolidations of historical data.
For all our talk of agile businesses and responsiveness most of us still hope to manage effectively on a day-to-day basis by looking in great detail at what happened many months ago; which is a bit like driving a car blindfolded at breakneck speed down a busy motorway while various passengers in the back-seat recite random facts from the road atlas and the car’s service history.
The so-called management information may well be unassailably true but is of no value whatsoever to our immediate situation and short-term future.
Like the car driver in my motorway analogy, we need to know as much as possible about our immediate context, where we are going, how far we have got to go before we reach our destination and, most importantly, the current status of the resources at our disposal.
We don’t need to know that the car’s petrol tank was half full last October, or even last Tuesday: we need to know how much petrol we have now and how long it will last, at the current rate of consumption.
I have chosen a very simple analogy for the sorry state of most business management information but I can’t think of a more appropriate and readily accessible way of raising appreciation and awareness of the value of real-time management data.
And I do recognise that not every sector suffers to the same extent from the latency inherent in historical reporting; the large retailers are a notable exception, having developed systems that deliver genuinely immediate and therefore vitally valuable management information.
But what about the rest of us, isn’t it time for us to get real and break through the artificial business time barrier that our systems usually build and re-inforce?
Colin Beveridge is an independent consultant and leading commentator on technology management issues. He can be contacted at [email protected]