posted 1 Apr 2000 in Volume 3 Issue 7
Book review: Mastering the Digital
TITLE: Mastering the Digital Marketplace
AUTHOR: Douglas F. Aldrich
PUBLISHER: John Wiley & Sons, 1999
Three areas deserve close attention as you attempt to develop your business into an e-business:
Many business leaders understand that IT investment, combined with cultural and business model change, can reduce the price of a product – by substituting cheaper information resources for more costly physical ones. But related strategies are generally not so well understood. Perhaps this is down to novelty (what is the difference between ‘container’ and ‘content’), or perhaps as humans we just have difficulty grappling with the impact of logarithmic, as opposed to geometric, rates of change. Does your staff understand the depth to which the Internet has changed business? Is your organisation building a strategic vision for IT? Do you understand the value of customer information, and how to evolve and manage relationships with customers, partners and employees?
If the answer to the above questions is no, then the first e-step for you in this journey might be to read Mastering the Digital Marketplace: Practical Strategies for Competitiveness in the New Economy, by Douglas Aldrich. Aldrich is a vice-president and managing director of the Global Strategic IT Practice at consulting firm A.T. Kearney. This book is his attempt to describe a framework for readers to begin thinking about transforming existing products, services, culture and industry to meet the new customer demands in a digital economy:
- The value of time, and the demand for faster products and services
- Physical product vs content (information, knowledge, or a service that adds value)
- Transforming data ‘into the stuff great business decisions are made
- Why The Rules Have Changed So Dramatically
- Building a ‘digital value network’.
Chapters include: An Overview of the Digital Marketplace, Intelligent Products, Intelligent Markets, Intelligent Organisations, Mastering the Digital Marketplace and Intelligent Society. The author makes good use of fresh case studies that add zest, broadening the discussion beyond the usual (digital) suspects: Ford, Dell, Cisco, Amazon, and eBay. The Mobil SpeedPass program, for example, is explored in some detail. There is informed discussion of Law and Public Policy in the Digital Economy, and a study of digitally-driven change in industries like education, health care and US Federal Tax Collection practices.
The author draws inspiration from futurists like Alvin Toffler (Future Shock) and Nicholas Negroponte (Being Digital), and balances this with lots of his own keen observations. In one striking section, on p.116, there is a discussion about collaborative electronic commerce. This segues into the experience of Crusade-era Christian merchants in Spain and Italy who built ‘communities of interest with Muslim neighbours’ a thousand years ago. Aldrich draws three lessons from this:
- Riches gained by exploring terra nova come from unexpected findings rather
than from reaching anticipated goals
- More can be learned from your trading partners than from adversaries
- Venturesome traders can learn capabilities that set them apart from more indecisive rivals
Aldrich correctly senses new discussions are beginning in electronic marketplaces. Recently in the US, the Cluetrain Manifesto (www.cluetrain.com) has generated a lot of discussion around this point. Today’s corporate intranets and extranets serve to isolate organisations from their customers, rather than to foster community, dialogue, learning and participation. Unfortunately, like his brief discussion of knowledge management, Aldrich does not go into a lot of detail on this.
Mastering The Digital Marketplace, taken by itself, probably will not get you all the way to ‘mastery’. But the book, in particular the section entitled ‘The Digital Marketplace Diagnostic’, may prove valuable to readers who want to get started assessing their own readiness in regards to positioning, organisation, product offering and so on. No small task; but this work is worth doing well. Warren McFarlane, a popular professor at Harvard Business School has said recently: “How will you stay in business if the price of your product is zero? If you don’t have a strategy to answer this question, you don’t have a strategy for the information age.”
The book provides a fine sense of the new challenges of KM, the Internet and e-business. Indeed, you may learn from the plight of John Dawson, fictional CEO of @WarpSpeed, who is vacating his office in the book’s opening chapter. Dawson, in an introspective moment, wonders why he did not take the time to read Mastering The Digital Marketplace himself during his failed tenure at the helm of the company:
“Dawson exited the office in a somewhat awkward silence. As he walked across the parking lot, he disappointingly reflected on what he’d seen in the table of contents of that book. The book that had remained unread for two long-and for him, incredibly difficult-years. Two words formed in his mind, and wouldn’t go away: If only...”
Alden Globe, J.D., is a principal of Senseiis Inc, an intranet software and consulting firm. He can be contacted at:firstname.lastname@example.org