-Patrick Meehan, Director
(Research), GartnerGroup Inc.

Patrick Meehan is director of
research, GartnerGroup Inc, for the electronic workplace and advanced computing environment research areas.
His team examines the continual assimilation of technologies driving the evolution of
internet, the devices driving increasing levels of interactive literacy among end-users,
and the internal and external business transformations the interactive revolution forces.

Prior to joining GartnerGroup, Meehan was a marketing and auction specialist in 20th
century design for Christie’s Fine Art Auctioneers in New York and London, and chaired
their internal technology committee. In this capacity, Meehan guided business
transformational issues such as desktop publishing, image-based client management systems,
and internet and telecom applications for the auction process.

Holding a bachelor’s degree in architecture and art history from Dartmouth College and a
master’s degree in interactive telecommunications from New York University, Meehan was
recently in India as part of his Asia-Pacific tour to talk about internet and e-business
strategies. Here, he speaks at length about the internet and related developments.
Excerpts:

What are the transformations
being witnessed in a typical workplace?

As we know it, things are moving very fast and changing the typical workplace. The biggest
transformation, which has been with us for a while, is the efficiencies achieved through
asynchronous communication-the email. It has become the de facto standard for
communication, business or otherwise, in the advanced economies and fast catching up in
the emerging countries. The other changes are communication collaborations. Internet has
shrunk time and space and helps to collaborate seamlessly. For example, internet-enabled
Lotus Notes allows me to collaborate with other analysts to create research reports for
GartnerGroup. Another element of this efficiency transformation is the quick and accurate
dissemination of the information. Combining all these elements is the most dramatic
transformation at the workplace-the emergence of virtual enterprise. The fact that I can
transform my hotel room, airport, home, office, car or even my cellphone as my workplace
is radical, to say the least. With internet, the distinction between these separate and
distinct platforms like home, office, cellphone and others seems to blur day by day. So, I
can be tremendously productive sitting at home or anywhere in the world. The shift becomes
dramatic when you think that the ‘world is office and office is no longer the world.’ Of
course, the downside to it is that you can never leave work. Moreover, the primary
efficiency that we see in the workplace is also reflected in lifestyle issues.

Can you elaborate on how the
internet is effecting lifestyle issues?

In the US, I find that more and more people are seeing things like spending an
hour-and-a-half driving to office each way as a waste of time. So it becomes a great value
proposition if they can get an hour or so to take their kid to the doctor and have a
greater sense of family connectedness. I think we are witnessing a trend where lot of
people are able to draw a line between the work and home and actually turn these devices
off to spend more quality time with their families. The concept of work is 24×7 according
to one’s own lifestyle. Again all these changes are being fueled by the internet and
internet-related technologies.

According to John Nashbit’s ‘Megatrends’, telecommuting will not work because of the
social needs and nature of human beings. How do you feel about the same?

Let me put it this way. My social needs of interaction which gives me a feeling of
connectedness with my colleagues is speech (text and audio) and visual (video). Today, the
first part of my social need is being successfully fulfilled with emails and telephone. A
complete social experience would be visual communication with my colleagues.

On the other hand, knowledge worker would have a greater sense of isolation in the paper
and phone type of office if he is not able to get and send his messages or communicate
with others. I think this would lead to a greater sense of disconnectedness and
inefficiencies on the part of knowledge worker. In fact, I think that people are actually
making more social contact through emails, IP telephony. This will increase phenomenally
with cheap video conferencing facilities.

Like the workplace and lifestyle
changes, do you see any other perceptible change in the way business is done on the
internet?
Right now the trend is global. However, in the coming years, we will see a definite
shift in the way business is done on the net. With set-top boxes and the cable companies
initiatives to move the internet experience from a PC to a TV, we feel that ecommerce,
business to consumers will shift to the local level. Roughly 50% of this business will be
done with stores and distributors within 30 miles of home. This will be a discontinuity to
the current global trend for the business to consumers segment. However, this will take
some time to take off. Nevertheless, the business to business will continue to remain
global with pricing, quality and outsourcing determining the internet business
partnerships.

