Editor's Note: CEOs Need To Walk In Customers' Shoes
Maybe it's just one of the many trade-offs for living where you want to live, but I know so many people who still don't have access to high-speed cable lines or DSL and balk at the idea of having to receive a Power Point presentation or a large .gif file over their dial-up lines. I even know of a couple of technology executives in this situation. Sure, they conceivably could afford to run T3 lines into their living rooms, but at least one CEO says he thinks it's important to understand and operate within the limits that others around him have. That's pretty noble, I thought. That kind of attitude can let companies offer Web sites and services that are convenient for everyone. And since the telecom companies have dubbed the connection to the consumer the last mile instead of the first mile, there's not a lot they can do about it right now, right?
John Patrick doesn't buy it. The way this author and former VP of Internet technology at IBM sees it, any company doing anything for the lowest common denominator will end up with lame Web sites, poor service, and unrealized opportunities. But don't think he's being unfair or ungracious to people who don't have the luxury of high-speed lines. He's not. It's just that he sees so much further potential in the growth of the Internet and in technologies like Wi-Fi that high-speed access can be a reality with or without the telecom companies. Check out his blog at http://patrickweb .com/weblog/, and he'll tell you about small communities and neighborhoods that have created their own wireless networks or DSL connections so they can have broadband service without waiting another year or two for the phone company to offer it to them. These kinds of grassroots movements should put all businesses on alert, he says. "Businesses better get ready with Web sites that are readily available because all of a sudden, access at high speeds is going to explode."
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Just a couple of years ago, Patrick said in his book Net Attitude that he thought consumers and businesses were about 3% to 5% of the way into what the Internet has in store for us. Now, he's revising that down to about 1%. That's partly because of what new technologies will bring to the table, but the techie stuff isn't the most important thing to consider here, he says. Frankly, this is the place where he thinks CEOs need to walk in their customers' shoes. Too many Web sites still operate with a 9-to-5 mentality, are difficult to use, or provide poor customer service. We all have our examples, right? Until companies do a lot more to make things simpler, to save time, and to stop thinking of the Web as just another channel, they're going to get left behind. What's not going to change, he argues, are people's expectations-"they get higher every day."
It's a discussion that's relevant to this week's cover story on business processes (p. 30). The large investment in Internet technology, real-time information, and collaborative business have many companies rethinking core business processes in a way that not only suits today's economic realities but meets customer expectations as well.