the digitally-facilitated intensification of work

From The New Ruthless Economy, by Simon Head, loc 149-164

From the early 1990s onward, the twin phenomena of”reengineering” and “enterprise resource planning” (ERP) have been prime examples of workplace practices built around new information technologies. Relying ing on computers and their attendant software, reengineering and ERP automate, simplify, join together, and speed up business processes. Reengineering and ERP do this by imposing upon these processes the standardization, measurement, and control of the old industrial assembly bly line. Despite their heavy reliance on advanced digital technologies, the two practices therefore remain profoundly “old economy” phenomena.’ nomena.’ 1 Reengineering was a buzz word of management theorists in the early and mid-1990s and then, like so many management fads, it seemed to fade away. But businesses have kept reengineering their business processes. In 1995, when the reengineering tide was high, a survey conducted by two of the Big Six accounting firms found that between 75 and 80 percent of America’s largest companies had already begun reengineering and “would be increasing their commitment to it over the next few years. 1112 By 2000, when the practice had morphed into ERP, the leading IT consultancy, AMR Research of Boston, could state that “most companies now consider core ERP applications as part of the cost of doing business, a necessary part of the organization’s infrastructure.”” structure.””

There is scarcely a business activity that has escaped the attention of the reengineers. In their early years, they targeted such mundane activities ities as the ordering, storing, transporting, and billing of goods. But over the past ten years, reengineers have steadily widened the scope and ambition of their activities to include sales, marketing, customer relations, tions, accounting, personnel management, and even medicine-“man- aged care” being essentially the reengineering of health care. For the 80 percent of Americans now employed in these service occupations, reengineering in its various forms has become a dominant force in their working lives. In the mid- and late 1990s, reengineering evolved into ERP, a form of hyper-reengineering that brings together single business processes and tries to weld them into giant mega-processes. Led by the German software maker SAP, the reengineers of ERP are inspired by a vision in which business processes great and small-from the ordering of office furniture to the drawing up of strategic plans-all can be made to operate erate together with the smooth predictability of the mass production plant. But getting these ERP systems to work is turning out to be much more difficult than corporate reengineers had expected, and the subversive versive figure of Rube Goldberg and his fantastic machines keep peeping ing out from ERP’s sprawling, unwieldy structures.