What does your company have to look like two years from now in order to remain afloat and prosper? Believe it or not, your greatest challenge isn't turning that corpse you call a Web site into a living, sticky, interactive entertainment and sales zone for your customers. That's part of it, of course, but that's not what's going to keep you off life support.
The key to your survival and continued prosperity in the short term is, in a word, imagination. Of course, planning and execution and 15 other things are critical to success, everybody knows that. But as brick-and-mortar companies try to integrate their Internet-based operations with traditional lines of business, the rarest commodity is imagination.
I'm not just talking about e-commerce here. I'm talking about integrating Internet business models, an intranet and an extranet into the very sinews of your organization. I want the VP of Strategic and Business Planning at Gateway Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. or Sun Microsystems Inc. calling you for a little back-channel advice on maintaining production velocity in the face of competing demands from Web-based and traditional operations.
And I'm not talking about some blue-sky wish list or management daydreaming, either. The rethinking required to achieve the kind of integration I'm talking about requires something quite rare. You need a management team that share an imagination informed by the business opportunities of the Internet and the possibilities for effective change in organizational structure, information management practices, company operations, the management model and your system of governance.
Creating such a team in some companies is next to impossible. While ignorance may be bliss in romantic relationships, it can often produce stultifying fear in senior management where the Internet is concerned. Here are some of the things you have to do to get your team up to speed.
Agree on what's sacred and what's profane. Sure, your corporate values, your credit rating and your brand are sacred. But what else? Prepared to risk a drop in share value, if that's what it takes to do the needful? How about that pitiful loser the founder's daughter is running into the ground? Can you kill that sucker with impunity or does it have to remain the centre of the company's constellation of "developing enterprises?" Is your company's organizational table carved in stone? Get agreement on a short list of the five things that are not going to change and move on.
Make sure you've got a shared vision of the customer. What percentage of your customer base is now on-line? What's their climb-aboard rate? Are you frequently surveying their requirements and preferences? Can you agree on where you're going to spend your marketing dollars between the marketplace and the marketspace? Can you agree on the customer segments to go after and which to leave behind? How about shared expectations on accessing brand new markets via the Internet?
Get some shared benchmarking experience. All of the smarts managers have used to exploit Internet technologies are out there. Your technology manager or CIO can set up some site visits and help you benchmark your operations against best of breed. Broaden the visits to include hot intranet sites being used in innovative ways to support a learning organization. Make sure you have a look at how companies are tuning up their ERP platforms to support Web-based transactions.
Run an informal scorecard on your current system of governance. Too much micro-management? Gaps in project oversight? Everybody happy with the way IT dollars are allocated? Everybody share the same vision of the CIO's role in business development? Sure you're watching the right things on aligning infrastructure investments with new e-business opportunities? Agreed on who's doing what and when on content management for your e-businesses?
Now you're ready to imagine the new possibilities for your company and to debate the integration issues that have to be addressed. Good Luck.
Chuck Belford is president of Management Smarts Inc., a Nepean, Ontario-based management consulting and training company. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.