Another way…

At the Web 2.0 Expo in Berlin, JP Rangaswami focuses on the history of workplace communication for his keynote, “Web 2.0 versus the Water Cooler”. In typical JP style, the area he covers is broad, comparative and entertaining – and includes everything from ancient manuscripts to train timetables to the Olympic games.

JP is a familiar face to this crowd, as well as a great speaker, and it seems everyone wants a piece of him after the talk. We’re due to meet right after he’s finished, but it’s 45 minutes before JP finally wends his way down to the community lounge for our interview. He’s still in reflective mode:

“In low attrition, low job-mobility environments, there was a genuine covenant. It made sense to have a consensual style of management. You learnt to take a bullet for the team. And your team would remember. Over time, everything evened out. It was thick ice that you skated over. Consensus was built over long-term relationships.”

This ‘covenant’ did not only affect teamwork, it also impacted on performance reviews and appraisals. “There was institutional memory”, as JP puts it. And this memory was responsible for deciding whether or not it the time was right for a pay rise, or if a minor misdemeanor might be overlooked.

“Nowadays you get moved around. How do you get that information to be valuable? How do you deal with this new world? The silo structures of the past didn’t allow us to access information. Maybe you need to have a wiki-like construct, where knowledge becomes a cloud asset?”

In 2001, JP Rangaswami was working as Chief Information Officer at Dresdner Kleinwort, the investment bank, when he decided there had to be a different way of doing things:

“I realised that email was appalling – there were so many ‘broken trust’ implications in it – bcc was evil: ‘I’m going to have a conversation with your boss watching’; cc was ‘cover your arse’ – so I started looking at the problems I had and ways to find solutions to them.”

“Also, I realised, this way of records being attached to messages was the wrong way round. We want messages to be attached to the records. Those were the sort of characteristics I began to look for.”

As Global CIO, JP was responsible for a communications network of 6,000 employees across 35 countries. The way he saw it, the problems at Dresdner Klienwort were caused by four key things:

1. Attrition (the high rate of staff turnover)
2. The high mobility of staff between roles within the firm
3. Cultural differences – the same word meaning different things
4. Linguistic differences – the meaning of words being lost in translation

So, JP started a blog internally, and started championing wikis as a way forward.

“If you capture things using social software…there is a record of how things happened. Now a newcomer has the chance to catch up and understand what’s taken place.”

As a long-time advocate of disruptive technologies, and with a 40 per cent cut to his budget to consider, JP also began to introduce open source products to the company. By 2003, 43 percent of Dresdner Kleinwort’s Unix users were on Linux.

In 2003, JP was named CIO of the Year by Waters Magazine and in 2004 he was named CIO Innovator of the Year by the European Technology Forum. In 2007, chose him as one of technology’s 50 most influential individuals, describing Dresdner Kleinwort as “an aggressive leading-edge adopter of innovative and disruptive technologies”.

Now, JP is a managing director at BT Design, heading up strategy and innovation. If his influence there is anywhere near as successful as his impact at Dresdner Kleinwort, we have some delightful surprises in store.