Editorial: The Power of Technology

By Len Monheit

Every once in a while I think back to a simpler, quieter world, one with much different values and roles, one where Telex was an international communication vehicle, and those in offices doing global business could count on, if nothing else, amassing an excellent foreign stamp collection. These were the days before fax, and yes, the days before those modern-day business drivers - cell phones and the Internet.

Travel down the halls of any trade show, late for that next meeting as per usual, and imagine how productive you’d be in these times without the cell phone at your belt or in your purse. Sit at your desk and wait for the morning mail call, and wonder where your business would be were it not for the Internet.

All of these tools are a double edged sword. At the same time as we vociferously curse them, we turn to them to, in many ways, empower and enrich our lives. Unfortunately, this empowerment frequently does come at a cost, making a whole new set of rules and guidelines an absolute necessity. Some are more successful than others at making the transition to new technology, incorporating it into their daily lives with minimal personal disruption. Others are less so, and each new ‘toy’ gives rise to change and challenge, often at the cost, at least short term, of efficiency and perhaps attention span.

The common denominator of many of these developments is a change in ability to communicate. Whether the driver is speed or efficiency, this is the area where we are increasingly enabled (if not bombarded), leading to new filtering and screening tools and changing social and business paradigms on the fly. ‘Googling’, ‘blogging’, ‘texting, emailing and web-meetings all have an impact on social behavior and communication. Standard mail is secondary to electronic mail when it comes to business communication, altering the pace of business so dramatically. And it can be argued that globalization, this force that right now is affecting food safety in so many ways, can be tied to an offshoot of emerging technology and its enabling power.

In the media too, technology has made a huge impact. Daily feeds and newswires have changed the pace of business and at which news travels. The convergence of technologies, including streaming and multimedia, means a rich communication environment is accessible to most business professionals. The time and ability to use the tools, rather than access to the tools themselves, in some cases, becomes the rate limiting step.

E-mail (cluttered in boxes and all) has made global transactions easier, often at the expense of more personal relationships, thereby, some would say, enhancing business risk. Gone are the days when a face to face meeting, one that really gave you a measure of the person, would always be the primary business catalyst. Multi-billion dollar deals are transacted electronically, with new partners linked only by ‘ether’. Does this cheapen the relationship? Not necessarily, and usually only for the unscrupulous, looking for any edge anyway. It does mean though that additional steps are required to shore up the relationship, steps often overlooked in our hasty society.

The term ‘see what you can find out’ used to mean a library and catalog search, dependent on what your organization had managed to accumulate (and organize) based on previous shows, meetings and the history of corporate relationships. Now, in addition to hard source and personal memory, the term refers to both internal data in an online environment, and also to anything accessible on the Internet, including novel sources of supply, consultants, litigation history, and whatever else the sweep picks up. Information overload potential, certainly, along with forever altered business relationships. Some sales calls and visits are replaced by webcasts and conference calls, all supporting continuous change in how we communicate in a business environment.

So what might this all mean? My crystal ball says……

  • New tools for evaluating business partners (potential and existing) are required.
  • Relationship history and intangibles must be somehow captured if relationships are to be enduring.
  • Employee education (bringing all employees to a practical baseline) will become even more of a challenge than it currently is as organizations struggle with turnover and the frenetic business pace
  • Media will become even more important as the trade communication vehicle upon which an increasing number of business decisions are based.
  • The company with the best information organization strategy will have a competitive advantage.
  • The company with ‘access’ to information (including network of contacts, internal resources etc. on demand) will have a huge market advantage.
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