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Lessons from ABCCo, Part I (first appeared in InfoWorld)

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Note from Bob: I bugged the CIO of the Amazingly Bright Colors Corporation (yes, the ABC Corporation you see in software demos). ABCCo is about to launch its new business strategy, which is fully buzzword compliant, but still pretty good. We’re going to listen in to the IS planning meeting. If you haven’t participated in a meeting like this one, chances are you will.

I think you’ll find the ABCCo experience instructive.

CIO: Okay, kids, let’s get started. I just got back from the executive retreat and we have a major change in direction to deal with.

Application Development Manager (ADM): Again? I thought that’s what we got last year. (Snorts and chuckles from around the room.)

CIO: I understand your skepticism, but I think they’re serious this time.

Operations Manager (OM): I’ll believe it when we see the money.

CIO: They’ve budgeted $20 million a year for the next three years.

ADM: Do we get any of it?

CIO: About a third.

(Whistles, grunts, throat-clearing.)

Database Administration Manager (DBA): Are we finally getting into eCommerce?

CIO: Yes, in a way, but let’s keep things straight. eCommerce isn’t a business strategy. It’s an enabler. Let me take five minutes to lay out the new strategy for you. Then we need to map out a plan.

First, let me give you some background: We’re crashing.

Process Redesign Manager (PRM): Crashing? We had record profits last year!

CIO: Profits are a rear-view mirror. Our leading indicators are all trending down. Our markets are fragmenting, our products are turning into commodities, and two whole industries we used to ignore compete with us in our best growth areas. If we don’t make some major changes in the next couple of years, all we’ll be is someone else’s subsidiary.

ADM: And the strategy is?

CIO: Depending on your guru, it’s called one-to-one or customer relationship management.

ADM: That’s it? Big deal — we’ll choose one of the big CRM packages and we’re done. I was hoping for something more substantial.

PRM: Don’t be a putz. It isn’t just software. We win by treating our customers better. That means process redesign and culture change programs, not just a software package.

DBA: And why do you want to buy a package, anyway? Every time we buy a package we have more problems with integration.

OM: Maybe, but every time we try to build something, the project ends up costing twice as much and taking twice as long as we thought … and all of the features we promised end up going into the “next release”.

CIO: Okay, stow it. You’re shooting at the wrong target anyway. It’s more than customer service enhancement. Marketing is going to redesign the way we relate to our customers. The CMO will join us later so everyone hears it the same way. To give you a hint of what we’re in for, his favorite saying is, “From now on, we’re Cheers, and every customer is Norm.”

We’re going to take a multi-pronged approach to this. Marketing and customer service are going to put together the customer relationship design. I wouldn’t be surprised if the two merged into one organization within a few months, by the way, but don’t spread that around.

Once they’ve put some shape to the new customer relationship, we’re going to figure out how our internal processes will have to change so the new relationship design isn’t built on a lot of empty promises.

That’s when we find out exactly what we have to do here in IS.

Here’s what we know for sure — we’re going to personalize customer interactions, we’re going to customize our products and services, we’re going to be working in marketing time, and our job is to stay off the critical path — nobody waits for us.

OM: Wait a minute. Marketing time?

CIO: Yes, marketing time. Have you heard of Internet time?

OM: Sure.

CIO: This is faster. Okay, let’s start planning …

That’s all we have time for this week. Stay tuned — next week, we overhear The Plan.