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Bolman and Deal's Four Organizational Frames and the Federal Cloud Computing Initiative

Bolman and Deal (2008) suggest that organization can be viewed from four frames (Structural, Human Resource, Political, and Symbolic) and that re-framing a situation can lead to increased insight or better decision making.    There is a pretty cool instrument on Mr. Bolman's website where you can assess your own "default" frame of reference.


The convergence of this course material from my ORGL505 course at Gonzaga University and my attendance at the Cloud Computing and Virtualization Expo this week made me think if IT executives from both industry and the Federal Government aren't basing some of their opinions from their default frame.  I thought I'd take a look at the cloud from the four frames to see how we might help IT leaders get a new view of cloud computing. 

The structural frame suggests organizations are stable environments that can increase efficiency through the specialization and division of labor.  Those oriented toward the structural frame emphasize the use of logic, facts, and data.  They believe in well developed structures and systems to guide in making the right decisions.   One could argue that the Federal Government has a great deal of structure based architecture. 
One thing that GSA did absolutely right for these leaders is to build an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) solution (and corresponding contract) that is based on cloud computing technology.  What IT leaders may not realize is this is not your average cloud computing solution. Structurally oriented leaders should appreciate that GSA set the rules for the operational, management, and technical controls based on NIST 800-53 control objectives. The IaaS vendors who were awarded this contract (currently company included) have been put through the rigors of an Accreditation and Authorization (A&A) process which confirms that their systems are built, operated and managed according to these controls. 

But what about all that specialized labor that works to do these things inside federal agencies?  This would be the concern of leaders who are oriented toward the human resource frame.  Leaders operating from the Human Resource frame emphasize the importance of people.  A good leader is a facilitator who coaches and motivates, encourages participation, and empowers others.  From this frame, leaders do genuinely worry about what happens to the folks that touch all those servers all day long when we use all this "InfraStructure".  There is good news also for this group because Agencies can still install, operate, and manage their own applications if they are purchasing a true Infrastructure as a Service solution.  The IT staff can be freed up or redeployed in ways that impact the user more meaningfully.  Might that mean less competition for the time of Agency IT resources?

If so, what will those politically oriented leaders compete for?

Political leaders believe that organizational life is a competition for resources and is laden with conflict. Leaders must build networks and coalitions to acquire power and acquire resources.  A good leader is comfortable with conflict and is capable of negotiating in this environment.  Since cloud technologies cost much less than buying equipment, perhaps less program level competition for adequate funding will drive the innovation and change that the White House is calling for.  
Imagine Agencies competing head to head to foster the kind of change that creates the economic growth that America really needs right now. Which sounds a little idealistic, and that will warm the hearts of those leaders with a symbolic orientation.

Symbolic leaders believe it is their role to provide inspiration and vision.  A good leader excites people and fosters commitment through their actions.  They are concerned with providing hope and meaning for people.  Imagine that, we just created hope and meaning by using cloud computing (which, incidentally is good for the environment).

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Tags: Cloud, Computing, Federal, GSA, House, Leadership, Organizational, White, acquisition, leadership, More…miscellaneous, project management, tech

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