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Charles Babcock
Charles Babcock
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Author Peters Puts Both IBM And Microsoft On The 'Guarded' List:

In Search of Excellence author Tom Peters is no admirer of GM. But he suggested there were two computer industry behemoths out there that may be teetering on the verge of decline as well. One was IBM, due to its increasing dependence on services revenue. But also put on the "guarded" list was Microsoft.

In Search of Excellence author Tom Peters is no admirer of GM. But he suggested there were two computer industry behemoths out there that may be teetering on the verge of decline as well. One was IBM, due to its increasing dependence on services revenue. But also put on the "guarded" list was Microsoft.Peters, speaking at the IW 500 Conference Sept. 11 in Palm Desert, Calif., wasn't very specific in his assessment other than he didn't know of anyone staying awake at night worrying about what they were going to do next.

Much as I enjoyed his talk, I think that standard can be applied to Kellogg's Corn Flakes and Nabisco Shredded Wheat as well. I suspect we'll be talking about IBM and Microsoft for at least as long as we have breakfast cereal.

But Peters wins applause for some of his comments on strategic planning. He quoted John Masters, the successful Canadian oil wildcatter, who said: "You only find oil if you drill wells." A successful strategic plan, he said, is one that calls for "doing things."

Bits of wisdom were floating around the hallways and lunch tables of the Rancho Mirage Westin as well as in its big auditorium.

Pedro Villalba of HIP Health Plan in New York said his firm's experiment hosting "sandboxes" yielded a customized tablet PC that can be used by visiting nurses to collect information on HIP patients who have been hospitalized. If HIP case managers get the information shortly after patients are admitted, they can recommend cost-effective treatment paths. And they can get that data via a Bluetooth wireless network connection between the tablets and the HIP servers.

That was the plan, and it's working. But the tablets were spotted by another branch of HIP's business, the Medicare sales representatives that go into the field to sign up individual recipients, a notoriously cranky sale if the prospect must make repeat visits to an insurance office. By carrying the PC tablets, HIP sales representatives are able to sign up cases that many health plans consider too time-consuming and too prone to turnover to bother with.

Rather than asking a prospect to repeatedly bring documents to an insurance office, the tablet allows the salesman to scan them digitally into memory at the kitchen table, capturing birth certificates, driver's licenses, and other documents with an initial visit. It can present forms and capture signatures in a legally binding way. Then its Bluetooth wireless connection uploads the data to HIP's servers.

"We encourage experimentation" on isolated sets of servers called sandboxes, says Villalba, and it has paid off in an unanticipated way.

Jeffrey McIntyre, assistant VP of technology services of BNSF Railway in Fort Worth, Tex., said he didn't show up at Palm Desert to get advice on how to make better use of existing rail cars. His railroad is operating at full capacity, and the trick is to keep everything running as efficiently as possible to capitalize on all the freight. He said there'll be no capacity to spare for the Western states covered by BNSF "until there's a major recession."

As an aside, he pointed to the plentiful fountains, the big golf course lake shimmering in the hot sun, and the twin shower heads in every room's bath (they run simultaneously) and asked, "Where do you get all this water in the desert?"

Rajeev Ravindran, of J. M. Family Enterprises, the number-one Toyota distributor in the Southeast and a Lexus distributor also, warned if you want to get to SOA, the first thing to do is to get your software architects to sit down with business people for five to six months and figure out what it is that they're doing. The right services can flow from the exchange. "There's no silver bullet, but I've seen the light at the end of the tunnel," he said. Speaking of light, Carl Abramson, senior VP of the technical products division of Japanese lightbulb producer Ushio Lighting-Edge Technologies, explained to me something I didn't know: It's possible to spend $4,000 on a lightbulb. His firm produces halogen, metal halide, and xenon short-arc bulbs for specialized medical diagnostic devices and computer-printed circuit lithography equipment. The largest bulb burns 3,500 watts. I neglected to ask what you use a $4,000 lightbulb for, but it's probably not the bathroom night-light.

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