If You're Going to be Naked, You'd Better Be Buff


Regular readers will know that transparency is a favorite topic of mine. One of the chief benefits of eGovernment is transparent access to information about what government does. In an IT organization, transparency makes happy customers: there's no place inside a healthy organization for hiding information about rates, project status, or operational metrics. IT customers should have ready access to all that information. Now, Don Tapscott and David Ticoll have written a book which deals with transparency in the larger organization called The Naked Corporation: How the Age of Transparency Will Revolutionize Business. The book was the subject of a recent article in CIO Insight. Here are a few highlights:

Tapscott says that "its staggering to think that companies, when it comes to disclosure of various classes of information, pretty much just wing it. Few have a strategy for figuring out what should be disclosed and under what conditions." He offers some specific advice for companies in an increasingly transparent business climate:

  • Abide by basic values in all operations. Tell the truth, abide by commitments, consider the interest of all stakeholders, be candid about shortcomings and challenges. Make sure that business integrity drives every aspect of company operations.
  • Deliver the right value to each group of stakeholders.
  • Understand the promise and peril of transparency and manage it continuously. Don't just try to spin and execute PR strategies when a problem occurs. Develop a proactive approach to communicating the values of the company in the face of challenges.

The article has a section entitled "Blogs and Martyrs" but it doesn't deal extensively with the idea of weblogs other than to mention that "stakeholder webs" can use them to bring public scrutiny to bear. I'd have liked to see more about how employee blogs can be a human voice for the company and provide positive results through transparency. In general, as you'd expect from the quote I give above, the tone is defensive: how to protect yourself from too much unwanted disclosure rather than proactive. Maybe the book is different.

One of the things I've been contemplating is how the intersection of several recent trends drives the move to corporate transparency. Here's the argument in brief:

Initiatives like Sarbanes-Oxley are requiring corporations to report more and more material information to shareholders.

Accounting data is not enough. In the past, when capital was the most important thing, accounting data rules supreme, but what about today's corporation where the quality of your technical operations or the knowledge tied up in your employees head is your competitive advantage? Does mere accounting data tell the whole picture of the company and its operations?

Right now, I get basically the same accounting information that a shareholder of Ford or GM saw in 1970. Yet, corporations are increasingly turning to digital dashboards and similar systems to provide business intelligence to managers because they know that the accounting data isn't enough. As a shareholder, I'd like to see some of that information when judging the health of a company. I'm sure that this would cause some significant angst among corporate executives, but I think that's where we're headed.

The article concludes with a discussion of the CIO's role. Just as eGovernment is about providing transparent access to government, corporate IT systems will increasingly be driven by policies and decisions regarding what information to disclose to whom. This is the essence of digital identity and is just one more example where traditional "secure perimeter" approaches to information security are becoming increasingly inadequate.