In Ford's just-in-time culture, its cars are simply a means for its managerial innovations make the world a better place. Although its workers seem to be nowhere, its customers are everywhere, and it is these buyers' physical and psychological needs that Ford allegedly is seeking to serve in its production. Indeed, Ford's corporate relationship with "you, the customer" is being reimagined as a just-in-time empire based upon meeting every's buyer's needs on time the first time and everytime.
The territorially-concentrated intermediation of production in traditionally sited and organized firms was once the privileged plan for rational action during industrial times. Efficiency was attained via concentration, control, and coordination of activity inside of a closed pyramid of production, because the hierarchy itself was an information processor whose policies and practices gave management its command-and-control configuration. These machinic formations have become obsolete as communication costs between far-flung points have fallen to rates comparable with those within points. Now informational technologies allow very disintermediated activities and limited contractual relations to displace control relations in production once fixed by spatial propinquity. Real corporations with fixed location, single nationality, and pre-planned products can be replaced by virtual firms with no locations, multiple national origins, and products assembled on the fly out of modular components. All of this is now promoting, as Meyer asserts, "time-based" competition rooted in dominating a fast product cycle.1
As Foucault would note, such cybernetic technologies are not simple objects that are possessed and then used by autonomous subjects. Instead the enterprise software systems that sustain digital Fordism are constitutive expressions of power/knowledge whose networks of relations enclose, partition, site, and rank digital subjects amidst cybernetic objects to make them both obedient and useful. Digital discipline inscribes docility, compliance, and performativity in every version of all its computerware. Cyberspace is a simply new site of power, and its microphysics simply define "how one may have hold over others' bodies, not only so that they may do what one wishes, but so that they may operate as one wishes, with the techniques, the speed and the efficiency that one determines," and digital discipline thereby "produces subjected and practiced bodies, 'docile' bodies" which "are" as they are online.2 This normalizing inscription dissociates "power from the body; on the one hand, it turns it into an 'aptitude,' a 'capacity,' which it seeks to increase; on the other hand, it reverses the course of the energy, the power that might result from it, and turns it into a relation of strict subjection."3
It is still a developing set of possibilities, but the hyperpanoptic powers of corporate enterprise applications, in software suites, like those produced by SAP, BAAN, PeopleSoft, or Oracle for companies like Ford, are remaking the material world from cyberspace by forcing manufactured matter to follow closely interwoven digital bits. Such firmware conducts the material medley of product components, either awaiting manufacture or already in flight through supplier linkages, to fit the specific requirements of purchasers. By integrating the ordering process, inventory control, production schedules, labor requirements, purchasing control, field sales, and consumer services, the enterprise software behind digital Fordism provides a real-time profile of a corporation's daily transactions from any executive decision center.
These systems, however, are much more than simply new software applications. To get them fully operational, firms essentially must reengineer their entire operations from the core of the company all the way out into every subsidiary, supplier, and subcontractor. With this fundamental restructuring, loosely coupled and laxly operated companies reshape the enterprise's businesses by deploying enterprise applications in a telematic control system. Suppliers, producers, sellers, and planners all are connected to a central administrative space that cybernetically extends and then reintegrates the enterprise to fulfill specific tasks. Local language, regulatory, taxation, or sales requirements all can be managed adaptively in smooth flows by the programs, guaranteeing a comparatively stable operational zone for the firm to function. Bay Networks, Inc. builds these realities into its rhetorics of self-promotion: "when you control the flow of information, you control the flow of business."4 If big business valorizes itself by conducting the artful assembly of capital, labor, resources, technology, and information in the flow of continuous exchange, then you have, as Bay Networks, Inc. asserts, all of "the solutions, products and services you need to create a continuous flow of information."5
Nothing can be entirely disembedded from its setting in particular places, but digital Fordism rejiggers inputs and outputs from specific material sites in virtually engineered supply chains to generate profit out of the what, when, why, and where in new a chain of commodity and/or service producing events occur. Once purchasing cycles, human resources, warehouse stocks, ordering trends, manufacturing runs, and marketing campaigns are meshed together, management can have a sense of command through hard data over an enterprise spread out around the world comparable to what it once had intuitively from a shopfloor visit at one traditional factory site.
