Rust's law of escalating challenges

Whatever your challenges have been this year, you can be certain they will be greater in 2001. There are no time-outs in this game. The action is continuous and - even more importantly for the vendors, the users, the managers and the employees - the traditional rules for determining winners and losers are changing rapidly. Any attempt to regroup, to step aside or to reflect on what is happening brings the risk of irretrievable loss.

There is no doubting the impact of new technologies on business in all sectors of the economy. Almost two-thirds of CEOs in Australia expect electronic business to begin contributing to their business within the next three years, according to a recent study by XT3. However, despite their underlying optimism about their investments, the CEOs indicated they held clear concerns that some of their e-business efforts might ultimately prove misdirected and that they had not yet seen substantial benefits.

Like all of us, CEOs see the daily headlines as the dot-com companies continue to take a beating. Venture capital is drying up, there are frustrated sellers unable to unload shares and therefore not able to buy new stocks. This, for many, is the do-or-die season with many suppliers burning through their bank accounts at dangerous rates. By the finish of the holiday season many could be in serious trouble with little choice but to try and find a white knight or quickly close the doors.

Consumers are also resisting the urge to pull out the old plastic and buy products online. Soon inventories will start to build up, cash will become tight and the pink slips will start to appear on staffers' desks. At times like these owning a dot-com ranks up there with root canals and tax audits on the list of life's undesirables.

Old values

In fact it's also making returning to the good old corporate world look pretty good for many of the dot-com employees. These days many corporations and consulting companies who are tired of losing employees to the so call entrepreneurial life are encouraging free-thinking employees to implement their marketplace ideas inside rather than outside their corporations.

The New Economy is based on knowledge and ideas where the keys to job creation and higher standards of living are innovative ideas and technology embedded in services and manufactured products. It is also an economy where risk, uncertainty and constant change are the rule, rather than the exception.

Knowledge and information-based jobs are now driving the New Economy. These types of positions tend to be information or engineering-related with an increasing need for qualified senior management. In addition, the skill requirements are going up, necessitating a higher level of training.

The New Economy is all about economic dynamism and competition - epitomised by the fast-growing entrepreneurial companies that are one of its trademarks. The ability of enterprises to innovate and get to market faster is also becoming a more important determinant of competitive advantage.

A new order

Beyond the present day realities that everyone is grappling with lies the emergence of a new order for this decade; one that will be marked by faster technological and market changes, shorter product life cycles and the consequent need to adapt - managerially, organisationally and technologically - with rapidity and frequency.

This new order has to embrace the new economies of industry, the changing workforce and perhaps most importantly, the new attitudes of users.

The recurrent themes of the day - productivity, interoperability, open systems, standards, return on investment, globalisation, business focus for technology - all underscore the rationalisation of IT that is now underway in both user and supplier organisations.

Disappointing profits and sales, plus the fact that many shares were crazily overvalued to start with, have all caused problems. Several major suppliers have seen slower growth than investors had previously been led to expect and have been punished severely for their shortcomingsTimes are tough but especially so for the dot-coms. A volatile, punishing stock market has cast an unflattering light on some rapidly deflating paper fortunes. Law firms are now staffing up to handle the bankruptcies (nice to know someone who won't go hungry). There's nothing like blood in the water also to bring the analysts and irate investors swimming in for a good feeding.

Nerves

This apprehension among job seekers, with the new offerings seeming just as chaotic as the last one is also making life outright difficult. Applicants are reconsidering the long hours, amorphous business plans and decreasing stock options. Every day the company's priorities and strategies are changing. Success for both users and suppliers today depends to a large part upon their ability to attract, retain, train, manage and motivate skilled employees. The supplier's success will also depend in a large part on a number of key employees, including the CEO. The loss of one or more of the company's key personnel can have a adverse material effect on the company's business, financial condition and results of operations.

The other option of course is you don't have to work for a dot-com anymore. Instead you have outfits like IBM, Intel, Lucent and HP amongst many other companies that have successfully retooled themselves towards the Internet.

Hassles in User Land

On the user front, many CIOs and the corporations that employ them also find it difficult to break free from the legacy of recent history. They still have identity crises. Who is she/he? And what role should they be playing in the area of influencing strategy particularly in the "e" world where e stands for everything from e-banking to e-conomy to e-business. In all parts of the business from the CEO to the shop floor to the mobile sales and support personnel, the mystique that once was, is gone, or rapidly going.

There were two popular business movements in the early 1990s: re-engineering and its twin, the integration of technology and business goals. And towards the end of the 1990s the trend was towards electronic business and the explosion of business models to support Internet commerce. The "modern" enterprise - small and large, brick and mortar, click and mortar or virtual - now embraces all these movements.

But what will be the focus for the rest of the decade? What happens when the relentless bothersome "e" finally drops off the countless advertisements on radio, TV, billboards and Sydney buses? What happens when business and the industry pundits alike realise that everything operates in one way or another, through or because of the Internet marketplace rules and we all then have to begin the pursuit of value?

Value is customer satisfaction, the worth of the business, how we judge our business success and the measure of our relative effectiveness.

Computers, mobile devices, communications, television and the Internet are all creating an interlinked real time economy that embraces nearly the entire planet and offers users and suppliers countless market opportunities.

The fiery entrepreneurs on both sides in the new economy must make speed an essential ingredient for survival. In a world where customers are demanding more choices than ever before, companies must be able to act and also react instantly.

The creativity necessary to drive this will come from the introduction of new products and services into the fabric of the enterprise.

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