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Business Technology: Do The Report--Or Fix The Problem?

Two junior execs who earlier this year plumbed the philosophical depths of the ROI of ROI analyses tackle a feasibility study of real-time business in a big company. Bob Evans warns that if their findings sound familiar, be afraid--be very afraid.
I had a beer the other night with the two junior execs whom we first met about a year ago as they pondered the ROI of ROI projects, and it seems their new fixation is a real-time business feasibility report they've been asked to prepare. Was it the beer, was it them, or is it me?

"I'm telling you, he won't do it. Not in a million years. Heck, that guy still tells the salespeople to squeeze extra hard when they shake the hands of customers who don't increase their orders by at least 10%."

[Dubious stare.] "Who told you that?"

"Well, nobody exactly told me that, but the last couple of times I've met with him to talk about Project Open Book, he steered me to the door and offered a handshake and then crushed my hand so hard that he cracked three knuckles while giving me that big phony smile and asking me to tell him just how the project would help him increase sales by 10%. So that's how I know."

[Long-suffering sigh.] "OK, I'll take this slow: Did you tell him that by sharing with customers our forecasting information, general customer profiles, marketing plans, and competitive overviews, he can help his customers be more successful?"

"Of course! Well, I was just about to, and then he started telling me about this eagle he had the last time he played golf with our biggest customer's CEO. And he said that allowed the two of them to beat two other execs from the customer's company and that the 200 bucks he and the CEO shared from the match is the ONLY kind of sharing we should be doing with customers."

"Is that right? Do I need to remind you that our job is to CONVINCE the top managers to get behind this project by SHOWING them that real-time business can help them and our customers and our suppliers be more successful?"

"Spare me your sarcasm. You can lead a horse to water. ... "

"Good point. I'll try to get that in our report, if it'll fit. Just remember what tops the list of potential disasters: Clogging the system with excessive and irrelevant data is as bad as not gathering the stuff we really need."

I'd guess many of you have some connection to Stanford University--InformationWeek does, with our jointly produced Boot Camps. Well, over at Stanford's Law School, the most recent addition to its "Visiting Public Interest Mentor" program is Lynne Stewart. She represented Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman in his trial for masterminding the 1993 World Trade Center bombing--he was convicted and is serving a life sentence. Stewart herself was later indicted for passing messages between her client and his terrorist associates.

"I thought the No. 1 danger was failing to get buy-in on new and more-valuable business processes from all stakeholders?"

[Long stare.] "Y'know, sometimes you surprise me. But I digress. What about accounting?"

"They were great! They said they're supporting us--wait a second, let me check my notes--175%! The only problem, they said, is that they need more space for signatures on the electronic forms."

"No! That's the point! We've changed the business process so that our top priority is getting valuable, relevant, and timely information to the right people so they can make rapid, effective, customer-focused decisions! The answer is no--no additional room for redundant signatures because we're ELIMINATING the redundant signoffs that lead to redundant signatures and wasted time."

"I think I get the point. So you probably don't want to hear what the CFO said about that data-quality thing."

"Oh, go ahead--stick a knitting needle in my other ear."

"She said that if our feasibility report makes sense, she might be willing to allocate $25 million of the $30 million we're requesting, spread over 18 months. But she said she'll chew her leg off before giving us $2 million for data quality and integration. She said she's teaching us a lesson in the importance of getting it right the first time."

"But without that, the project won't work!"

"Of course it won't. But that's not our problem--our problem is finishing this report."

Having heard enough, I burped, paid the check, and said good night.

Bob Evans,
Editor in Chief
[email protected]

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