Business Technology: If Speed Kills, Are You In Danger? - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications
04:44 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans

Business Technology: If Speed Kills, Are You In Danger?

How would your company fare versus competitors in a benchmarking of speed and agility? Speed -- or the battle against latency -- is moving to the top of priority lists for companies in all industries as customer requirements accelerate. Bob Evans asks, are you ready?

If you had to benchmark your company versus your competitors on speed and agility, how would you rate? For example, how many times per year do you turn your inventory, and how many times do they? If a customer requests a standard product or service, can you get it into the customer's hands as quickly as your competitor? Or are you slower? When one of your designers or product developers conceives a new product, how much time goes by before that idea can be exchanged for revenue? If your best customer requires a customized order within a ridiculously short amount of time, will you be able to meet that demand or will that great customer go to someone else who can respond more quickly?

It's hard to imagine any part of our lives not yet touched by this incessant trend toward faster turnarounds and expectations of near-instantaneous response. (Well, perhaps one exception is the Federal Trade Commission, which needs almost a full year to write a report warning the public that spyware is dangerous and getting more so all the time. But I digress.) And this isn't the sort of thing that runs in cycles -- so, if your company didn't fare too well in the questions above, you probably shouldn't try to convince the CEO to just wait until the second half of this year because all this rush-rush stuff will be long forgotten by then. No, this very real-time phenomenon is here for the long haul -- and that reality has enormous implications for all of us.

"The debate continues over which operating system is more secure, Windows or Linux. As SecurityPipeline reports, two researchers have compared Windows Server 2003 with Red Hat Enterprise Linux ES3 and concluded that Microsoft's operating system had fewer vulnerabilities and got fixed faster. ... It's the latest in a series of claims and counterclaims over the past year or two over which platform is more secure.

"There will be more mudslinging next month at InformationWeek's Spring Conference in Amelia Island, Fla., where I'll be moderating a session titled, 'Windows vs. Linux.' "

-- What's More Secure?" John Foley's Windows Blog

Take another look at those questions about speed: If your competitors can move faster than you, be more responsive than you, and innovate more quickly than you, what sort of future do you expect to have? What's your value proposition: "Sure, I'm slow today, but you can also bank on the fact that I'll still be slow tomorrow"? Another way of thinking about it is this: Is what you're creating today a perfect match for what customers want today -- right here and now -- or is it merely a reflection of what they wanted in the past and that you HOPE they still want today?

And if, upon further reflection, we find that we're probably not operating as rapidly as we need to be, then what's the cause of that? Is it that darned shipping company or last week's snowstorm or industry regulations -- or is it that we're using the same processes we used five years ago and 10 years ago and 25 years ago, in spite of the fact that our customers' requirements have changed dramatically in the past few years? What's the source of the latency within your operations: slow people? slow processes? slow technology? Or all three rolled into one?

Here's an example from a recent InformationWeek cover story by my colleague Laurie Sullivan: "If you're in the business of making a few million pairs of blue jeans a year, not much is more important than getting 'blue' exactly right. It's why a jeans designer at VF Corp. will express mail swatches dipped in dye back and forth with factories around the world as many times as necessary to make sure designers and manufacturers agree on just the right shade. And it's part of the reason it takes as long as nine months to design a new pair of jeans and get them on the shelves." Well, someone might say, what's the problem? Stuff takes time, right? The world's a big place, right? And to use the overarching philosophy of the 21st century, "It is what it is," right? And doesn't VF deserve some slack because it's the largest apparel maker in the world and therefore the problem is really complex and it has multiple brands such as Lee jeans, Vanity Fair lingerie, and North Face outerwear?

After all, Sullivan's story says that another clothing company, J. Jill Group Inc., "takes up to a year to get a product from concept to shelves" in its 150 stores. Nine months, 12 months -- what's the big deal? Heck, that 11-month FTC report is starting to look almost timely, right?

Well, maybe not. Because if we have learned anything in this topsy-turvy business world, it's that speed kills: Having it can kill competitors, and not having it can turn you to road kill. So if a clothing company were able to chop that concept-to-cash cycle from about a year to about a month, wouldn't that change the game for everyone? Sullivan found such a company, and it's not some obscure little company -- this one operates factories, design centers, and more than 700 retail outlets globally.

"An exception is Zara, a designer and retailer owned by the Inditex Group, which has built its business model on being able to get new products designed and into stores in just two weeks, a company spokesman says. In many of its 724 stores throughout the world, Zara clerks send feedback directly to designers via wireless PDAs, and designers can make adjustments and send them electronically to Inditex-owned factories in northern Spain."

Sullivan's article continues: "Other apparel companies are moving at a 'snail's pace' to reach that level of performance, says Navi Radjou, VP of enterprise applications at Forrester Research. 'Many of the apparel retailers that sell their own brands don't even have a common ERP platform,' Radjou says. 'Now they must focus on integration with trading partners.' "

No industries -- none -- will be isolated from this upheaval. It's happened in the automotive industry, appliances, banking, travel, sporting goods, and many others. And it will surely happen -- or, more likely, is already happening -- in yours.

So one final question: Are you ready?

Bob Evans
Editorial Director
[email protected]

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

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