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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 30 Jul 2001 19:51:07 -0700
From: Adam Rifkin <Adam@KnowNow.com>
To: "'FoRK@XeNT.CoM'" <FoRK@xent.com>
Subject: Re: [Red Herring] Generation Now Gets Up to Speed
Oh, how embarrassing, Rohit already forwarded this, this morning. Ok, this
note nukes the last note.
Instead, chomp on this...
Why "Real-Time" Business Takes Real Time
They have the technology: Using Internet-driven software, companies can now
access up-to-the-minute sales and market data. Are they ready to flip the
by George Anders
illustrations by Chip Wass
from FC issue 48, page 158
Imagine driving quickly along a curving road, peering through a specially
doctored windshield that updates your view only once a minute. Sounds
horrifying, doesn't it? Isn't it much better to see reality unfold moment by
moment, so that you can respond immediately to each twist and turn?
Expressed that way, the choice is obvious: No sane person would choose the
time-delayed windshield. But in business, it's another story. Until
recently, existing technology left companies with no choice when it came to
finding out where they were and where they might be going. Since the 1960s,
they have largely relied on slow batch-processing systems to keep track of
internal corporate data -- sales, orders, and the rest. Using such systems,
company leaders have had to wait days, weeks, or even months to get a clear
outlook on the financial road ahead.
Today, though, companies have a choice. As the Net becomes more and more
integral to the way business gets done, Internet technology brings a host of
opportunities for gathering data, aggregating it in meaningful ways, and
distributing it to key decision makers -- all in practically real time. In
other words, just as a windshield lets a driver see and respond to a change
in road conditions as soon as his vehicle encounters it, so this technology
lets a company leader discover and react instantly to, say, a sudden spike
or drop in consumer demand.
At least a dozen young software outfits are now trying to get companies to
overhaul older, slower systems and to embrace what industry visionaries call
the "real-time Internet." Each of these vendors has developed Web-based
software that promises to deliver up-to-the-minute access to essential
One typical newcomer is Closedloop Solutions, a Redwood City,
California-based company founded by Chandran Sankaran, 39, a former McKinsey
& Co. consultant. Sankaran first saw the need for real-time access to
company data in the mid-1990s, when he found himself working on one
corporate-turnaround project after another for McKinsey. "We'd go into these
companies that had hit a wall," he recalls. "They almost never had a
financial plan. Or, if they did, it was nine months out of date, and no one
was taking it seriously. At first, I thought that they had a stupidity
problem. But then I realized: This was an information-flow problem."
Everyone agrees: The real-time Internet will eventually form the basis of
how businesses manage their internal data. But pay close attention to that
sneaky little word "eventually." The weakened economy of 2001 has led to
sharp cutbacks in IT investment. At a time when the real-time Internet is
arguably coming into its own as a transformative business tool, many big
companies are choosing to defer or even halt their initiatives on this
That's irksome to pioneers like Vivek Ranadive, 43, chairman and CEO of
Tibco Software, in Palo Alto, California. In the 1990s, Tibco ( along with a
predecessor business ) grew by selling real-time Internet technology to
financial institutions. More recently, it has expanded its customer base to
encompass such industries as energy, retailing, and transportation.
But this year, Tibco's expansion has stalled. In March, the company
announced that revenue growth would not meet Wall Street expectations. In
April, it laid off 200 people, or 15% of its workforce. And over the course
of the spring, its stock-market value -- which had peaked last summer at an
eye-popping $30 billion -- slumped to a still-strong but far-from-dazzling
"Using software like ours should be part of a company's basic mission,"
argues Ranadive. "We've got 1,000 customers, including the likes of Chevron,
Enron, and Yahoo. Some 60% to 70% of the world's semiconductor manufacturing
is done at companies that use our systems. But we're seeing some
stretch-outs on orders."
