Qwerty, move over
I am typing this blog on a piece of glass, 5 mm thick, connected to billions of devices and the combined knowledge of millions, yet my fingers trace out the pattern of letters designed by the engineers of a mechanical device that my children have never even seen.
The qwerty keyboard.
Over the last 100 years, there have been several attempts to improve it, but any change would founder on the need to retrain literally billions of people.
I’m a pretty fast two finger typist, and my fingers fly over the keys at a decent pace: in fact, they exhibit the “muscle memory” of the familiar layout. The layout created by a nameless engineer who set up the keys so that the word “typewriter” could be typed on just the top row.
Many years ago I attempted to learn to touch type, and I was surprised that the “home keys” were not the most common letters, but include the rarely used “J”, “K” and extraordinarily, the semi-colon.
Muscle memory following the mental models of Venetian merchants
In business we are doing the same. We have our Purchase Order, Sales Order, Shipping Document, Receipt, Invoice, and Cheque. We are also using “muscle memory”, following the grubby pieces of paper first used by Venetian merchants 500 years ago. We may be pretty fast, for example using ERP systems to move documents between our departments and EDI to save some transmission time and costs, but as with the qwerty keyboard, the whole layout is inefficient.
This procedure was developed at a time when documents moved at the speed of a Venetian caravel, and a round-trip to the orient took a year. In the same way, the qwerty keyboard was designed when typing involved moving metal arms.
Both arrangements were chosen to avoid getting jammed.
On a Business Network we have the potential to change this model. My purchase order and your sales order become the same document, rather than two separate documents. It then flips to an invoice. The blanket order is like the semi colon above, an essentially meaningless document that satisfies some muscle memory that all invoices must have a PO. In a Business Network a blanket order can be replace by shared catalogs and contracts that both parties maintain.
Networks such as Google docs and Zoho already allow document sharing, and it’s not too much of a stretch to see how this type of sharing could be extended to a Business Network.
Change will not be easy, external bodies such as tax authorities and auditors will still want “a signed copy of each invoice”, accountants recite “no PO, no pay” or still insist on a “three-way match.” But Blanket Orders and other such relics are surely ripe for replacement.
Now my idea of overturning the familiar concepts of an invoice and an order may be a little fanciful, but it’s too easy to hang on to familiar mental models, and insist that change is too difficult, and end up with a setup which is not fit for purpose; unless you are a fan of the semi-colon;