Book Offers Companies A Lifeline To Technology

ANCIENT man never imagined that two of the numerical symbols which he invented would trigger a cataclysmic change that would create for modern man a bridge to infinity. The numerals “1” and “0” are the basic bits that give life to complex structure of computers. Its combinations are infinite; it can represent anything and everything that man can think of. Because of this capability, it has rapidly spawned the creation of a technology that has changed the way man lives. As Alvin Toffler wrote in “The Third Wave,” “(computers) remain among the most amazing and unsettling of human achievements for they enhance mind power… and we do not know where our own minds will ultimately lead us.

The Digital Challenge

In the world of industry, computer technology has transformed business. In banks, Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), replacing live tellers, and spew out money in minutes. In supermarkets, bar-coded products pass through sensors to tally the bill. In the work place, disks replace piles of paper. Thus, to maintain the company’s competitiveness, more and more organizations are now being challenged to “digitize” (the newest buzzword in lieu of “computerize”)

In the book, “The Digital Organization,” James D. Best offers “digitally challenged” companies (in other words, companies which have not yet computerized their processes), a lifeline to using computer technology in their organizations. Best writes: “There is nothing mysterious or magical about computers. They can be managed as easily as other aspects of the corporations if you pay attention and manage consistently.” He believes that computer technology should be looked at like any other aspect of the company’s business and should be managed with the same intensity and management style as the other areas. He writes that “executives who understand the link between business and technology spend a significant amount of time on managing their computer investments.

Application to Business

Best, formerly the vice president of Computing and Network Organizations of Allied Signal, shares the framework that he used in aligning computer technology with his company’s business strategy. Allied Signal is composed of three different companies Bendix, Garrett and Allied Chemical which are into aerospace, automotive and engineered materials. Best’s framework involves three programs: using aggressive corporate technology initiatives; selecting the right technology and effectively managing computer people.

One initiative that worked successfully for Allied Signal was delivering business applications to the work place the fastest possible time and at the lowest possible cost. Seemingly a gargantuan task, Best was able to do so by adopting a novel technique: for rout nary business transactions, he used purchased software while for profit-generating transactions in sales, distribution, product development and other major business areas, he concentrated on custom development. Best writes that “Purchased software, along with common systems, gets answers out of the world of work faster and at less cost.” At the same time, custom development provided the company with its particular competitive edge.

The Right Technology

In terms of technology, Best considers e-mail as “the real impetus behind the transformation of his Computer Technology Center.” He narrated that “Network applications drove the company to PC-based e-mail and the corresponding standardization of the desktop. This shifted the orientation away from large-scale, central processors to the desktop and networking. Enterprise networking, groupware, Internet Web technology, and upgrading site infrastructure converted the center from data to computing technology.

Best advises companies not to be too ahead or too late in taking advantage of computer technology developments. He believes that both extremes are invitations to trouble. He relies on a Technology Maturity Model to determine when to buy computer hardware. In this model, he identifies three technology phases: emergence of the new products, commodity stabilization and obsolence/absorption. In the emergence phase, prices start high and product capability may not be very developed. In the middle phase, prices start to decline and the technology gets debugged. In the obsolence phase, the product is overtaken by a newer product with more sophisticated capabilities. He says it is important to buy at the middle phase rather than at the emergence or obsolesce phase. However, it mayt also be wise to buy at the emergence phase if the technology can give you a jump on your competition. He believes that not replenishing your company’s technology at the right moment will lead to the entire company going to intensive care.

Computer Professionals

Best believes that winning digital organizations know how to effectively manage their computer professionals and this means being able to engender cooperation among the specialists in the many disciplines in the computer field. It is also important to recognize who among your computer people are “dinosaurs, the seasoned professionals, or whippersnappers,” the younger set who enthusiastically push new technology. It is necessary to get a right balance of these two sets of computer professionals to get things accomplished the soonest possible time.

Best’s book will surely be heartily devoured by the computer whizzes in the industry. Executives may be interested to know that a global company did to successfully “digitize” and in the process achieve a competitive advantage. In the introduction, Best promised fun and came up with exciting titles. As to whether the rest of the book is, depends on who the reader will be. In any case, it’s a good reference to benchmark performance of a company’s computer technology group gor it lifts the veil of mystery on computers and computer professionals.

The Digital Organizations by James D. Best, John Wiley & Sons Inc.
1997, 234 pages

Author: Regina Galang Reyes. First published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer August 25, 1997

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Founding Editor, People at Work, Business, Phiippine Daily Inquirer

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