veryard projects - take the e-business challenge

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> key prerequisites
> new version of old fable
> why are we making this challenge?
> what is the nature of the challenge?
> how does it work?
> and if you fail?
> different industries and sectors
> collaboration invited
> how to order
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fortune cookies?

In a recent Sunday Times article, Giles Coren poked fun at "Poor Little e-Millionaires" - optimistic entrepreneurs who are worth a small fortune, but only on paperless paper.

According to one e-businessman quoted in the article, it's not easy being an internet millionaire. The low-hanging fruit have now all been harvested - so you have to climb higher up the tree to make a killing.

But that's not entirely true. There are ripe fruit within easy reach, for the right organization. However, in many industry sectors, the right organizations don't exist. Most organizations lack at least one of the four key prerequisites: size, vision, capability or courage.

 There are lots of simple ideas that don't come to anything.  But this doesn't mean we should give up on the simple ideas, and head for complicated ideas instead.  We draw the opposite conclusion - there is something seriously wrong with business organizations if they cannot make money from a simple yet powerful idea.

To demonstrate our strong belief in this hypothesis, we are issuing a Challenge to business organizations.

now read on ...

key prerequisites

In order to make money from business innovation, a company needs four key characteristics. Our belief is that most companies lack at least one of these characteristics.
Size For some business ideas, size matters. Large companies have large numbers of customers, well-known brand names, established reputations, and other relevant resources. Sometimes the only available channel for a small company is to partner with one or more large organizations, in order to gain access to the required resources.
Vision Many companies lack the imagination to come up with interesting business ideas, or the information to evaluate them adequately. Some companies are excellent at implementing new ideas adhoc, but cannot generate them in any coherent way, so their innovation is rather haphazard and sometimes contradictory.
Capability Many companies are constrained by working practices and mindset. The traditional scapegoat for these companies is IT. Inflexible software is indeed one major inhibitor to change, but it is rarely the only one. Organization structures, management reward systems and other factors can be just as inhibiting.
Courage Many organizations are too risk-averse to contemplate any change at all to their traditional way of doing business.

Thus there are some companies that have far more good ideas than they know how to implement properly.  In a few such companies, there are aggressive managers trying to force the pace of innovation: they are happy to launch pilot schemes, running adhoc manual systems with casual labour, and to hell with the IT department. (This is a great way of exploring business concepts, and we applaud the initiative, but the costs and risks of full-scale operation are unknown.)  In these companies, the relationship between business and IT is typically poor – and getting worse.

At the other extreme, there are companies that won't recognize a good idea until six months after their competitors have launched it. These are companies where the stifling of good ideas is built into the organization and its culture.  Ironically, these companies often experience close relationships between business and IT – based on a shared complacency.

Where do you think your organization belongs in this classification?
(Contact us privately, if you want us to name names.)

new version of old fable

Remember the fable of the fox and the grapes. When the fox couldn't reach the grapes, he said they were probably sour anyway. Here's our version.

Once upon a time, there were three foxes. One day, they read in their newspaper about an apple orchard.

The first fox went to visit the orchard. His favourite fruit was bananas, so he searched the whole orchard for bananas. When he didn't find any, he came home empty-handed.

The second fox went to visit the orchard. Unfortunately, he had been sitting hunched in front of his computer for many hours, and his joints were all stiff, so he could barely lift his arms higher than his shoulders. Although he saw lots of apples, it was too painful for him to reach up and pick them, so he too came home empty-handed.

The third fox scoffed at them. "Why did you waste your time?", he said, "I went past the orchard in the Spring, and all I saw was loads of pink blossom and no apples at all, so I knew there wasn't going to be any point in going back again now."

why the challenge?

There are lots of simple ideas that don't come to anything.  But this doesn't mean we should give up on the simple ideas, and head for complicated ideas instead.  We draw the opposite conclusion - there is something seriously wrong with business organizations if they cannot make money from a simple yet powerful idea.

We believe that senior management ought to know what kind of business opportunities they are missing out on, as a result of inflexible systems.  And they should know the business risks of e-business initiatives that won’t scale up. This is a crucial element of business/IT alignment. There is a good story emerging for any company that wants to take serious action to address this lack of flexibility.

In many companies, there are at least some managers that are prepared to engage in serious strategic thinking, or are trying to preserve some sense of the future, swimming against a tide of short-term thinking.  But often these managers don't have the political authority or financial budget to sponsor a full strategic planning exercise.  The Challenge gives them the opportunity to do something for a relatively small cost, if only to demonstrate something to their peers. It is possible that some people would not only expect their organizations to fail the challenge, but would welcome this, as it would provide evidence of the work ahead.

So among other things, the Challenge is intended as a tactic for getting new ways of thinking onto the agenda in these organizations where strategic thinking is difficult.. And for organizations that are now ready to look creatively and positively into the future, the Challenge provides an opportunity to review capability and readiness, and to develop new business ideas.

what is the nature of the challenge?

Our Challenge takes the form of a set of potential business opportunities, designed for a particular industry or sector.

