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In this issue:
We're actively soliciting articles and article ideas for using technology to improve our own (and our clients') efficiency. Check out the journal's Web site at www.jmcforum.com/jmc for more information.
Extending the greetings of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, I had the pleasure of visiting the Osaka Chamber of Commerce the early part of October.
They've got an exciting business matching program called APV (Asian Pacific Ventures) I wanted to tell you about that has enjoyed phenomenal success the past several years.
It's a well-organized high-tech business plan presentation event that resulted in 386 individual business talks for the 29 companies selected (of 89 applicants worldwide) to present in 1996. Some major licensing and other commercialization contracts have resulted from these talks.
This year's program took place October 23 and 24, and the focus is on information and communications; medical and health care; environmental; and advanced materials. Too late for this year, but if any of you are developing a technology that you feel has good market potential in Japan and are in need of venture funding or a business partner, you've got a whole year to polish up your business plans and presentation skills. For more information, check out http://www.osaka-cci.go.jp/apv/ and go to Report on APV 96. There's an e-mail link to send English-language inquiries.
While some bemoan the intrusion and frivolity of the e-mail activity they see, let me describe how putting a cyber-spin on my communications - professional and personal - has simplified my life and saved me tons of money while at the same time freeing up precious extra moments to "stop and smell the roses."
And, lest you think otherwise, you are hereby informed that I do not fit the demographic profile of the typical cyber enthusiast... being of the "gentler" gender with plenty of gray hair that betrays my pre-boomer birth.
Saving time. Saving money. All while doing business "cheaper, faster, better." The Holy Grail of managers everywhere.
For me, e-mail epitomizes life in the fast lane...breaking down the barriers of time and space and opens up possibilities undreamed of 'way less than a generation ago. Remember when fax machines first came out? Wow. We were impressed with how we could send the written word or a diagram at the speed (and cost) of a phone call! And, the recipient would have a physical document that looked somewhat like the original, albeit a bit jagged and on funny "paper" that could withstand neither sunlight nor the ravages of time.
We've come a long way, you 'n me, baby.
Now, I collaborate electronically with clients, vendors and colleagues around the world... indifferent to time zones, to the cost, frequency and potential imposition of communication, and to the labor/logistics involved in editing text, graphics or databases. Here's a whirlwind tour of some of my favorite business cyber-interactions.
I fire up my e-mail program while downing my 3rd or 4th cup of java (sorry, techno-savvy readers). Aha! A research request from a long-time client in Osaka, sent a couple of hours ago. Quick turn-around. They need the latest 10K filings and some "quick and dirty" market size information for a dozen companies. Can I locate and deliver it to them in 48 hours? No contract, just budget. I press the RETURN button, type out "Sure thing" and shoot it back.
Total time? Under one minute -- reading AND replying. No paper, no international phone call, no mail-merge letter to write a formal acceptance. I have a time-stamped electronic file of his request and he has a copy of his original message at the bottom of my reply. Helpful in the event he reneges. Nah, he wouldn't do that. But if he did...
Later that same day, I download the requested information from various sites on the World Wide Web (for free!) and attach them to an e-mail message saying "Done deal; pay me." He's got two messages from me waiting when he logs on in the morning (after I've gone home for the day here in Chicago): (1) my acceptance and (2) the finished report. The funds are wired to our corporate account by the end of the week and we're both happy. Time and cost of the transaction part of the deal? Practically nil, on either side. Paper? Nope. Everything's safely tucked away on a Zip disk. He's got a copy, I've got a copy and no trees have died. If my client wanted, he could transmit exact duplicates of the report to any number of colleagues and never even have to fire up the copier.
Everyone talks about customer focus, customer delight, one-to-one marketing. What better way to get "share of mind" than to respect your customers' time, effort, overhead and need for information and communication than through a non-intrusive medium such as e-mail? It waits silently and patiently for the recipient to retrieve it and respond or not, as they wish. I've exchanged as many as seven messages with a client in a single day. He and I were both in and out of meetings that day; we'd never connect "live" by phone, voice messages would not have left an electronic "paper" trail for future reference and faxing would have been unduly cumbersome for both of us. Technological issues of security aside, the only eyes that see my e-mail messages are mine.