The important point for any company hankering to succeed on the internet is that it needs
to reconcile and integrate its various supply chain management components, ecommerce and
technology-enabled relationship management projects. The integration should be in terms of
resources, business objectives, organizational relationship and technical requirement as a
single business strategic goal. This will be the key competitive and deciding factor in
the success or failure of business on the internet.

Will technology or good business
sense determine success on the internet?

Well, this is bit controversial among GartnerGroup analysts themselves. In the internet
space, technology is not rocket science. It is pretty easy stuff compared to some of the
proprietary solutions and applications. When we are talking of net applications, we are
talking of basic technologies like TCP/IP, basic telephony, very basic web servers, Java,
XML and others. Of course, the only anomaly is the security aspect, which needs to be
blended with pretty high technology and hence gets complicated. So it’s not the technology
but the usage of it.

All the technology does not amount to anything if you don’t have an innovative business
model to wrap around it. I think that these technologies are moving so quickly and new
business models around them emerging rapidly because they are fairly simple to understand,
use and implement. Hence the concept of internet time. We talk of the internet time not
just in terms of technological innovations but also in terms of business model
innovations. So the two aspects-technology and business model-really go hand in hand and
are inextricably linked to each other.

A key element of good business sense is ‘customer focus.’ Technology needs to be made
simple and applications need to be developed from the user’s perspective. Whether your
customer is a worker from the IT department or a trading partner or a consumer on the
internet, if you don’t have the tools or use the technology to create those tools to
engage and retain them, you have lost the business game. So it is not about the technology
but technology fused with social science as well as human factor designed to successfully
compete in the internet domain.

Does Knowledge Management (KM),
collaboration and ecommerce have a common association thread?
KM will probably become the most important competitive tool as it is primarily an
efficiency tool. It’s really a way and companies need to figure it out. So a few companies
like Ernst and Young, which have figured it out are profiting by creating commodity out of
knowledge.

There will be collaboration and partnerships but there needs to be an element of
differentiation. This differentiation will come from the company’s knowledge base. The
knowledge of having worked with customers and being able to instantaneously target
personalized customer relationships. So when a customer hits your site, your KM should be
such that it can automatically profile everything they have ever done with your company.
Based on the past learnings for that customer, inputs can be fed out to them. So learning
and skills that can come through collaboration and KM can be transferred to customer
orientation type of service. All these put together act as a recipe for ecommerce success.
So ecommerce, KM and collaboration are part of the same equation.

Do you see internet becoming the
next mass medium like TV?

No, I think that’s a big myth. The internet is not good at being a mass medium. It is all
about being a one-on-one medium and that is exactly what TV, radio and print mediums are
not. These are mass mediums as they create information once and just broadcast,
disseminate or throw it out to everyone. However on the internet it is not so. That’s why
‘PUSH’ has not worked and advertising models are still elusive. Traditional notions of
advertising, banner advertising and other advertising mechanisms are all elusive in terms
of any kind of returns or measurable payback. The reason is not hard to fathom-people
really care about application functionality not about the traditional product appeal.

So how can a company
differentiate from competition on the internet?

I think the whole point is that differentiation does not necessarily work in the online
world. What really works are different collaborative markets. You need to differentiate on
the basis of best service, quality, price and place. These have to be proved not only from
the catalog information but also from what other people or peers think about the company.
Any company longing success on the net has to have a very high level of customer
orientation and that means ‘personalization’. This also means giving customers the tools
they need rather than just information. So the differentiation is more on the functional
value rather than on the traditional marketing approach.

