Business Technology: What Customers Really Want - InformationWeek
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02:07 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans

Business Technology: What Customers Really Want

A three-page ad in last Thursday's Wall Street Journal reminded me of the old bromide postulating that in the past year 25 gazillion drill bits were sold, despite the fact that nobody wanted drill bits; what they wanted were holes. Which further reminds me of my childhood philosophical wrestling matches with the concept of being able to buy a box of "donut holes"--how could you buy something that actually isn't there?--but I digress.

The ad was from IBM, and while two of the three pages contained almost no text, I still thought it was fascinating to see that across those three pages, one of the world's preeminent business-technology companies never mentioned technology. Not hardware, not software, not networks, not middleware or servers or mainframes. Not once. Not even.

But the ad, which stressed IBM's On Demand philosophy, did mention something quite provocative: If On Demand is the means, then what is the end? And IBM chose to call the end "the responsive enterprise," describing a business that's deeply attuned to not only the needs but also the wants of its customers, and is prepared to marshal its resources to move in lockstep with those customers. The ad described how IBM can "help you evolve your thinking, your business and your culture," but it said not a syllable about the Z-series or WebSphere or DB2. Rather, IBM promised it can help you become "the responsive enterprise."

Since Hillary and Tenzing "knocked the bastard off" as he said at 11:30 a.m. on the morning of May 29, 1953, around 1,300 people have made the arduous climb to stand on the roof of the world. But where Hillary and Tenzing cut their own way, most climbers today pay guides up to $65,000 to lead them across crevasses, the heights, and the Hillary Step just below the summit.

--, re: the 50th anniversary of first ascent of Mt. Everest, by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, May 29

Meanwhile, a strikingly similar philosophy is being pushed by another vendor of business technology. The terminology's different, some of the approaches are different, and surely the methods will vary, but the ultimate objective is the same: "to anticipate events and trends and proactively take action to optimize their business response." The company is Tibco, and it calls its idea "the eager chain": the next step beyond supply chains and demand chains, the outcome of real-time analysis and decision making.

I don't doubt that other companies as well might be in the midst of articulating similar answers to the question: How do I move at the speed of my customers and the markets I serve? That's been InformationWeek's definition of Real-Time Business for the past several months--the ability to move at the speed of your customers, prospects, and markets--and we believe that's going to be the dominant business-technology issue that U.S. businesses will face for at least the next year. And here we see two very different companies coming forth with core approaches that force us to look beyond the imperatives of cost control, doing more with less, and focusing on the old models of IT strategy: supply-chain management, enterprise resource management, and customer-relationship management. These three old models are nice, and still important, but they're supporting actors in a new and profoundly different play whose plot is centered on moving beyond reacting to customers' wants and needs and instead anticipating and fulfilling those demands at a time and place of the customers' choosing.

This is a theme we at InformationWeek will continue to focus upon because it represents the core initiatives that companies of every size, shape, age, market, and industry are trying to master: How do I build out an extended enterprise--from suppliers' suppliers to customers' customers and everywhere in between--that can anticipate and act upon what customers demand before those customers have to tell us they demand it? Don't get hung up on nomenclature--real-time business, responsive enterprise, eager chain, agile enterprise--but most important of all, don't overlook the larger imperative those names are trying to represent. For next week: $10 million (or an InformationWeek tchotchke) to the reader who submits the liveliest four-line poem outlining which name is best and why.

Bob Evans
Editor in Chief

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Bob Evans's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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