/* */

14 May 2007

Higher order effects of the Metro and the hinterlands

The intelligence community is not the only knowledge work field in which the deleterious effects of concentration in major metropolitan areas are surfacing. The legal community is also struggling to come to terms with the implications of new communications and collaboration technologies, and what they will mean for a business that has for centuries been conducted face to face – and by culture and convention, in a very specific sort of environment, much like the business of intelligence.

One of the most interesting counter-points to the seemingly inevitable virtualization of everything is the line:
Relationships mean everything, and when the majority of your workforce aren't virtual marketers, you bet on what your workforce knows.

The gentleman lawyer also makes a very interesting point that parallels our earlier questions regarding the potential evolving distributed structures of the intelligence community as more and more contractors seek to move core analysis and production tasks out to less costly locales in flyover country.

The trend of using high priced space exclusively for client meetings may come around, and the creation of 'client reception areas' in many recent firm renovations point in that direction. I could see a metropolis-hinterland kind of effect, where firms put the rainmaker partners in downtown offices, and farm 'the work' out to less expensive premises. That of course, would require a clear separation between lawyer classes. Another can of worms that would be very difficult to resolve within big firm cultures… If this concept was undertaken, I'd bet on the support roles leading the exodus.

The issues of “divided classes” of intelligence professionals are even more significant perhaps than might be faced in the legal field, as are the potential human resources issues created when the advancement of one’s career may also involve relocating to the greater Washington Metro area from the comparatively idyllic (and far more family friendly) environs of the south, west, or wherever the “alternate” community centers develop. The next generation of talent may find this lifestyle incompatible with their continued interest in the profession, especially when connectivity offers a great range of options on the outside than ever before.

We are also greatly interested in the higher order implications of divorcing production from client-facing activities, above and beyond quality of life, compensation, and other human resources issues. The software industry has had previous experience with the management issues that surface in such cases, but it is a far different thing to outsource specific tasks done by highly introverted and technically focused engineers and developers than it is to physically disconnect the subject matter experts and analysts (however introverted or not they may actually be) from the briefers and program managers which must maintain relationships with the policy-makers and other supported action elements. The primary questions when evaluating such structures will revolve around whether or not alternative workflows and processes, using new collaboration technologies and approaches, can support the robust level of interactions needed to ensure that both teams stay on the same page. After all, the history of intelligence producer – policy relations has never been easy, even when both sides are in the same room. Can mediated technologies offer solutions to older problems, and even if so, what new issues will arise in the future?

Again, this sounds like an excellent area for the intelligence studies academia to begin to offer substantial contributions with practical application of theory to the field, especially if validated by experimental research…

Labels: , ,