No. 2: July 1994
New Tools in the Quest for Competitiveness
Telework and Teletrade
Exploiting the Internet
The quest for competitiveness is high on most senior management agendas. Programmes such as downsizing, TQM and business process reengineering,
when properly applied, are contributing to significant increases in productivity.
But true competitiveness in world markets requires much more. Firms must become more innovative and adaptable to changing markets and customer needs.
The Promise and Failure of IT
Supporting many of the performance improvements is information technology. Its capabilities increase by leaps and bounds, year in year out. For example, electronic networking has made many of the information handling functions of middle management superfluous. Similarly, shared data-bases and automated information flows have streamlined business processes.
But all is not rosy. There have been several highly publicised failures of new systems, costing their organisations millions of pounds. Less visible, but present in most firms are the hidden costs of poor information management, of which the following are common symptoms:
- missed opportunities, competitive threats, and unanticipated events
- information overload yet lack of vital market intelligence
- inability to quickly locate information that exists within the organisation
- customers with inadequate responses to legitimate queries.
- fragmentation and duplication of information
- management reports that don't tell you what you need to know.
So why is it, that IT, with all its promise is often not delivering improvements in business performance anticipated?
The Nub of the Problem
At the heart of many failures to exploit IT to the full is the undue emphasis on the logical and the rational (segment A in figure). This is evident in the language used by IT professionals - software engineering, business analysis. Not that this is inherently wrong. What is also needed, though, is a complementary focus on the intuitive, social and human aspects of computer systems. These are behind the next revolution in IT.
The Next Revolution
- The future contribution of IT to business improvement lies in three areas (see diagram):
- 1. Switching the emphasis on to the I in IT, i.e. information, through better information management and information leverage (segment B).
- 2. Enhancing human interaction, giving individuals access to experts through electronic networks, such as the Internet (segment C).
- 3. Enriching the individual and group processes by which new knowledge is generated (segment D).
In other words, the focus will be on managing, developing and exploiting two key competitive resources of any organisation - information and knowledge.
Currently few organisations yet systematically manage information as they do more tangible resources. Some of the paths to effective Information Resources Management (IRM) are:
- identifying an individual to be responsible for IRM policy and standards for good practice
- an information inventory e.g. as a result of an information audit, that identifies costs and value of internally held information and its potential for repackaging and resale as a revenue stream
- systematic scanning and integration of external information with internal information
- juxtaposing hard (factual) and soft (judgmental) information
- information gateways to external sources
- use of effective information management techniques - blending the logic of information systems specialists, with the craft of information scientist (librarians)
- integration of appropriate technologies e.g. Executive Information Systems, groupware, CD-ROMs, on-line data-bases
Above all, information should flow into management processes and inform important decisions.
Enhancing Human Interaction
Information and telecommunications technologies are making it easier for people to work together irrespective of geographic location and time.
Electronic networks can give access to experts on a world-wide basis.
Teams can work together without being together.
At one level IT supports the processes of organising information, sourced from global electronic networks. At a higher level, IT supports the human interaction needed to turn such information into actionable intelligence. It is here that 'groupware', computer conferencing and group decision support systems come into play.
With a combination of the right technology and the appropriate processes, significant improvements in the speed and quality of decision making can been achieved.
There are a growing number of computer software tools that help individuals and group develop and enhance knowledge, through the different stages of knowledge generation:
- idea generation: programmes such as IdeaFisherTM that trigger ideas for common problems such as developing marketing campaigns
- organising ideas: conceptual mapping software such as COPE that structures concepts and analyses the linkages. Update (1999) - COPE has evolved into Decision Explorer
- group decision support systems (GDSS): that allow brainstorming, agenda setting, and voting in a group setting (e.g. Group Systems V)
- model building: programmes such as iThink TM that use systems dynamic techniques
as well as many others for analysis of patterns in data, information visualisation, forecasting using neural networks etc.
There is no doubt, that sensibly applied, the approaches briefly outlined above can significantly improve business performance - in terms of time to market, improved customer satisfaction, innovative marketing.
This article has given just a glimpse of some newer ways that IT can help the quest for competitiveness. Related Topics:
Some of the products and services that should be of interest to innovative businesses:
M.A.I.D. - Combined searches of multiple databases of market and business information. Also feeds to Lotus Notes.
First! - A personalised electronic daily news services from Individual Inc. Incorporates user relevance feedback.
Quest4 - A CD-ROM intelligence service on IT trends from Spikes Cavell.
Oracle MediaTM - Multimedia database servers that 'enable the information age' using information superhighways.
MecklerWeb - A network for commercial services on the Internet.
These are just some developments identified from our continuous monitoring of useful tools for improved decision making. We can help you evaluate such tools and introduce them into your management processes.
Update (August 1999) - many of these have now evolved or are superceded, e.g. First! has been subsumed into the services of DeskTop Data.
Telework and Teletrade - Many Benefits but Low Adoption
These are the conclusions from studies carried out by Brameur and Management Technology Associates for the DTI and Institute of Management. Key findings were:
- Telework delivers benefits of costs savings, productivity and flexibility
- Only 1 in 20 companies has adopted teleworking as a regular aspect of management policy
- Open electronic networking creates significant business opportunities for the buying, selling, delivery and customer service.
Telework simply moves work around to where people have access via electronic networks. Teletrade is the use of electronic networking to achieve business results across organisation boundaries.
Together, they play a key role in increasing competitiveness in global markets.
More rapid acceptance of telework and teletrade requires a change of attitudes and appropriate training.
The Internet is the fastest growing global information highway. Commercial users now outnumber academic users. The number of users, over 20 million, grows at over 1 million each month. For business it can help in these areas:
- Identifying new opportunities
- Creating global partnerships
- Improving information gathering efficiency
- Working collaboratively in dispersed teams
- Improving customer liaison
However, one colleague describes the Internet as a medium with a high 'noise-to-signal ratio'. What should a business do? See I3 UPDATE No. 3 or contact us.
© Copyright, 1994. David Skyrme Associates Limited and Authors - All rights reserved.
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I3 UPDATE is a publication of David Skyrme Associates Limited - providers of market studies, consultancy and strategic advice in knowledge
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