Business Technology: Avoid The Tar Pits Of Complacency
My colleague John Soat, our senior executive editor, was once hailed in a letter to the editor as "a national treasure" for his witty insights in the early versions of our daily E-mail newsletter. And in looking over the findings from our latest research project--this one on Real-Time Business--I would have to nominate another colleague, InformationWeek Research editor Rusty Weston, for that same level of illustrious celebrity, because the results of that survey can tell you and your colleagues a lot about the odds your company has of staying relevant and competitive, or even alive, over the next few years (see "Real-Time Business Basics").
For example, here's one of the questions that Rusty (email@example.com) and his team asked in the survey, to which 467 business-technology executives responded: "How often do your company's IT systems provide sales updates for your primary products or services?" Before I share the results with you, let me ask: What's your sense of the answer for your own company--hourly? daily? weekly? monthly? Or, in what was an astonishing head-spinner for me, annually, which was the answer given by several people (1% of respondents)?
One reason this question is so revealing is the nature of the information it asks about: "sales updates for your primary products or services." Not each of the 200 products your company has, not a sophisticated business-intelligence analysis of customer tendencies by region, company size, industry, time zone, or shoe size--simply, "sales updates for your primary products or services." Everyone's been talking about the need for greater efficiencies, shorter times to market, and just-in-time everything for at least the past couple of years, and what more fundamental starting point could there be than sales updates?
Ron Lantz told reporters he spotted the Chevy Caprice driven by the two suspected snipers, called the cops, and then blocked a Maryland rest stop exit with his truck. "I'm no hero," Lantz said. "I just want people to think what I did is what I should have done." Lantz said that after he'd made the call, he waited nervously for authorities to come. ... "I called 911 and they told me they'd be there as soon as possible. ... It was a long 15 minutes."
from The New York Post, Oct. 25
So here's how the 467 companies answered: Every minute, 8%; hourly, 5%; daily, 36%; weekly, 13%; monthly, 17%; annually (say it ain't so!), 1%. But perhaps I'm being too tough on the annuals, because, believe it or not, it gets worse: 3% of respondents said they have "no process" for providing such updates, and in the reality-is-weirder-than-fiction category, another 16% said, "doesn't apply to our company." Hmm--maybe they're all dot-coms and don't make or sell anything.
The issue is one of probability: If your competitors are more rapidly getting even this fairly basic information into the hands of decision makers not only inside your company but also at your partners and suppliers, what are the odds that you'll be able to outperform them? What are the chances that you'll be able to respond to customer needs more quickly than someone else? How likely is it that you'll be the market innovator rather than a follower?
Here's another question: "Has your company built or does it have a goal of building an information architecture or network capable of delivering to managers real-time information or data inputs?" What's the answer at your company? Our 467 respondents sorted out this way: 32% said yes, already built; 43% said they're planning to but haven't done it yet; and 25% said no or don't know.
One more: "Does your company have business processes in place that let it take full advantage of real-time information?" Thirty-five percent said yes; 65% said no. Recently we examined the question, "What's your obligation to keeping the future alive in your organization?" I would submit that a good place for all of us to start would be in doing whatever we can to move our companies in the right direction on all three of these questions. The alternative is to step not toward the future but rather into the tar pit.
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