Partly Right, All Wrong? - InformationWeek

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04:06 PM
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Partly Right, All Wrong?


American poet John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887) based the following poem on a fable which was told in India many years ago.

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, "Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he;
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

I think it was the columnist George Will who, about 20 years ago, coined the term "the indignance industry" to describe a rather large bloc of Americans who were always chafing about the imperfections of life and, oh, the unfairness of it all. And I'd rather not have anyone conclude, by virtue of the nature of the poem in the adjacent column, that I'm a charter member of such an outfit.

Quite the contrary: We all should offer a certain level of tolerance to people who are trying to see and feel the future, or even the present: Are we in a recession, or aren't we? Are you better off now than you were two years ago? Is the technology industry about to unleash a new wave of innovative, highly valuable and relevant products and services, or are we having leftovers for the next 18 months?

Into the breach march the analyst firms, armed with limited quantities of research from which they massively extrapolate trends, scenarios, best and worst cases, quadrants, Venn diagrams, clouds, ratings and rankings and rantings, conclusions, eureka moments, and lots of three-letter acronyms.

Consider a handful of efforts from some pretty well-known and successful research organizations to name and define the space that InformationWeek has been calling Collaborative Business:

  • From Gartner, "Collaborative Commerce (C-Commerce): The process that harnesses the full power of the Internet to gain revenue and profit improvement by going beyond rigid supply-chain models and simple information-sharing. "
  • From Forrester Research, "XRM (eXtended Relationship Management): Networked collaboration between multiple firms to manage supply and demand."
  • From AMR Research, "ECM (Enterprise Commerce Management) is a blueprint to help companies identify, evaluate, and map the critical applications, business processes, and technologies they need to support their employees, customers, and suppliers."
  • From Business Week (not exactly a research outfit; let's call them observers): "Collaborative technologies" are "perhaps the most important trend in business E-commerce."
  • From Goldman Sachs, "I-OPS (Industry Operating Systems): Internet-based software platforms that enable organizations to reduce the cost of automating their processes by relocating functionality from their enterprise networks to the Internet and sharing multi-enterprise software functionality with other organizations."
To borrow a line from the poem: Which of these are partly in the right, and which are in the wrong? Which really sees what's going on? Are they accurate descriptions? Are the perspectives right? Will IT vendors try to steer you toward following some of these tortured naming schemes? Are you most concerned about the wall, the spear, the snake, the tree, the fan, or the rope--or the whole elephant?

Indignance has its price. I promise next week to offer my own definition of Collaborative Business, and we shall, uh, see what we shall see.

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