Convulsive Change

Amoco Chemical Far East Office SignIt’s been about 15 years or so since the rise and subsequent collapse of the dot-com bubble. This period was marked by some dramatic successes (think Amazon.com and eBay) and some spectacular failures. Who remembers the sock puppet from Pets.com? Clearly there were overhyped expectations that, in many cases, were impossible to live up to. But despite the volatile nature of the journey at times, some of the lessons learned from the winners include:

  • Listen to your customers and anticipate their needs, even before they can articulate them.
  • Look for trends in other industries that you could apply to your own.
  • Observe what is happening with market share and take proactive steps to secure your niche.

Perhaps the most important takeaway is that real innovation frequently comes from outside the norm.

History has shown that innovation in the IT realm and the lead in applying these tools has not always been driven by from traditional IT companies, like IBM or Microsoft. One example is when SAP and Oracle became available on client server platforms that would facilitate integration with warehousing systems. Purchasing platforms came about where you could go to a website and order office supplies and hook your purchasing system into purchasing arenas (like Grainger). Then fast-forward to using Oracle to reengineer your business process so the technology could easily matched up invoices, receiving documents, etc. What a novel concept—reengineering work processes so the right info was set up at the front end, thereby maximizing technology and reducing time, expenditure of human resources and the potential for error.

There have been similarly experiences with knowledge work. Look at today’s workforce, working anywhere, anytime in the cloud. When I was at Amoco (now merged with BP), in 1989-90 working with their Hong Kong office. I made a couple of trips to Hong Kong and their representative came here. We were looking for a way to communicate internationally and wanted an IT solution that included email, word processing, and spreadsheets. IBM’s solution was something like $400,000 to implement. Instead, we put in a Novell network, which was pretty new at the time, for significantly less. This gave our Amoco Hong Kong based staff a precursor to VOIP (voice over internet protocol) that was literally channeled through a wire at the bottom of the ocean. Spending $10,000 per month on a data and voice line to Hong Kong not only met their business needs, but allowed employees to tap into the business line from home to connect with family overseas. The decision to go with the next generation solution was easy.

Once again, we are in a period of what I refer to as convulsive change in the IT department. We like to think it’s all new, but it’s not. As the great Yogi Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”



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