This article was first published on my Sybase blog on June 16, 2008. As part of Sybase’s integration with SAP, and the shutdown of the Sybase blog server, I am republishing the post on the SAP SCN, and taking the opportunity to update it.

My question of the week:  Is the distribution of data management a necessary step for the growth of both countries as well as companies? 

This was my question after reading a post in The Technium blog by Kevin Kelly.  This post described a seminar given by Iqbal Quadir.   Quadir is currently the founder and director of the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Quadir is also the founder of GrameenPhone, which is today the largest phone operator in Bangladesh.

In the seminar, Quadir outlined his belief that technology can be used to alleviate poverty, particularly in developing countries.  Kelly’s summary contained this quote, which really caught my attention:

“centralization is not only a mark of poorer countries, it is probably a cause of their poverty”

I found this statement quite interesting and did more reading on Quadir.

The model used by GrameenPhone is to sell cell phones to entrepreneurial individuals in rural communities.  These individuals then rent phone time to other people in their village.   This generates money for the owner of the phone, while providing a service that increase the productivity of everyone in the village.   In this video, Quadir says “connectivity is productivity.”

Quadir’s paper “The Bottleneck Is At the Top of the Bottle” provides a fascinating discussion about how information and communication technologies (ICTs) have transformed advanced countries by distributing economic power to its citizens, ultimately forcing authorities to give up some of their power.   This is the model that transformed Europe. (update Oct. 2013: I have not been able to find a reliable and current link to this paper)

“ICTs empower from below while devolving power from above, resulting in a two-pronged attack on abuse of state power that has left so much of the world’s population languishing in poverty.” [pg 87]

This got me thinking; if widespread decentralization of information and communication technologies increases the prosperity of countries, does the same hold true for companies? Is a company more likely to be successful if it empowers its employees with the information they need, when they need it, through the widespread decentralization of information? 

Just asking this question reminded me of the book, The Innovator’s Solution by Clayton Christensen and Michael Raynor.   In the book, Christensen and Raynor describe an approach for companies to effectively embrace disruptive technologies by creating new-growth business divisions within their companies, and then giving them the freedom to develop their own internal structures to meet the demands of the new market.

“A decentralized company can maintain the values required to see and enthusiastically pursue disruptive innovations far longer than can a monolithic, centralized one…” [pg250] 

“…most of the companies that appear to have transformed themselves over the past thirty years or so – companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Johnson & Johnson, and General Electric, for example – have been composed of a large number of smaller, relatively autonomous business units.” [pg 250]

This decentralized approach led me to ask two different, unrelated questions:

  1. What are the requirements for senior management to enable this growth?
  2. Is it necessary for an organization’s data to be truly distributed to drive growth?

The first question is beyond the scope of this blog entry, but does lead me to both the last chapter in Christensen’s and Raynor’s book, titled “The Role of Senior Executives in Leading New Growth”; but also to the book Good to Great by Jim Collins.   In “Good to Great”, Collins outlines his concept of a Level 5 leader.  Does it require a Level 5 leader to decentralize a company to ensure long term growth? 

It is the second question though that is of interest in this blog.   Is the distribution of data is a necessary step for the growth of both countries as well as companies? 

There are two perspectives I have on this question from my position here at SAP, on the SQL Anywhere engineering team:

  1. The implementation of distributed and mobile database applications should be viewed as crucial and necessary steps to increase the productivity of an organization’s employees.   Of course when implementing mobile database projects, the key 4 step approach outlined in previous posts should be used to minimize the risk of project failure.
  2. Organizations should welcome attempts by departments to implement workgroup and other departmental database applications, because this will increase productivity, and hence the overall success of the company.  Our own SQL Anywhere plays an important role here, because it provides an easy to use, self managing database server that ensures that the important data captured in each department is treated with the same reliability that IT folks would demand on data center applications.

I welcome comments on these ideas, and I encourage the investigation of the ideas  presented in this post.

Reference Links:

The Technium Blog

Iqbal Quadir:

Innovator’s Solution by Clayton Christensen and Michael Raynor:

Good To Great by Jim Collins, and Level 5 Leadership:

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