E-mail also saves me from myself. My desk isn't called The Black Hole on a whim. Incoming and outgoing messages are filtered into virtual folders and mailboxes automatically. Some folders are nested one inside the other, and I automatically sort messages by date, sender, subject and a bunch of other criteria with a single mouse click. Try doing that with bent, folded, stapled and otherwise mutilated pulp-based file folders, papers and sticky notes. Productivity improvement? Oh, yes indeedy.
On the subject of productivity, do you get reams of junk mail, or junk faxes? Well, getting rid of junk e-mail (or spam, in techno-lingo) is a pleasure. I've set up my filters tp send some span directly into the trash. For the others that do get through these virtual strainers, the trash can is a mouse click away, and I don't even have to reach over and toss it in. What fun!
Even more fun is the marketing benefit I get through our e-mail newsletter. It costs nothing for clients, colleagues, prospects -- or anyone, for that matter -- to subscribe, and very little to send. It's informative, stimulates inquiries, interactive discussion and visits to our Web site. It keeps us visible and has actually resulted in new business...and our forests remain intact.
On the personal side, e-mail's interactivity enables discussion ranging from the merely social to the absolutely sublime.
A relative in Breckenridge, a friend in London. Little notes saying hi, maybe an electronic musical postcard or a virtual bouquet.
There's my kid brother. We "talk" more now than ever. He e-mails me some great cyberjokes or I update him on family matters and next thing you know, we're talking by phone. Getting connected. Staying connected.
Then there's forming NEW connections via chats & discussion groups, all through the ubiquitous keyboard.
There's even room for the sublime. Let me tell you about a series of experimental on-line bible study groups I've participated in. Made up of Christians of all colors, ages, experience and location. Moderated by an American Baptist Pastor in Northern California; participants include a Pastor of a Free Methodist church in the U.K., a Catholic in Chicago, a recovering addict, ..... all united in the very personal search for spiritual growth. Subscribers, 160+, from South Korea to the Phillippines, New Zealand and the U.K. Within 3 days, there was trust enough that several participants asked their virtual friends for prayers and guidance. Powerful? Immeasurable value? You bet!
Don't get me wrong. E-mail is still an imperfect medium, designed by imperfect mortals. Its uses range from the sublime to the ridiculous. It can be your obedient servant (I like that, I like that a LOT) or it can enslave you. It can become an electronic tether - but only if you let it. (Just say NO!).
We are all connected (or will be, eventually) ... just not quite the way the telephone company expected.
Take with a hefty amount of salt grains the proclamations the author makes on the way the Web is going.
Optimism: "There are an infinite number of ideas in the universe waiting to be discovered.." And earlier: "A person who is in charge of Web strategy for a corporation must be constantly on the lookout for better ways to market products...new ways to bring in revenue. The discovery of such ideas brings growth. And it might not even be growth at a competitor's expense, but fresh growth that expands, not redivides, the economic pie." As in "a rising tide raises all boats."
Nine principles are all valid & some challenge entrenched "truths" people believe in.
First principle: "The Quantity of People Visiting Your Site Is Less Important Than the Quality of Their Experience." Current ad rates are based on number of impressions. Not so, says the author: "All eyeballs aren't created equal" is a section in the chapter on his Second Principle ("Marketers Shouldn't Be on the Web for Exposure, but for Results."
We certainly agree with this observation. Certainly the market for management consulting is far smaller than for flowers, books or chili sauce. People always asks us about the number of "hits" or site gets. Believe me, that's not our criterion for success.
We violate his third principle ("Consumers Must Be Compensated for Disclosing Data About Themselves"), at least in principle (excuse the pun). That is, our guestbook form asks for "name, rank and serial number," so to speak, and won't allow any message to be sent until address information is filled out. This is to make visitors think twice before sending nasty messages - not that we've gotten any (knock on wood!).
On the other hand, we've titled the "message" section "Extra Credit Question" and ask visitors "If there were one thing you could do to improve your organization, what would that be?" Could be construed as being pretty nosy, especially since we don't offer anything additional in return...although our site offers a lot of information to all visitors, free, at the click of their mouse button.
Remarkably, a hefty percent of the people filling out the form *do* take the time to think through and respond to this question. And there's a mutual benefit: *we* can reply to their specific interests and *they* have had to reflect enough to formulate a brief, focused response...not always an easy task.
