Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Micro-contracts: a boon to environmental protection, or the end of civilization as we know it?

It often happens that when I see something new, the ideas and possible applications start popping. While it can be very distracting at times, at other times it can be useful.

I discovered a company named EchoSign that, via the Web, captures, tracks, validates and assures signatures on contracts. What could you do with a micro-contract environment that's as easy to manage as an e-commerce storefront?

First, I would demand quick, real-time monitoring, validation and assurance of sustainability measures that entities have undertaken, particularly natural resource extraction firms. Then I would extend it from there, into other kinds of complicated projects.

Here are a few reasons, off the top of my head, that this capability could become ubiquitous:
1. business functions are virtualizing, flattening, and accelerating, driving an explosion in partner relationships.

2. That, plus increasing regulatory and transparency pressures, is driving an explosion in contractual relationships.

3. I foresee (if it isn't happening already) the ongoing data explosion driving the evolution of a new legal entity, a sort of digital sub-contract, in which line items and other more granular components of contracts require sign-offs, validation, tracking, and the like. Note that the only reason we don't have these already, is that nobody has wanted to be responsible for managing them. It's a classic case of advancing technology creating a new job for itself, and thus its justification: we do it because we can.

4. Similar to 3: Iterative methodologies such as Agile and Scrum are permeating the development of all kinds of business processes, not just IT/ICT projects. It might be nice to have a micro-tracking tool that also, incidentally, represents a legal commitment.

5. As in 4, environmental initiatives, especially among partner entities and governments, could really benefit from a ready-made, easy to use tracking and validation platform that can manage myriad deliverables, dates, and other such project performance details. While such tools do exist, they're usually buried deep within expensive, complicated and proprietary enterprise systems. Putting this into a Web-based, as-needed, just-in-time service radically changes what we can manage.

On the other hand, these may all be terrible ideas, and we'll just enable a level of paralyzing micro-management and mega-litigation like we've never seen. I hope that's not the case.

(c) 2010 David Calloway

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