In a recent blog post Jessica Miller-Merrill says “I am dying for a customizable and easy to use corporate org charts solution that integrates with my HRIS and other HR technologies”.. Music to our ears at Organimi, since this is what we do.

But we are also mindful of the old saying that people should be careful what you wish for.

Jessica’s post is on one of our favorite blogging sites, Blogging4Jobs.  Another recent post, by Lisa Bonner, on the emergence of enterprise social networks brings today’s discussion solidly into focus.

We live in an environment of  dynamic change these days, with many of the basic principles we’ve operated under for years seemingly up for grabs, or entirely up-ended.

In general, we accept the forward march of technological change as progress.  The HR domain is no exception.  Much has been written in the last few years about how new technologies are “revolutionizing” the practise of HR.

However, we can’t help but have reservations about the many ways technology is changing our lives.  One notable example is concerns about health, fitness and sociability, especially among children.  Another major example – and today’s topic – is privacy.  The very notion of privacy – the boundaries between our personal space and the information about us that exists and is discoverable independent of us – is being transformed….everywhere.  Lisa’s discussion of the proliferation of enterprise social networking tools in workplaces is a good example.

This erosion of privacy (or is it, more optimistically, our collective expanion of our trust circles?) has implications for every aspect of our lives from our health status and insurance costs, through tracking devices we use to follow our spouses, children and pets (and our governments use to follow us), to our work and the boundaries between our own space, data and devices, and the sovereignty over them claimed by our employers.

We’re debating these issues.  Opinions may be divided, but there is no question this process of transformation is well under way. We don’t know where it will go, but we are definitely on the journey.

Corporations are the most common and popular form of organizational structure in use today, whether for profit, or not for profit.  And one of the fundamental principles of corporate law central to that popularity has been the notion of the separate legal existence of corporations from their owners.

This principle – which insulates individuals from liability for the actions of the corporations they form – is deeply ingrained in our law and culture globally.  From its roots in Holland and England, the corporate principle has “gone viral” (albeit at a slower pace – over a couple hundred years – than WhatsApp, recently acquired by Facebook after becoming adopted as the messaging platform of choice for over 450 million of your fellow inhabitants of Earth in just a few short years).  The western “limited liability” corporate form has come to dominate global commerce.

The “nameless, faceless” corporation, with its echo in the “I feel like (or I am not just) a number” employee,  is a powerful theme in art , literature.  It is also a reality of business and society.  Outside of the leadership team as its public face, with their identities disclosed in regulatory filings and on websites, organizations are mostly veiled structures, behind which tens to hundreds to thousands of people engage in their day to day work.

VeilThis protective shroud has largely insulated corporations and their shareholders, directors and day to day employees from unwanted attention – whether from marketers, sales professionals, recruiters, governments, environmentalists, or others.  The notion of piercing the corporate veil and making corporate owners liable for the acts of the corporations they own, for example, applies in an extremely limited set of circumstances.  This is not likely to change, any time soon.

But organizational structures are changing, and this change is happening more rapidly.  So too is the environment around organizations, with its focus on bringing new levels of transparency and accountability to their operations, activities and people, at ever deeper levels within the organization.

LinkedIn, with its network of over 250 million interconnected professionals worldwide, is the best known example of the new breed of social networking and transparency creating tools for individuals in context of their work environments and organizational relationships.  It also creates a valuable research tool that is transforming and disrupting the traditional recruiting industry.  Salesforce.com’s data cloud, Data.com, gathers data on and contact information for people around the world, and makes this information available as target leads to sales organizations around the world, to enhance their targeting and sales effectiveness to help them close more deals.  In the process many traditional marketing and sales support organizations involved in the gathering and dissemination of leads and contact databases are being disintermediated.

To get back to the comments of Jessica and Lisa, at Organimi we feel that organizational charts should also be considered in this context of technological change, transparency and privacy.  Used in the past primarily, if not exclusively, by senior executives and HR professionals, supported by IT resources as and when required, they have served relatively rudimentary, static, mapping functions; shared inside the organization itself.  Often they are simply the skeletons of an organizational structure the company may have already evolved from by the time they are produced and made available.

What if all that were to change?  And not just change in terms of a faster and better way to communicate and share organizational structure and changes in organizational design internally, but to also make these changes more transparent and accessible to outsiders – to other stakeholders, to customers, to partners?

And what would happen if by adopting such systems so some elements of privacy (organizational or individual) were sacrificed or lost, so that this information became more accessible to marketers, to sales proessionals, to competitors and others outside your organization.  What would be lost?  What would be gained?

You may remember the word “exoskeleton” from your high school biology class.  Most commonly illustrated by things like snails, shellfish, lobsters, locusts and cockroaches, exoskeletons are the external skeletons that support and protect a life form (in contrast to the internal skeletons we and other mammals have).   Some, like our turtles below, have both.  We thing organizations are on this evolutionary path.

Exoskeletons “fulfill a set of functional roles including protection, excretion, sensing, support, [and] feeding” as well as in defense from pests and predators”, as this YouTube video of cat vs turtle demonstrates.

Have you ever thought about your org chart and the people on it as your organization’s exoskeleton?  Something that exists in digital space as an external structure performing both sensing and protective functions?

At Organimi we’re working very hard to make it as easy as possible for people to use online org charts to connect, collaborate and communicate with their colleagues, at all the organizations they belong to at work and at play.  We do this by creating an environment where you can create, share and manage access to these relationship structures, everywhere you are, from any device.

That’s what we do, and we want to be the best at it.

Since more and more of this collaboration happens virtually – in time and space – with a more fluid view of the “organization” and the boundaries among employees, contractors, suppliers, partners and customers – this means creating easy to use tools that make it as easy as possible to create and share this information….with everyone you want to…and not with those you don’t.

The benefits and challenges of managing the boundary between sharing and privacy will be an important part of this journey.  We look forward to getting insight from our users on just where they see those trade-offs being made, how they benefit from them, and what their concerns are.

You can check out our white paper or give Organimi a try here and let us know what you think.

Thanks for reading, and for checking us out.

The Organimi Team