We believe that each opportunity satisfies the following five characteristics:
It is potentially interesting and valuable to companies operating in a particular industry or sector.  It represents a potential demand for new products or services, or a new method of doing business.
It is relatively novel - typically, these opportunities are not (yet) being talked about in the business world, as far as we are aware. (Although that's not really the issue.)
When this opportunity is explained to a business or IT manager within the given industry or sector, the first reaction is often to come up with all sorts of feeble excuses why this wouldn't or couldn't work
The idea is technically and operationally feasible. The main constraint on implementation would be the level of inflexibility in current IT solutions and operational procedures.
Restructuring IT solutions and working practices to accommodate these ideas will typically increase the general level of systemic flexibility by an order of magnitude - thus improving the overall adaptability of the company.

The ideas themselves are very briefly expressed.  All of them appear to be very simple ways of making money in the marketplace; what's interesting about these ideas is why they would be so difficult to implement. What's also interesting is the surprised and puzzled reactions we've received when we've mentioned some of these ideas to people within the relevant industry.

The ideas are either directly related to the exploitation of the Internet, or prompted by new modes of business relationship and operation of which Internet is at the centre.

Just as the art of the systems tester is to construct a test case that will make the systems fall over, the art of the business challenger is to construct an opportunity that the business ought to be able to respond to, but cannot.

We cannot predict what the commercial potential of these ideas are for a given company - although we'd be happy to carry out a feasibility study for a particular company on normal consultancy terms.

Our hunch is that for most of these ideas, in most organizations, the cost of changing the IT systems and working practices alone would outweigh the benefits. But this information alone is probably worth quite a lot to the organization, if this detailed diagnosis leads to specific remedies to improve flexibility.

The ideas themselves are often tactical rather than strategic. But because of the way the ideas have been selected and formulated, we believe that the ability to implement and exploit these ideas is likely to have strategic importance.

Click here for an example.

how does it work?

A company operating within a given industry or sector pays an amount of money to enter the challenge.  For this money, you get a document describing seven key business opportunities, plus a day's consultancy.  If you can prove that your IT systems and operating procedures can handle at least half the ideas (i.e. three definite and one maybe out of seven), then you get your money back, together with a free flexibility assessment.

If you can't - then you can choose to pay for a detailed flexibility assessment, at a special consultancy rate.  We are also happy to provide consultancy for detailed feasibility studies, requirements analysis and implementation planning.

What is the day's consultancy for?  It is primarily intended as demonstrating the inflexibility of current systems, and collecting enough data to be able to propose some follow-on action.  In some cases, the manager taking the challenge may want some help in preparing a presentation to take to his management team.

Special terms are available for software vendors offering software components and packages aimed at a specific industry or sector, who wish to verify the flexibility and adaptability of their products.

We are also happy to collaborate with industry regulators and other bodies.

and if you fail?

Associated with the Challenge is a network of consultants and consultancies, and a growing body of knowledge, aimed at getting your organization fit.

There are four main ways we can help you address your organization's difficulties in meeting the Challenge.
conceptual Stretching the ways of thinking in the organization, to improve the ability both to develop new ideas internally, and to recognize and adopt good ideas from outside sources. Improvements in clarity, coherence and vision.
architectural Addressing the causes of inflexibility in management architectures and IT architectures.

Note: by management architecture, we don't just mean the management reporting hierarchy (or matrix). We mean the whole complex network of who-talks-to-whom-about-what and who-collaborates-with-whom-how-to-achieve-what.

practical Developing and acquiring components, patterns, templates and other nuggets of relevant practical knowledge.
methodical Developing the capabilities to do all of these in a more systematic way.

industries and sectors

In researching the Challenge for different industry sectors, we have identified three different industry positions, with a fourth position defined for the IT industry itself.

We have roughly positioned a number of industries as follows. There may be some honourable or dishonourable exceptions in each category.
In each of these industries, there is a small number of global players who have full-time planning departments constantly challenging the business assumptions. Shell pioneered the technique of scenario planning, and this is common practice for such organizations. 

One manager within a global publishing conglomerate recently told us: "The big boys are all already actively pursuing innovative ideas, and the small fry don't count."

These sectors are currently focused on future consolidations in the industry, and there seems to be a collective reluctance even to think seriously about new ways of doing business, let alone building the capability of implementing any of these ideas.
We perceive these sectors to sit somewhere in the middle.  There are some shining examples in those industries, that are clearly capable of implementing new ideas and making money, but we don't detect any clear or systematic thinking about these opportunities and their implementation.  We suspect that there are many missed opportunities, and many ideas that are stifled at birth, because the perceived costs are too great.
IT We characterize the IT industry as highly innovative along very narrow paths.  A company may have leading edge products, but its business processes, its relationships with its customers and its strategic alliances are typically old-fashioned and brittle.

Do you agree with our characterization of your industry or sector?
Is your organization typical of your industry or sector?

collaboration invited

Companies within a range of industry sectors are invited to take the Challenge at special pilot rates, and to participate in evaluation and further development of the Challenge.

Service companies with demonstrated expertise in a given industry or sector are invited to help sell or deliver the challenge to their customers.

We are also looking for consultants with expertise in other industries or sectors, to help develop similar challenges for these sectors.

Please contact us to discuss.

how to order

At present, this challenge is at the pilot stage, and we are handling the administration manually.  Please contact us to order.


This Challenge is being developed by Veryard Projects in association with the CBDi Forum. Thanks to several associates and industry specialists for valuable input and feedback.


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This page last updated on November 26th, 1999 
Copyright © 1999 Veryard Projects Ltd