Saturday, August 20, 2011

Wikifinance, Wikitreasury – Part 1

Once Upon a Time…
…there were thousands of people who made a living traversing the cities, towns and countryside selling encyclopedias – World Book, Britannica, Funk & Wagnalls (this is the one my family had). These encyclopedias were printed by printing shops contracted by the publisher. These print shops needed printing presses and paper, and people to ship them to the correct places from the source. The encyclopedias were created by very smart people who were paid to write entries.
In other words, there was an entire value-chain involved in the encyclopedia business, spanning several industries, locations, and professions.
I imagine that these encyclopedia organizations were normal office working environments, staffed with writers, producers, supervisors, janitors, executives, etc. These people were all part of the company, worked in the same building together, went out to lunch occasionally and attended the annual company picnic, car-pooled, got to know each other’s kids, gave occasional advice on another’s planned purchase of a refrigerator, etc.
But Then…
…this entire value-chain has been upended by Wikipedia, which was essentially created by the free, voluntary donation of a lot of peoples’ time.
The writers, producers, supervisors, janitors and executives got replaced by the encyclopedia-developing equivalent of a flash mob. Whoever, from wherever, at whenever got involved in whatever. Didn’t know ya before. Don’t know ya now. Might never know ya later.
And so…
…this strikes me as a very, very, very fundamental change. Consider:
·         Consumers are now getting something for free they used to pay for, so they obviously benefit.
·         Labor is provided for free, so a motivation other than money is satisfied.
·         The projects get completed in a haphazard way due to the volunteer nature of the contributors, so traditional project management techniques can’t be used.
The phenomenon did not stop at encyclopedias. Computer operating platforms (Linux) and sophisticated statistical programs (R) have been created in similar manner.
So Many Questions, So Little Time
What does this portend for the Finance and Treasury professional? How might this impact the Treasury organization of our companies?
Will the fruits of our training and experience be free? How will we feed our kids?
Will flash mobs, on a voluntary basis, get our wires out in the morning, our CP and investment transactions executed, and our cash consolidated and balanced?
Will we use wikis involving hundreds of participants to evaluate the financial merits of new investments and acquisitions?
Some will say that can never happen. Others will say it is inevitable. I do not know if one is right, or both, or neither.
However, in order to prepare for some change (order of magnitude currently unknown) it might be wise for us explore how these types of groups and organizations are guided, led, and operated to achieve what they do.
We will explore more tomorrow…..
I would love to hear your thoughts about impacts to the future treasury organization or your stories on this topic if you have them.
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  1. I ran across some more items in my research I'd like to incorporate, so this post will be continued, but not tomorrow.

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