Archive Page 2

Creating “Commons Domains”

I’ve lately been involved in a discussion thread on “why we need software patents or if we should kill them“. My position is clearly that patents are a value destruction for the entire community. But the problem is that they create a rent for certain actors and it makes it then difficult for political action to act for the common good when financial powers is concentrated in the hands of a few beneficiaries.

While thinking of a way we could come to the desired end without waiting for politicians to realize where the common good is, I’ve just had the idea of “Commons Domains”. A Commons Domain would actually be an ambitious extension of the notion of a patent pool. The idea would be to create an institution to administer a Commons Domain, a Domain where any signing company would consider that all their IP would belong to the pool of companies.

While at first this may appeal to companies with no IP, I think there may be a twist so that it becomes a winning machine over the IP oriented rent seekers. In fact, once a company has signed into a Commons Domain, and when it is facing with the prospect of patenting a new idea, it could:
1 – patent the idea and try to make money on the companies that did not sign in the Domain
2 – put the idea in the Public Domain for the good of the entire community
3 – propose the idea to the Domain’s institution who could choose to patent the idea or not

The interesting aspect is that there is an accelerating effect. Once you start having a few valuable patents within the Domain, the interest for other companies to adhere and bring potentially more IP within the Domain grows.

I would be interested by your reactions and why not, see how we could rapidly create the first Commons Domain.

Systems to organize what employees have to do, or want to do?

I blogged before on the difficulty Enterprise 2.0 faces for entering big organizations. It suddendly occured to me the other day that current IT systems (ERP, CRM,..) are mainly meant to track and organize what employees have to do. While Web 2.0 tools are doing wonders aggregating intentions and organizing actions of people according to what each one of them wants to do.

It is not new that Markets and Hierarchies represent two forms of coordination with their specificities. In this sense, Web 2.0 seems very suited for Markets, allowing people with diverse interests to loosely collaborate for a while, before moving to something else. With that in mind, it seems that Enterprise 2.0 is confronting a very tough challenge, it wants to re-use for Hierarchies the tools that seem to be almost meant for Markets.

But for people who have been in management positions, it is clear that the command and control model has its limits. That a good part of your job is actually to create meaning so that what people have to do, more or less align with what they like to do. It is even more so when you deal with knowledge workers, where there is a strong asymmetry of information, where they know what they have to do, and you as a manager painstakingly try to keep up with what they are explaining to you.

This is why, even though I believe it will be difficult and require a lot of cultural changes, I still think that big organizations can benefit from the new Web 2.0 tools. At the heart of the change will probably be a modification on the way we conceive firms. But, when some corporations let employee use part of their work time as they wish, there is still hope that big organizations can transform themselves to adopt more decentralized working models.

Trying to make value out of what your employees want to do, instead of what top management thinks they have to do is obviously a big shift. But who said the latter should be the ultimate way to run hierarchies. If there is indeed value in the former, evolution will naturally produce new types of organizations thriving on those principles. If you’re still running on the old model, you’ll just have he choice between mutating or sinking into oblivion.

Why do I need to know what payment systems my vendor accepts?

The answer seems obvious. Because I need to be a member of one of the payment systems my vendor accepts in order to complete a transaction. But it then occured to me that it does not necessarily have to be so. Wouldn’t it be simpler if I could use whatever payment system I want to release a certain amount of cash and if the vendor can have some guarantee of being the owner of the money before releasing the good to me? The answer is of course yes!

In fact, to get back to the former answer, it is not necessary that one organization like Visa, PayPal or a coalition of them controls the entire chain for making the whole thing possible. It’s only because this entire chain of processing takes today very long – like days or even weeks – to complete that my vendors asks me to use the payments systems they accept. They need to be sure of receiving the money, some day, to agree handing the good over to me now.

So, if we had an open and real-time settlement system, we could perfectly imagine that we would no longer have to care what is the ultimate system that vendors would be using.

To give a brief explanation of what a settlement system is, I’ll just say that this is a way to make valid the change of ownership of a certain financial property, in this case cash, from one party to another. A real-time system would be a system that would process the entire chain in a couple of seconds. And an open one would be a system which would let any cash sending system and cash receiving systems interoperate.

So, if my vendors could know in real-time that the money I’ve just parted with is now in his full posession, they would be perfectly happy completing the transaction. Which means I could send the money from my mobile phone – or any other online device – using whatever payment system I would like and I would feel comfortable using. My vendor could also use the payment system most convenient for him. As long we are both happy and trust our payment providers, we would no longer have to determine if both of us are members of the same systems.

Now, do you think it all sounds science-fiction because we can not create such an open and real-time settlement system or because current payment service providers have too antiquated backbones to dream processing such a transaction in real-time and have no incentive to move to an open system? If this is the latter, this suggest the word “Disruption” to me.