Consider Tim Plzak. He's leading an advanced-technology initiative for the
Limited Co. and its sister retailer, Intimate Brands Inc. The two companies,
both based in Columbus, Ohio, became Tibco customers last December and are
now integrating Tibco software into their existing IT structures. Plzak, 39,
remains a big believer in the real-time Internet. "Right now, only about 20%
of what we do is real-time, and the rest is batch," he says. "Over the next
several years, I'd like to see us go to 50% real-time."
Plzak is especially excited about the chance to track the Limited's best
customers as they travel from store to store. "Say that someone buys
something at one of our Bath & Body Works outlets," he says. "If we knew
right away that this customer had recently bought something from Victoria's
Secret -- or from any of our other stores -- we could give her a special
offer for that store when she made her purchase at Bath & Body Works."
Equally alluring to Plzak is the prospect of charting how a special
promotion is faring hour by hour. That way, if a new item made no impression
at 10 stores, even as it sold briskly at 20 other outlets, managers could
instantly take steps to figure out whether, say, a shipping glitch was to
blame. Right now, it takes about a day for point-of-sale data to get back to
headquarters, and even a daylong wait can impose a serious handicap on
decision making -- especially during a peak holiday selling season.
But Plzak warns that real-time data mastery probably won't be at hand for
his company until sometime after 2002. While he praises the adaptability of
the Tibco software, he notes that it functions mainly as an overlay on the
Limited's existing systems for monitoring sales, inventory, and so forth.
Building seamless connections between old and new software will mean months
of work for the Limited's computing department, and a rollout isn't likely
to begin until this year's holiday selling season has come and gone.
In other cases, customers are opting for more serious delays in their plans
to implement real-time Internet technology. Allegiance Telecom Inc., based
in Dallas, had been moving to adopt technology that would help the company
track how its repair teams process jobs in the field. Its software vendor --
Vitria Technology Inc., of Sunnyvale, California -- had even posted an
Allegiance case study on its Web site. Nice idea; nasty timing. "That
project has been put on hold," says Steve Taff, 41, director of
operational-systems support at Allegiance. "We've got other priorities right
now. We'll probably still do it, but it's likely to be next year before we
At companies that have made the transition to real-time Internet technology,
leaders report that this move has been well worth any hassles associated
with it. Ashok Chandran, for example, has been using Closedloop's Web-based
software for nearly a year to handle spending and P&L forecasts for his
division at JDS Uniphase, in San Jose. "We used to do all of that on basic
spreadsheets," says Chandran, 41, controller for the amplified-components
division. "That approach was just barely manageable when we were in 3
buildings and had about 400 people. But now that we're in 10 buildings
worldwide and have more than 3,000 people, we need something different."
Real-time data access is already paying off, Chandran says. It's helping his
division adjust not only to sudden zigzags in demand but also to
fast-changing business requirements. If there's a sudden need to alter
spending patterns in R&D, for example, the division can now set a goal and
then translate that goal almost instantly into targets for each department.
To Chandran's delight, managers in his division are actually welcoming the
new technology. "I've never seen that before," he says. "Usually, they hate
new financial systems. They call them bean-counter exercises. But that's not
Boosters of real-time Internet technology caution that faster data
management will not, on its own, ensure better corporate performance. "Just
because you can see something doesn't mean that you can manage it," warns
Sankaran, of Closedloop Solutions. "If you encounter a sharp hairpin turn at
70 MPH -- which is what's happened to a lot of technology companies --
better visibility may only give you a brief chance to apply the brakes
before you crash anyway."
Still, in a business world that moves at such speeds, information today
beats information tomorrow. "We think we can give companies an extra 30 days
to react to sudden changes," says Sankaran. "At the end of the day, you
still need to make managerial judgments. But we can update you as much as
possible, so that you can make those judgments without having your own data
systems slow you down."
George Anders ( email@example.com ), a Fast Company senior editor, is
based in Silicon Valley.
Reply to: firstname.lastname@example.org Date: Sat Jul 21 00:02:47 2001
If you can post bail for a friend of mine, I will give you an aeron chair for free. The bail needs to be posted by Monday at 10am. Please respond ASAP, first come, first serve.
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