Principle Five, "Self-Service Provides for the Highest Level of Customer Comfort" is definitely right on. Why call an 800 number and get four levels of menu to track a shipment if you can dial into a Web site and see for yourself where it is, if it got there, and who signed for it...in half the time? That's why we installed a simple search engine on each page of our Web site and, in fact, used it ourselves in writing a couple of proposals.
Principles Six (""Value-Based Currencies" Enable You to Create Your Own Monetary System") and Seven ("Trusted Brand Names Matter Even More on the Web") each contain a wealth of creative ideas, although I personally think his report of e-currencies' death to be highly exaggerated.
Principle Eight is only a bit of an exaggeration, although it may seem a lot so at first ("Even the Smallest Business Can Compete in the Web's Global "Marketspace"). No, that's not a typo. "Marketspace" is the virtual world of information, where businesses compete today in parallel with the physical world of tangible resources. Negligible cost of e-mail vs. international phone and fax. Downloadable software and subscription information may be replicated at will and delivered around the globe while consuming next to no physical resouces (and therefore incurring next to no costs to the supplier). A paradise.
Reality -- and the potential for Paradise Lost -- sets in with Principle Nine: "Agility Rules-Web Sites Must Continually Adapt to the Market." It's a buyer's market, where consumers could have at their fingertips practically perfect market information for comparing prices, specifications and other criteria for getting the best deal. Efficient markets? Oh, yes! Will you get left behind if you don't keep up with the digital Joneses? Yes, indeed. Webonomics is *not* your father's economics. It's a brave new world. And this book gives some great insights into just how brave (i.e. not be afraid of failure; the Web's a great place for trial-and-error on the cheap) and new the World of the Wide Web can be.
"Dilemmas" is designed to stimulate conversation between and among fellow consultants, our clients and prospects, and others who wish to leap in.
Consultants, let's discuss what you would have done. You may post your comments and observations at our Web site by linking from http://www.techmanage.com/dilemmas or send me an e-mail, letting me know if you'd like it posted, if you can't get to our site.
"Competitive Bidding, or Merely a Lottery"
A public organization puts out a request for proposal, and you are one of a limited number of consultants invited to bid.
You've worked for this client before, so you have a pretty good idea of who the other three or four other bidders might be. You know their strengths and weaknesses, and you are firmly convinced that your strengths far outweigh those of the other bidders.
You put your heart and soul into the proposal, offering the latest efficiencies you've put into place through technology. You even offer a couple of additional deliverables to the specifications that you know will be of significant value to the organization, enhancements made possible through your advanced software and considerable knowledge of this particular industry. You're confident that your approach is so far superior that the other bidders will be left eating your dust.
In fact, you're right. The bids were opened and of the four bidders, you and another were VERY close on price, one of the other two bids was absurdly high, the other absurdly low. Your prospective client was truly impressed by your proposal compared with the other, and said so. Because the two bids were so close, you and the other bidder (whom you don't know for sure, but have a pretty good idea) were asked to submit a sealed "best and final" offer. Your enhancements would have increased the value of the deliverables by nearly $5,000, yet you lost the contract because your bid price was several hundred dollars more than the other bidder.
Whatever happened to QBC (Quality Based Contracting)? After all, this *wasn't* purely price, because one bidder meeting the minimal requirements came in substantially lower. No adequate response. Perhaps this was "wired" right from the beginning. Win some, lose some.
A couple of days later, a telephone call. Would you be interested in bidding on another project? Of lesser amount and not requiring nearly the sophistication of the first project. A commodity-type service that many other firms could easily deliver as well.
Consultants? What would you do? Dutifully prepare a proposal and hope to get "lucky" this time, maybe in the hopes of getting your foot back in the door? Tell the prospective client to take a flying leap?
Clients? What might have been your rationale for accepting merely adequate work, rather than receiving additional information and services that would have enhanced your competitiveness and taken you to a higher level of capabilities? If your selection process is based purely on cost, why would you ask a consulting firm to bid on work that could be done by temporary workers hired from a personnel agency?
Please visit our Web site to reply or send an e-mail to the editor, with "Bid or lottery" in the subject line. By interacting with each other on issues we all encounter, we'll all learn. Looking forward to your responses!
Technology Management Associates, Inc.
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