Dichotomies begin to occur when environmental changes do not occur as foreseen or at the rate expected by the strategy makers, as also when the outcomes of IT initiatives are measured independently of the fundamentals in strategy that led to their formulation in the first place. This essay takes up two cases from the May and October 2001 issues of CIO Magazine. It studies the dilemmas, even predicaments faced by pioneers who took far-reaching initiatives in their business and IT strategy and analyzes their success or lack thereof vis--vis their formulation, execution, and goal achievement.
In the first instance, (Worthen) Jack Lowry, a much experienced and competent IT professional joined the Goldman Industrial Group of Vermont, a consortium of machine tool manufacturers as VP for IT. It was for him an opportunity to give shape to his dream, "a truly collaborative computing environment", (Worthen) which would integrate all group companies, as also link up with existing and potential buyers and sellers. With the support of Mark Swift, the Group President, Jack and his team burnt two years and four million dollars to put up a well-
grounded, state of the art, comprehensively integrated system on an AS/400 platform. The new technology infrastructure connected an abundance of desk PCs and factory workstations with CAD and PDM systems as well as to an ERP system, linked to the Company's e-commerce website. With this investment in effort, time and money, the Company now had the collaborative infrastructure in place for some truly awesome link-ups with partners and customers and, in so doing, cut the manufacturing cycle to a quarter of the original.
To everyone's surprise, the collaborations did not happen. While Lowry and Swift, on realizing the predicament, worked hard at getting customers and suppliers to access their brand new system, most of the people reached, though seemingly interested were loath to commit. Reasons for this tepidity in response have ranged from genuine roadblocks in the integrating of disparate ERP systems to the fear of layoffs in mid-level employees, the disinclination to fork out money on expensive software, and the impracticality of expecting a number of companies to collaborate on linked computing at the same level. Lowry and Swift are making steady headway in their mission to reach out to their suppliers and customers but the institutionalization of collaborative computing on a truly grand scale does appear to be some distance hence.
The second case (Sawhney) deals with the difficulties faced by B2B trading exchanges and their demise or subsequent re-invention as top end software or process vendors. B2B trading exchanges, which appeared in good number in the late nineties, provided a common electronic platform for buyers and sellers to interact freely and close deals, with a success dependent transaction charge going to the exchange. With time, the exchanges planned to introduce value add-ons like supplier verification, buying credit, settlement and even logistics.
The business model did not work. Very few suppliers and buyers came forward to register and with investors backing off, the exchanges, short on cash started exiting the marketplace.
Why this Well, Mohanbir Sawhney, McCormick Tribune Professor