by Martin Veitch

Will your next IT be a hybrid?

May 03, 2010
IT Leadership

‘Hybrid’. It means composed of elements of different of incongruous kinds. In IT and more recently in cars it’s often used in a positive sense, even though hybrids in the plant world or animal kingdom often come out as ugly, mismatched kludges.

I was thinking about the word because last week I spoke to Dave Coplin, Microsoft’s National Technology Officer (a position held previously by regular CIO contributor Jerry Fishenden) about a new report on the ‘Hybrid Organisation’. This, it turns out, is the term used to describe a flexible, fluid concept of work as a loose-limbed amalgam of (my description, I’ll have a P please, Bob) people, processes, personality and place. This flexibility in working hours, place where work gets done etc, the report’s authors suggest, is necessary to get the most out of an unprecedentedly diverse set of types from the pre-1946 ‘Traditional Generation’ to ‘Generation Y’ via ‘Baby Boomers’ and ‘Generation X’.

Says Coplin: “For 20 years or more it’s been a binary thing: you’re either at work or you’re not at work. But what if ‘work’ doesn’t refer to geography or organisation but is a verb? I work wherever I am and as long as I have power and the Net I’m good to go. We’re pushing for CIOs to think about how you sensibly include that in the knowledge economy.”

My hunch and trust in memory has it that the way ‘information workers’ operate now is vastly different to, and more agile than, 20 years ago but it’s true that ‘presentee-ism’ lingers and punching the clock still rules in lots of places. As Coplin says, “I still see so many organisations where if you say you’re working from home it’s ‘how’s the patio coming along then?'”

It’s a serious point: 55 per cent of the time our desks are unoccupied, Coplin says, and in the south-east of England in particular we could do so much more to take people away from the deadly, dreaded commute and the expense, hassle and environmental impact that entails. The IT tools are already there but we might need sticks or carrots from the government to make us move faster. A pity they are so scarce then.

I came across another ‘hybrid’ today on discovering that Gartner now has researchers dedicated to ‘Hybrid Thinking’. This is defined as integrating “design thinking with other ways of thinking to produce successful outcomes to wicked problems by co-creating more meaningful, human-centered experiences.” ‘Wicked problems’ are not problems that delight the Generation Y youth, by the way, just very complex problems that are hard to spot and tend to be on the move at all times, making them tough to identify and fix.

I can see a whole set of new arguments being created by bringing in designers and non-technical people to chow down with the enterprise architects and others but it’s an interesting notion. Generally, I like the idea of hybrid structures and solutions: at the very last it’s a retort to those with an exclusive, top-down mindset. But my head says that bringing in this sort of thinking might well work at an early-stage in an unconference meeting format or similar. I wouldn’t like to see projects where cards are being thrown into the hat from all angles at a late stage.

But then that might be because I’m on the cusp of the Baby Boomers and Generation X. Another sort of hybrid, perhaps?