People pressures, unstoppable events tax CIOs

IS YOUR COMPANY doing the right thing to be successful? What will be important for success tomorrow, five or 10 years into the future? Will the elements you plug into the equation for success -- the products you sell, the customers you serve -- remain the same? Don't count on it.

Enterprise resource planning. Supply chain management. Data mining. Knowledge Management. Customer Relationship Management. We know what you're thinking. These applications have been touted for years and any decent-sized company with a modicum of high tech savvy has long since jumped all over them. But here's the big question: have they paid off?

Many find that these much-hyped, high profile systems can create minefields. Too often there is little return to show for the expense.

But some find they are roaring successes that boost the bottom line big time. How do you make sure you end up on the winning side?

Often the companies that have succeeded with these applications do so by throwing out the rule book and applying the same levels of creativity, resourcefulness and adaptability that lead them to success in other areas. In other words, in many cases computerisation is one way the dynamic get more dynamic. The only way to constantly hit the moving target of success is to make your business model move faster.

Value vs speed

In fast-moving markets what really matters is market value -- and the ability of a business that is designed to create and capture that value.

Are you meeting your customers' needs? Have you chosen the right customers to serve?

For most companies, building strong customer relationships with the "right" customers in an era of intense competition represents a significant challenge. But today, even the rules of competition are changing. Make no mistake, the Internet has fundamentally changed the way we conduct business and we're never going back.

But it's also a fallacy to believe that technology is also going to change the culture of a company. Some companies spend an awful lot of money on technology that does little good and wastes time, while others are actually making the cultural changes that will make these information-age technologies fly.

Technology will accelerate changes that are underway, and it certainly allows the flattening of organisations. But it doesn't do it all by itself. Organisational leaders must have the will to make the cultural changes and then technology should make it a lot easier.

Watching brief

Some CIOs believe that the best defence is to monitor changes in technology and wait for answers to emerge. Waiting on the sidelines and watching competitors crumble is not a winning business model.

No one needs to understand the interplay between today's dynamic business environment and the fast-paced IT industry better than the CIO -- the person charged with managing technology and the corporate network.

CIOs will continue to be confronted with multiple pressures on their IT strategies and investments. Some of these will arise from unstoppable events in the outside world, others from revolutionary changes in the IT and communications industries or from forces within enterprises themselves.

In bygone days, when mainframes and PCs were barely noticed in the workplace, it all seemed a lot simpler. Today's IT industry is a staggering inventory of competing products and a range of both familiar and unfamiliar vendors.

The industry is now in a period of accelerating change -- a period characterised by "waves of creative destruction", to use a phrase of Karl Shumpeter. The industry most affected is the personal computer sector. The PC has peaked out and is heading into decline. Something new is being born and all the companies that made money off the PC boom are struggling to diversify --several of them are actually dead but won't go away.

Many don't die, they just to into twilight purgatory -- but you can see each company angling to identify the next curve and then try and jump on board. Speed in many cases comes more naturally to the smaller companies that have nothing invested in the old world.

No sleight of hand

There's no magic today to what we do: it's just applied common sense. The competitive push is everywhere, from innovations to slim and modernise the PC, to casting a security net around sensitive company data. From marketing of products via global electronic markets, to forming relationships with competitors to establish procurement portals. And of course we always have the outsourcers breathing down our necks.

Be aware, I'm not sure that this is a dynamic business environment and that all the announcements from vendors are not set in stone. Some will scale their plans up or down. Others will announce new strategies over the next few months. And most will eventually change their roles as time passes and as e-business models evolve.

Customers will have instant access to extensive information about the price, features and functions of products and services, which will provide them with greater control than ever before. Customer expectations about speed, service and quality will continue to rise, while customer loyalty grows increasingly unpredictable.

One thing is clear: to succeed in today's business environment companies must take an "outside in" view of their organisations and build systems and capabilities that allow them to understand the customer and to commit the organisation to delivering a personalised service.

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