Stephen Murgatroyd likes to stir the pot.
When he makes statements that North American businesses “futz away” $100 billion a year as their staff play computer games at work, rearrange files and reboot crashing systems, people take notice.
And they really begin to listen when he suggests that we’re just out of our diapers in our understanding and use of IT.
It’s compelling stuff. And it becomes more provocative when he talks about Alberta and the “explosive” potential this province has to help the world re-evaluate how IT is utilized.
|Organizational performance expert Stephen Murgatroyd says the SuperNet can be a world leader in promoting knowledge.|
“We live in a society that values smart machines more than smart people,” says Murgatroyd, a former Albertan now living in Yorkshire, England.
That attitude must be reversed, he says. People must be given the chance to assess, create and to make the best use of technology.
Murgatroyd is an expert in organizational performance, an educator of 25 years who pioneered the online MBA program at Athabasca University and who, in 1994, was named by the Financial Post as one of Canada’s leading gurus of change.
An author of 20 books, he helps companies including heavyweights such as Microsoft and Oracle better use the technology they have.
His assessment is blunt.
“I’m just shocked at companies I do work for, at how much more they can do to make their own work more productive,” he says.
“Right now, organization-wise in the use of technology, we’re still in our infancy, crawling on the floor. We’re just beginning to stand up and look over the parapet.”
Earlier this fall at Edmonton’s Tech Expo 2001, Murgatroyd told an audience that many of the claims made around the power of IT and computing to boost productivity have yet to be proven.
“We need to get smarter about the design of software, about the interface between people and our technology and about the way knowledge is used in organizations,” he said.
Albertans can lead this movement, he believes. His idea revolves around the $300-million Alberta SuperNet, a project that will wire the province with a high-speed Internet network unmatched anywhere in North America.
Murgatroyd has a stake in the SuperNet. He is the VP in charge of Axia Netmedia Corp.’s British operations. Calgary-based Axia is overseeing the installation of the broadband network to 400 rural communities, 75 of which will be wired by next July. Axia also sells knowledge-based programs for Internet use.
“Everybody is so preoccupied with getting the system up, we’re not spending enough time getting the people to create the knowledge and wisdom we need,” he says.
“We have to liberate people through the powers of broadband technology, and I think the power of streaming video and the power of new levels of communication will help that process.”
Here’s his vision:
Murgatroyd wants Albertans to become champions in creating one or two outstanding Web-based initiatives.
Take the issue of health care, and specifically diabetes, a growing problem. Why not create a site that the world will seek out?
Its backbone would be created with the input of diabetes sufferers and people who try to help them, including doctors, community workers, nurses and family members.
Currently, if you are newly diagnosed with diabetes and want to use the Web, you go to a search engine and type in the word diabetes. The engine provides links to sites, some good, some questionable. You get information, but not wisdom.
“What they need to do is be able to go to an Alberta qualified site where you have the best knowledge in the world that says: ‘If you are newly diagnosed, here’s what you need to know,’ ” says Murgatroyd.
With broadband, an individual can be connected to other families – living, breathing people who can share their experiences via the Net.
In the first month, a person could find a mentor and select a coach to help with diet. These people would be available 24 hours a day.
Contributors to the site would have to be reviewed by peers who do assessments of knowledge on the subject in order to ensure quality.
“The thing is, when you do broadband on a community basis, it does make a difference,” he says.
“It’s not just about using what we have now and going faster. It’s about providing wisdom and knowledge, not just information.”
Murgatroyd says he is trying to get people thinking that Alberta could be the place everybody looks to and says: “Look what they are doing with this (technology).”
There are pockets of brilliance of IT use around the world. But we still have a long way to go, says Murgatroyd. Look in any organization, he urges, and you will see waste and inefficiency.
He estimates most people use only 20 to 25 per cent of the technology they have at their desktop computers. Yet companies continue to add more (costly) capacity to existing programs that few people understand or require.
Murgatroyd raises issues about what the real gains of technological investments have been, and uses figures to suggest they are actually quite marginal.
The marginal investments could be much more substantial if we got the balance of people and technology right, he argues.
To create that attitude, people must see their own possibilities on the ’Net, not just take more instruction.
The SuperNet can lead the way, he adds, but people have to drive the creativity.
Think of the SuperNet as a highway, but unlike any other that you’ve been on. This highway has thousands of avenues and cul-de-sacs and interlocking highways attached to it.
“I mean it’s not a two-lane highway, it’s 116 lanes or 120 lanes. People are afraid of the speed at which it’s operating.”
But people are also curious, he says. The key is to get them from curious, to confident, to bold – from receiving, to creating.
That’s where Alberta can set an example.
In knowledge and awareness of IT, it’s evident that Albertans are willing to try, willing to innovate.
But rather than trying to be all things to all people, Alberta should be outstanding in one or two areas.
“Make a difference topeople’s lives,” he says simply.
Once the world sees what can be done, he says, there will be time and investment to create projects with similar characteristics.