The Intranet Paradigm
Steven L. Telleen, Ph.D.
Paradigm, much like the cry of "wolf" in the folk tale of the shepherd
who took that liberty too often, has been applied so casually that when
real paradigm shift looms on the horizon it meets a jaded acceptance.
to prominence in the 1960s by Thomas Kuhn in his classic work, The
of Scientific Revolutions, the concept of paradigms has
been applied to nearly every aspect of our lives.
But real paradigms are not about technologies or
Paradigms are about perspective. Paradigms define what we view as
and how we approach problems and activities. At the most basic level
form the fabric of our view of reality. It is not the paradigm that
change. Change forces us to alter our paradigm of what is real and how
measure it. Changing from one paradigm to another can never be
Either you "get it" or you don’t. The change is like a light bulb going
in your head. Paradigms shift, like tectonic plates, from one
perspective to another.
So what do intranets have to do with paradigm
On the one hand intranets enable us to communicate and manage in ways
we never could before. On the other hand they provide us with concrete
in how distributed systems function and can be managed. An intranet
changes in the organizational pattern that encourage us to alter our
perspective on how we manage organizations, how we view and value our
employees, and how
we approach problems. The paradigm shift is not the intranet. The
paradigm shift is in our perception of management and business. Because
the intranet is such a powerful change agent, understanding the
potential paradigm conflicts becomes an important issue.
In very general terms, the two views in conflict
the organization as an engineered machine versus the organization as an
self-adapting system - the assembly line versus the learning
The remainder of this column describes the conflicting perspectives in
aspects of the paradigm shift: Culture, Management, Focus,
Tools, Communication, and Development.
Culture - in the classic industrial organization
is wielded by hoarding information. In the intranet culture value is
on sharing information. Managers who have built their careers by
controlling, and restricting, the flow of information find it difficult
grasp the value of an intranet and look for both reasons and
to restrict and control the intranet content. An organization whose
values employees for their ability to follow routines rather than for
knowledge and experience, and that does not trust employees to natively
in the company’s interest, should not implement an intranet.
Management - in the classic industrial
decisions are made centrally, and filtered down a pyramid of managers,
are trusted to convey, properly interpret and oversee the
An intranet is inherently distributed, where implementation and
decisions are made locally. Distributed decision-making forms the basis
the organic, self-adapting organization. An intranet provides the
capability to coordinate the output of a distributed organization to
goal directed activities.
Focus - in the classic industrial organization
management focuses on developing and optimizing processes and
Because of its distributed nature, information management in an
focuses on collecting and communicating "state" information.
decision making leads to modular organizations, which means that the
within the organizational modules are less important than the state of
output. Success becomes a function of successfully managing the states
the organization and its independent modules rather than the processes
Coordination - in the classic industrial
coordination is accomplished through rather rigid organizational
In the distributed decision-making environment of an intranet,
is accomplished by sharing state information that is collected by
agents and organized as needed. Because coordination is based on
rather than fixed reporting structures, virtual organizations and
flexibility become feasible.
Tools - in the classic early computing model tool
is accomplished by standardizing on specific products and tools. The
of the intranet comes from its vendor neutral output standards. An
that has made the full paradigm shift not only allows diversity in
and tools but encourages diversity as insurance for future
Communication - our current information culture is
around a publisher-push model. The user, overloaded with information,
just-in-case it might be needed, has become dependent on this active
model. The intranet is inherently a user-pull model, where users
information based on their current information requirements rather than
what happens to be pushed through their in-baskets. This is perhaps the
significant aspect of the paradigm shift requiring behavioral changes
both publishers and users of information.
Development - our current information processing
removes management and manipulation of computerized information from
experts and places it with technical experts. An intranet provides the
and infrastructure to return control of the information development
process to the domain expert. Instead of looking at proposed
applications as potential MIS development projects, the perspective
shifts to providing the infrastructure tools to allow the domain
experts to develop their applications themselves.
Intranets encourages distributed decision-making,
organizations, open communication, and application of employee
These are platitudes that most management today openly espouse. Be
that implementing these platitudes, even with the help of an intranet,
likely raise some difficult management challenges that will test your
at many steps along the way. When this happens, it might be useful to
and ask yourself: "Do I want to engineer every aspect of my
like a machine or have it respond like an adaptive organism? Do I need
assembly line or a learning organization?"
Last updated: June 24, 1997