Has the end of the Cold War and the triumph of capitalism around the globe weakened the fibre of the West, robbing developed nations of their raison d'etre? Has the rush of digital technology and the fecklessness of global dynamism turned the corporation arthritic just when it should be at its zenith? Is the "B-school fad" of business process engineering at least in part to blame?
Or is the business process, rather than new technology, the source of the next great innovation in the global economy the way the process called the assembly line, rather than new technology, was the great innovation of the industrial economy?
It very much depends who you ask, and just what's being done in the name of BPR, it would seem.
Ask management consultant and investment relations adviser William Dunk, of www.globalprovince fame, and he'll refer you to the thought leaders of today who privately declaim the decay of all our institutions, even as they publicly pay lipservice to the notion of continual progress. In "The Beast in the Jungle", his fascinating Annual Report on Annual Reports 2006-2007, Dunk concludes the public company of the 20th century is coming to an end, brought to its knees by savage global competition, new technology, and above all some appalling decisions by government. Dunk sees companies worsening their own situation with efforts to improvise their way out of their difficulties. "Even as they press new technologies into service, they use them to try to build moats around their old style corporate models. Busy shoring up the past, companies generally have not uncovered a new corporate architecture and grand strategy that take aim at the years ahead," Dunk writes.
And he says annual reports of the last two years paint a picture of the corporation "caught up in a frenzy of dismemberment and disfigurement that we had not seen before. From 1975 on, as world markets grew increasingly demanding and political leadership in the Western world failed to tend the store, companies in all the developed nations began to chop off divisions, cheapen their product offerings, and, worst of all, strip their middle management ranks, while pretending they were just shedding a little excess fat. They cut to the bone. All of this was done with the help of management consultants who offered all sorts of nostrums that ostensibly would turn senile corporations into young studs, but really just put a smiling face on relentless cost cutting.
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