It’s been an interesting decade so far. We have seen the end of the Cold War, the Gulf War, and the Middle East War. The defense budget is dropping like a barometer in Bali, and we are retooling our factories to the realities of peace: Our salesmen now sell butter, not guns. We face other national problems-including health-care reform-but they are starting to look more like challenges than threats.
So, as forward-thinking CEOs, what will you do that’s new in 1994?
Welcome to the last untamed frontier, the shimmering shibboleth, the Great Unknown. I refer, of course, to what happens in a company when you, as CEO, start using your own personal computer.
Now I, too, have seen grown men blanch at this point. “Not the C-word,” they say. “Anything but the C-word. Give me price wars, hostile takeovers, black knights, bluemail, Greenpeace, but don’t ask me to turn on that horrible little box they put on my credenza when I was on vacation last summer. The one that the pimply, stuttering youth tiptoed in to explain to me. When he left the room I crept over to the machine, and it started gibbering at me: ‘BIOS…ROM… BOOT…DOS…WINDOWS.”‘
Everything worthwhile hurts at first. So while you’re recovering from the holiday cheer, consider these New Year’s resolutions:
1.I will become the executive computer user role model.
How can the others be persuaded to follow if you’re shivering in the back?
2.I will use the latest hardware.
Tell them you want a 486DX laptop with 12Mb RAM, 200Mb disk, TEI color screen, PCMIA slots, integral trackball, and V32bis modem, that plugs into a desk docking station with CDROM player, personal laser printer, and LAN connection. Don’t worry about what it means, just send them the memo and bask in their admiration of your technosavvy.
3. I will use the latest operating software.
This still means Windows, despite vendor protestations to the contrary. It will take you only several minutes to see how “pointing and clicking” with that trackball is easier than using the keyboard, but it will take you several months to discover that you can throw away all your paper-based office systems instead of merely duplicating them.
4.I will use the latest application software.
What does that mean? Electronic mail, discussion data bases, contact tracking, word processing, executive information, and competitor intelligence would be a good start.
5.I will not use a spreadsheet.
I can’t think of anything useful a CEO would do with a spreadsheet that wouldn’t be better performed by his or her expert staff. Many CEOs have drawn a fatal conclusion about spreadsheets: If you can’t benefit from a spreadsheet, you can’t benefit from a computer. That’s like refusing to visit Rome because you don’t like spaghetti.
6. I will start using electronic mail.
E-mail is a level-buster, a time-shifter, a space-twister, and a barrier-melter. Employees can send their “bright ideas” to you-or to each other. Time-shifting means you can work at home at 6 a.m. Space-twisting allows you to work anywhere-including planes, trains, and automobiles-and barrier-melting means you can communicate directly with suppliers and customers.
7.I will pioneer contact tracking to increase corporate revenues.
The majority of computer applications has been justified on the basis of improving information flow or (allegedly) reducing costs. But it’s much more interesting to use computers to increase revenues (look at the American Airlines SABRE reservation system, for example). One of the best ways is to provide a tenfold increase in the productivity of the sales force by equipping it with a contact tracking system. Why not try it yourself?
8.I will use executive information to look into the future. Install an EIS that helps you assess the chances of meeting year-end forecasts and beyond, and determine the credibility of subsidiary management and competitor threats.
9.I will implement my resolutions today and ask for them to be done by tomorrow. Time’s a’wasting, and your competitors are on the move. Besides, nothing on the above list should take more than three months to implement. After all, it’s 1993 not 1953, and you are the CEO.
And if your CIO says it can’t be done? Well, many products on the market today fit the bill and don’t cost a fortune. To put it in perspective, I’m sitting at my home in Wimbledon, typing this article into Lotus Notes on a Toshiba color laptop. In five minutes I’ll dial up my office (it’s 9 p.m. here) and transmit the text. It will be forwarded automatically to my secretary in New York, who will take it on disk from 900 Third Avenue to Chief Executive at 733 Third Avenue.
For my executive information, I use two compatible Windows products, Empower and the Enterprise Knowledge Server. If I’m concerned about the future performance of our unit in New York, I can look at the trends and forecasts, call up a graph, drop it into my Notes message, and send it to our executive in charge-from my home, when I feel like it, and when I have the chance to sit back and think. I also can send E-mail messages to many of my CEO customers, and if I’m traveling to Peoria next week, I can look up on my contact data base who else I might visit there.
And just think, my company is probably under 1 percent of the size of yours. Happy New Year’s Revolution.
Robert Bittlestone is founder and chief executive of Metapraxis, a London and New York-based consulting group specializing in performance measurement and strategic control.