A friend of mine has been taking a business leadership course with an extremely reputable higher education institution in the Bay Area. Given my background in high tech, she wanted to ask my opinion on her last assignment. "Ask away," I told her, excited to be able to provide whatever bits of information I may have to help her.
"I need to prepare a report on e-organizations," she said, "focusing on their track record over the last three years and analyzing what they are doing differently from other businesses who are not using the internet."
I tried to muffle a snort, but couldn't stop myself from blurting out, "What businesses are not using the internet?"
My friend, hoping to jog something actually useful out of me, offered further explanation, "the text the course is using defines e-organizations as any group that uses the Internet to function. It describes varying levels of e-organizations that exist based on their use of the internet, intranets and extranets to move information."
Trying to totally ignore the definition, which is antiquated at best, I wracked my brain to come up with something insightful, but all I could do is look blankly at my friend and shrug my shoulders - I was stumped. "I can't think of any businesses that aren't connected in some way. E-organizations are no longer a 'segment' within the business population, rather they are representative of the way business gets done."
Think about it - almost every business, including mom and pop stores and restaurants, have some online presence, and even if they don't actively pursue an online strategy, their success can be directly linked to online activity - ever heard of Yelp (local business reputations can be made or broken) or seen the power that word of mouth spread on social media sites, such as Facebook or Twitter, can have on an organization? (Earlier this year, myYearbook released a study that found 81 percent of respondents said they'd received advice from friends and followers relating to a product purchase through a social site; 74 percent of those who received that advice found it to be influential in their decisions.)
Almost every business uses a network to communicate - emails and text messages are commonplace - not only between employees, but also with partners, suppliers, distributors, contractors, etc. (When was the last time you had to send a letter or fax?) And don't forget customers. With the rapid adoption of smartphones, the amount of information that can be accessed or shared, wherever and whenever it is needed, is on a hockey stick growth curve. The Kelsey Group and ConStat found that 18.9 percent of mobile consumers now use a smartphone, with almost 50% of consumers planning on purchasing an advanced mobile device within the next two years, which means that businesses that don't make it easy for customers to interact or do business with them online are going to find it more and more difficult to sustain themselves.
Almost every business is using the network to complete transactions, drive efficiencies, reduce costs, problem solve and collaborate. It's one reason the role of CIO in most businesses has a critical place in the C-suite. It's why IT has been evolving over the last few years from a cost center to a strategic differentiator, with those orgranizations who can effectively use technology to underpin almost every aspect of the business accelerating their success in the marketplace.
Which is when I get my "aha" moment - the best way to help my friend answer her question is to look at those organizations that shunned the network; those that fought the network or refused to acknowledge the role it was going to play in sustaining economic growth and opportunities. Think print media, music industry, think movie rental chains....
I suggest to my friend, she reframe the question so that it's more inline with today's reality. Something like, "what are the organizations doing who are not using the internet? What is their potential for success and where will they be in three years?" The simple truth is those organizations, who are unable to leverage the power of the network or try to ignore its influence, will become the dinosaurs of the business world - the new reality is that all thriving organizations have to be 'E-organizations.' It's just the way of the business world.