Does it indicate that
knowledge-based companies will have a lead over the product-based companies?
It is obvious that they are going to lead the pack because of the whole distribution
problem. The biggest problem with the non-knowledge and service-based companies is channel
conflict in the distribution of durable goods which is expensive and time consuming. If
Amazon were a pure information or service or knowledge company, they wouldn’t have to be
running around buying warehouses, or striking deals with Federal Express or UPS or hiring
hundreds of people. There is a real analog component, which is tremendously expensive and
most which of the people overlook about Amazon. No wonder even though the company is
highly successful in selling books, but still a loss-making proposition. There are other
issues like what happens to the dealers if more business is done on the net. These are
very tricky issues, which a knowledge-based company need not tackle.

How can companies forecast
future internet-based technologies?

One has to understand the baseline assumptions of what the internet is all about. The
internet is basically a logical network. The IP and domain space are going to be the basic
ubiquitous network. The other assumption is that the web is an application development
platform. With these two assumptions, it’s not just a matter of working for a dramatic
shift in technologies but looking for ways in which changing markets are going to break
the dominance of proprietary-packaged applications. So simply put, I think it’s a matter
of looking at which technologies are emerging, say on the hype circle, and say right now
the most promising ones are Java and XML and start working on these technologies. I think
we have entered an era which is no longer about which proprietary application is going to
eclipse the next. So I think the key message to the technology professionals is to look
for technologies which layers and does not cause dramatic discontinuities.

I do agree that deciding on a technology, which will play a role in a company’s future
process is no easy task. However, the problem can be eased significantly by understanding
the ‘hype cycle’ of emerging technologies, which follows a predictable pattern of hype,
disillusionment, realism and, eventually, productivity. It is important for the technology
planners to assess the relative impact of the technology and act early in the hype cycle.
No matter what the enterprise’s normal level of technology aggression.

What is an intranet portal and
how does it fit into the virtual enterprise?

Similar to the function of internet portals, intranet portals provide an internal view of
the enterprise’s information and system resources. I think that it will become the most
important resource of the virtual enterprise. It brings in network-computing for workers
in the organization. It is really about breaking the grip of operating systems and the
packaged applications office suites. What you are saying is that in the future you
wouldn’t need a Microsoft office suite on your desktop, but all your application needs
will be delivered from a XML tagged database to your browser or the webtop. That’s the
long-term view of the intranet portal. However, what is needed in the current scenario is
a check on the information overload for employees.

Intranet portals by definition offer personalization, albeit at the enterprise level. We
see that already happening on the public internet with services like Myyahoo from
yahoo.com. I think the next extension of such personalization would be the workplace. What
are employees needs regarding contents, applications, links and other requirements will be
available on the company’s intranet and the employees can access the same by the browser.
So the concept of desktop will change to a webtop.

What is the next level of
maturity for the developed countries, if the service sector shifts from these countries to
the third world countries?
Yes, I certainly think that there is going to be a shift in the service sector from
the developed to the third world economies like the manufacturing sector shift. The next
level for the developed countries is the knowledge economy. The internet will allow
enterprise resources to be readily available, anywhere, anytime. Small companies will
abound due to the new ability to interact, communicate and collaborate without boundaries.
Utilization of firms overseas will increase dramatically, leading to a shift in the
service sector. The trends are already available in the developed countries where there is
so much emphasis on KM and technological innovations.

Where does that leave countries
like India?

I think the danger for a country like India is what kind of innovations are going on in
the country, how you are able to capitalize on those innovations and how you are not
relegated to the back-office operations. I think that the real danger is that rather than
participating a lot of emerging markets really risk becoming a back-office operation in
the knowledge economy.

Is there any escape route?
Yes I think there are adequate incentives in the global market to leap into the knowledge
domain. However, I think that a lot of it has to do with the compensation structure in a
country. For example, when you are tied with the Indian economy you are tied by the low
payscale structure. Similarly in the Australian economy you would be tied to the tax
structure. It is a question that goes beyond the internet and will have to be decided by
the leaders of the country on where they want to position their economy in the global
market. Singapore is a very good example of how a country has positioned itself as a
knowledge economy.

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