“You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”
–Scott McNealy, Sun Microsystems CEO, 1999

It’s hard to believe that a full 15 years have passed since McNealy uttered those famous words. The conservative lightning rod was speaking about our personal lives, but it’s instructive to look back at that quote in the context of the modern-day enterprise.

There’s no doubt that transparency is on the rise. More and more progressive organizations are recognizing that the benefits of transparency can far outweigh their costs. Hundreds of companies have started in the last few years with transparency and Open Data baked into their business models. For perhaps the best online resource, check out the Open Data 500.

This begs the obvious question, why? Digital strategist Oscar Berg lists three advantages of greater transparency:

  • Improve data quality throughout the enterprise
  • Avoid unnecessary risk taking
  • Enable organizational sharing and collaboration

No, these benefits are hardly absolute, but foolish is the person who dismisses them altogether.

Colliding Forces

Every day, it seems that I hear about another company that has embraced trust, Open Data, and a new default modus operandi predicated sharing information, not hoarding it. (In his book The Year Without Pants, Scott Berkun details an interesting example. He writes about his time at the distributed company Automattic, the parent of company of WordPress.)

Automattic may still be the exception that still proves the rule, but it’s not hard to image a future in which completely transparent enterprises give their employees 360-degree-views of what’s going on. Perhaps even their partners and customers will also be able to look at the organization through the same lens.

As for now, though, many CXOs and organizations are actively resisting more open workplaces. As I write in The Visual Organization:

To be sure, information hoarding is alive and well in the corporate world. There’s no paucity of hierarchical, conservative, and top-down organizations without any desire to open up their kimonos to the rank and file. However, long gone are the days in which the idea of sharing data with employees, partners, shareholders, customers, governments, users, and citizens is considered strange. These days it’s much more common to find senior executives and company founders who believe that transparency confers significant benefits.

Smart CXOs are realizing that they cannot and should not put their heads in the sand forever. Widespread transparency is coming; it’s only a matter of time. The forces of bureaucracy and inertia are colliding dead-on with even more powerful counter-forces. Here, I’m talking about the explosion of Big and Open Data, better data-analysis and visualization tools (re: Hadoop, no SQL, etc.), cloud computing, BYOD, platforms, and open APIs.

Simon Says

Brass tacks: unprecedented access to information is disrupting many established industries and having profoundly democratizing effects, regardless of executive imprimatur.


What say you?

Author profile

Phil Simon is a frequent keynote speaker and recognized technology authority. He is the award-winning author of six management books, most recently The Visual Organization: Data Visualization, Big Data, and the Quest for Better Decisions. He consults organizations on matters related to strategy, data, and technology. His contributions have been featured on The Harvard Business Review, CNN, Wired, NBC, CNBC, Inc. Magazine, BusinessWeek, The Huffington Post, Fast Company, The New York Times, ReadWriteWeb, and many other sites.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *