The inevitable transparency challenge

We are entering a new era of transparency that is unprecedented in the world of business. The Internet has made a wealth of information of all kinds more accessible, including business knowledge that previously was closely guarded.

Now any savvy researcher can find financial data, employee grievances, internal memos, product weaknesses, scandals, legal proceedings, corporate policies, supplier and customer complaints, etc. — the list is long and growing.

In addition, companies are under increasing pressure to make internal data and business practices more visible to shareholders, suppliers, customers, employees, business partners, and civil society.

This trend has caught many businesses by surprise. Leaders and managers find themselves in a reactive mode, scrambling to throw up firewalls and mold new guidelines when they discover that employees are sharing everyday work situations on Internet Web logs (blogs) or when they are faced with new government mandates such as Sarbanes-Oxley. Policies are ad hoc, and transparency rarely appears on the strategic agenda, even though an incident of unplanned disclosure can have a dramatic impact on stock prices, sales, and reputation.

Transparency is the accessibility of information to organization and institution stakeholders regarding matters that affect their interest. In light of the trend toward more and more disclosure, companies must be concerned with how they make decisions, what values drive those decisions, and, most importantly, the quality and accuracy of the data and information that is provided to their web of stakeholders about those decisions and their results.

Transparency is not optional; it is inevitable. Companies can love it or hate it, but they cannot avoid it. It is a compelling reality of doing business in the knowledge economy — and companies who understand it, embrace it, and skillfully evolve their technologies, strategies, and behaviors to accommodate it will have a greater likelihood of success. This is not merely a hypothesis or a utopian dream. It is a business fundamental that everyone must address.

IT strategists can help their organizations meet the transparency challenge in three important ways:

1. Work with leadership to understand the transparency trend and the risks and strategic opportunities that it holds. Help executives identify their current and desired transparency orientation and work with them to develop business models and strategies that will ensure a graceful transition into open enterprise and networked relationships.

2. Learn the principles and values that foster healthy, ethical, and trusting knowledge-sharing behaviors. Use the insights coming forward from those supporting knowledge networks and communities of practice to install both the cultural support and technology support needed for innovation networks.

3. Track the technologies and tools that will help integrate data and applications across boundaries and engage all stakeholder groups in infrastructure development.

Transparency is the foundation for building a trusted brand. As corporate social responsibility and corporate governance grow in importance, customers and stakeholders become more conscious of a company that lives by its values when they make buying and partnering decisions.

Transparency is revolutionizing business, and firms must rethink their fundamental values. Companies must view transparency not as a threat but as an opportunity. Transparency is not optional — it is an essential element for success.

— Verna Allee, Senior Consultant, Cutter Consortium

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