Outside the Box

“I turn on the tube and what do I see,

A whole lotta people cryin’ “Don’t blame me.”

They point their crooked little fingers at everybody else.

Spend all their time feelin’ sorry for themselves

….I’d like to find your inner child and kick its little ass…”

– The Eagles , Get Over It

A harsh sentiment to be sure, but there is a grain of truth in this popular song – particularly when it comes to today’s technology industry. Everyone has been moaning and bitching about how tough life has been over the past couple of years, and there has been a tendency for the entire sector to feel sorry for itself.

I suggest that the time for this should now be past. This thought was brought home to me when, during the height of the SQL Slammer worm virus attack in late January, Microsoft revealed that not all of its systems had been “patched” with the code that would have minimized the impact of such an attack – even though the patch had been available for six months.

If this industry expects others to put their trust in business solutions for technology, it has to be seen to be trustworthy and fully implement the solutions itself. And while Microsoft is a good, high-profile target, I wouldn’t presume to suggest that it is by any means unique in the industry. There is a lot of “do as I say, not as I do” going around.

Companies should be willing to eat their own dog food. If you produce an accounting solution, for example, you should make damn sure you run your own company with it. There’s nothing like being your own best customer to ensure that you stay close to the “customer experience.”

Likewise, if you produce ERP or CRM software, then your customers should be able to easily see how you have benefited from using your own solution. That will give them confidence that they can do the same.

There are some good examples to support this theory. If you look at how Dell and Cisco obeyed their own exhortations to create e-commerce solutions in the late 1990s – and won significant market share by doing some effectively using their own products – then you get a good idea of the kind of positive customer impression this makes.

Of course, there are no guarantees. You could start a process that ensured that your company relied heavily on the products and services it produces – and then find yourself disappointed. But that experience, in and of itself, has considerable value. After all, isn’t it better that you get disappointed with your own company’s offerings than hearing about it from customers?

This is not to say that you should be close-minded about this. I am reminded of a story told to me once by a former vice-president at IBM. He told me that in the mid-1980s, IBM was desperate to produce a notebook computer that could beat then arch-competitor and upstart Compaq to the market. Sensing the urgency in his mission, our intrepid IBM VP went around the world looking for a solution that could quickly meet the company’s needs. He found one in Japan, at a company called Toshiba, which was willing to license its new notebook computer technology to IBM to create a product that could be shipped under the IBM banner in North America.

Back at headquarters in the U.S., IBM brass turned down the idea on the basis that IBM products had to be shown to “eat IBM’s own dog food” – using IBM drives, screen technology, keyboards and so on. And so, Toshiba gained an early market leader in the notebook computer sector (with its T1100 and T1500 systems) by introducing the products under its own label in the U.S., while IBM produced a truly awful system called the “IBM Convertible” in 1986 that came and went very quickly.

IBM has since learned that not everything that comes from every corner of the company is golden – and that if it is to be its own best customer, the products it buys from itself better be worth having. And perhaps it was worth the failure of the IBM Convertible to learn that lesson.

Wheelwright is a freelance journalist journalist, author and broadcaster. He most recently served as editorial director of StockHouse Media Corp.

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