Consequently, software slowly is remaking private enterprise as enterprise reintegration packages become key strategic assets in repackaging reintegrated enterprise.6 Strong connectivity to all links in a supply chain becomes more important than common location in one country. Some effective compliance with varying regulations in many territorial jurisdictions eclipses deep loyalties to any single political entity. At the same time, a collaborative acceptance of corporate investments and employment opportunities within all "host" geographic areas of operation rather than coercive regulation of the enterprise by some presumed central "home" country, are the new environment in which businesses can work as more virtual firms and factories. Clearly, old forms of inertia can reduce this system's efficiency, and partnering relationships might prejudice its effectiveness. Nevertheless, reorganizing exchange just in time as a series of contingent temporal events instead of restricting business to set-in-place clusters of specific spatial possibilities directly challenges many sovereign state structures by reimagining the communities constructed of commerce.7
Because kanban capitalism puts commodification "into overdrive, speeding the flows of information, component parts, and finished products to the point where products can progress from idea to commodity seemingly overnight," many governments and peoples now realize that the companies trading in their markets need to be the "most efficient, more fluid, and more popular around the world."8 Absent any other easy immediate indicator, the monetary currencies issued by various states are used as the index of performativity within its territorial zones of circulation. The most performative zones, in turn, find their monies serving as temporaneous instruments reserve and exchange value for international currency markets in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Frankfurt, London, New York.9 Kanban capitalism cannot eliminate national independence, but it can, and does, rate national performativity in light of various globally or locally pitched national fiscal, industrial, tax, and social policies. With the spread of networks, "$1.4 trillion worth of foreign exchange is traded through the world's computers each day. The result: a continuous global plebiscite--not just on each company's business prospects, but also on each government economic management."10 Moreover, all of these valorizing cycles also move on "Internet time," or a product development cycle "where the cycle time gets close to zero--essentially nonstop continuous change and innovation."11
Labor is not as mobile as money, which is a fact that rests at the core of digital Fordism. Consequently, just-in-time employment in all sectors of production is growing exponentially. Permanent jobs set-in-place with national guarantees behind a strong state=s policies on environmental regulation, social security, industrial safety, collective bargaining, workplace unionization or affirmative action programs all can be degraded rapidly. Capital either leaves, never arrives or pushes aberrant localities toward lower global standards. Manufacturers outsource components, service companies outsource data entry work, design firms spec out planning projects in modules, software businesses employ code writing temps over the Net. And, now telemedicine promises virtual medical care, distance education delivers asynchronous university instruction, and wired jailhouses conduct hearings with digital courthouses over closed circuit media.
Kanban capitalism also is remaking the role of consumers alongside those of workers. Ford's evocation of "No Boundaries" in its SUV experience is the essence of kanban capitalist consumerism. Big city papers, like The Washington Post, tout the excitement of becoming "Shoppers Without Borders" by faxing in orders to Italy, France, and the UK.12 Global 800 numbers, off-shore client servers, and world class product standards permit consumers with fax machines, telephones or Internet access to buy virtually anything anywhere anytime.
Unless contact with the outside world is curtailed and all telecom links are cut, these purchases will occur, which creates some real contradictions. For example,
When she thinks of herself as "labor" the average American citizens may not like this at all. But as a consumer she's collaborating enthusiastically. She buys Nikes and Nintendos made in Asian factories. She demands proof from her mutual fund and pension plan, not patriotic loss. Before long, she'll shop for life insurance in London and health insurance in Geneva, and the offshore actuaries will discriminate fiercely in favor of the healthy. In the 1980s the chief executive of Chrysler might have decided to buy a few million car engines from Korea. Today millions of individual Americans are gaining the power to shop anywhere they please.13
Consumers, investors, managers, and workers are no longer necessarily trapped in situ by territorial regulations, political restrictions, and ideological restraints. Indeed, becoming a more rational sovereign individual is emerging as a new model of personal agency for those "netizens" who increasingly communicate, invest, consume, work, and collaborate over the Net.
The world is being widened by its webs of capital, labor, technology, and commerce. Surveillance of these movements over global media conduits, like CNN, Quotron, CNBC, BBC World, and Sky, now serves as the valorizing peg of a global information standard, which defines and legitimizes the worth of monies, health of economies, promise of techniques, and direction of exchange. Fast capitalism is money in motion, people on the move, technology at a quick clip, commerce up to speed. Inasmuch as enquiring minds want to know all about it, the information standard sticks. Governments cannot keep money at home when it is wanted more elsewhere and then encouraged to stay there. This fast capitalist money on the $1 trillion plus a day foreign exchange boards is a perpetual poll, slinging hard numbers up, down and/or indifferent on every program and any policy the state moves to enact. Within a tight and temporary range, governments can manipulate these markets or play against such polls. At the end of the day, however, effective governments play to the currency markets, mind their current accounts surplus/deficit, manage their employment levels, and dampen inflationary tendencies. Otherwise, the information standard will shift its basis points/dollar values across all of their securities, discounting their performativity against all of the other two hundred plus competitors.
When individuals can recontour their own lifetimes around bonds such as the those proffered by Ford Outfitters, because they are chosen and maintained voluntarily on their own terms, the traditional narratives and practices sustaining territorial sovereignty cannot escape erosion. Clearly, such experiental communities are emerging only at selected sites among very privileged socio-economic groups.14 Nonetheless, these niche cultures are undermining grounded personal identities and bordered group solidarities that have taken centuries to mature. Moreover, these affinity groups often seem to meet the felt needs of those who join more immediately and fully than the other people who happen to share their place of residence, national language, cultural tradition or site of employment. The disintermediation of production as well as the modularization of products in digital Fordism therefore matches the disintermediation of places and the modularization of cultures unfolding alongside these new informatic technics in the sphere of consumption.