The “Heads-Up” Enterprise

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A long time ago a friend of mine who was a bit of a techno-geek, told me that computers were essentially pretty thick. All they could do was recognise zeroes and ones, so that what might appear to be an intelligent reaction to some human stimulus, was in reality just the clever guess work of the programmer.

It always struck me as odd in the late 1990’s when at IBM, that despite the legendary computing power, even sufficient to beat a chess grand-master; when it came down to it, the left and right hands of any of the thousands of business units were invariably out of kilter. This leant considerable weight to my friend’s argument about the innate stupidity of computers. Is this why, I wonder, that the brave new world of the ‘sense-and-respond’ or ‘adaptive enterprise’ remains as rare as hen’s teeth?

Is there change afoot?



Business Intelligence (BI) has been around for a while too, and despite one or two well publicised stories of beers and nappies (diapers) or the million plus alternative and customised offers from Tesco Online; for the rest of us mortals and as one COO of a major UK retailer told me, ”we don’t really know what to do with the results and we don’t believe them anyway.”

I’m sure that those who doggedly persist with their BI initiatives will in time extract enormous value from them. At enormous cost. Part of the challenge, of course is in pooling data sources from sometimes hundreds of different systems across a major enterprise. A recent survey by Accenture of middle managers from 1000 companies in the USA and UK, showed that the majority spent up to 2 hours a day trying to piece together information from colleagues reluctant to share it.

I interviewed the CIO of a major telecom company a few months ago, and he told me proudly that that after spending several £millions on integrating data on consumer customers, they now had a reasonably accurate name and address which the marketing department might use to annoy customers more effectively, with the wrong offers. This didn’t seem much more than a pyrrhic victory to me.

Customer feedback drives the ‘customer-back business’.

It’s easy to get cynical about new acronyms – just look at the hype around CRM in recent years, or the more arcane KM arena. Especially if you are British. Spare us a thought. It is after all intensely annoying that our American cousins always seem to beat us to the draw when it comes to cute technology. Perhaps we still dream wistfully of streets with a red telephone box on each corner and the step-on-step-off red London bus, that so characterised our culture.

Alas it’s happened again. I was quite bowled over by interviews with two Voice of the Customer champions – one at Ariba and the other at Honeywell last year. Both Roger Blumberg and Anthony Pichnarcik demonstrated that the ‘sense and respond’ organisation was alive after all, and not a figment of the overly fertile imagination of Professor Stephan Haeckel, formerly of IBM’s Advanced Business Institute and now leader of Adaptive Business Designs. In both cases the CEO provided the ‘missing link’ or as Professor Haeckel says:

‘Sense and Respond fills the adaptive management gap. It is a fundamentally different framework for on-demand, customer-back businesses; one that systematically leverages adaptive individuals, technologies and infrastructures to produce and scale adaptive organizational behavior’

To my mind this is what CRM is really all about. It also raises an interesting question.



Should firms (as predicted by analysts) put BI on top of the management agenda or Customer Feedback Management? If they are forced to choose, which is likely to offer the best or quickest payback? Should firms strive to do both?

I look forward to stoking the fires of debate again, but until then, anyone else got any views on this? Clearly I am biased ?

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