1999 Wrap-up:

The Eye of the Storm

What a difference four years1 make!  As I reflect over what I wrote last year, I am struck by density--of ideas, striving, gambits, activity, aspirations, fears.  Now is an extension of then, only it is more formed, more clear.  The veil has lifted considerably.

E-Commerce entered the tornado2 in the first quarter of 1999.  Global enterprises started getting it that "the web" was not the multimedia toy that many of them had supposed (although that point of view is hard to imagine now3).  Through engagements in automotive, consumer electronics, petroleum, telecoms, chemicals, software and services, I helped to facilitate a stampede to transact over the web, where brochureware had been fine just months earlier.  And this was just the overture.

The main theme of the drama unfolded as well: current market leaders having "a small heart attack" and contemplating their mortality.  Of course the attack itself was a much grander manifestation of the web's digitization of business processes--e-business--which changes the environment to the extent that current business assets are called into question (bricks and mortar, anyone ;?) .  Obviously, a ticklish prospect for asset holders.

However, e-business does not change everything, just many things (but which ones, that's the rub).  Legacy business assets are very relevant, although their relative values have changed significantly in many cases.  The question is, "Who can realign legacy business assets the fastest?"  Along the way to triumph are resistance, denial, false starts and sabotage.  In many cases, the race is between legacy market leaders undergoing transformation and start-ups harnessing the power of vision, financial markets and the advantage of having no legacy.

Legacy assets, infrastructure and assumptions represent a fascinating proposition because they must be completely reappraised even though the very means of reappraisal is uncertain.  And there is by no means a consensus that a transformation of legacy businesses is necessary, and there is plenty of motivation to deny the degree of change that is required.  It is as if perception is blinding, for perception itself is applying logic, experience and assumptions to a situation.  E-Business nullifies or seriously questions many heretofore useful business principles and assumptions.  These have been the unifying things in global organizations.  It is a costly proposition to reevaluate them. 

As 1999 comes to a close, most executives are starting to see that the opportunity cost of not seriously considering e-business might well be prohibitive.  E-Business will enter a tornado in 2000, and success stories will undoubtedly push it to a fever pitch that will make today's frenetic pace seem tame.  For more predictions and a vision for 2000, go here.

Everyone is connected and in motion, whether they perceive it yet or not, and value networks and knowledge will drive competitiveness moving forward.  What percentage of 2002's top 500 global companies exist today?  2005's?  Maybe the exhilarating dance on the front of this card is not a flexible value network as I had first thought, but musical chairs.

Wishing you health and stamina in this time of heightened risk and reward!




  1. I conservatively estimate that 4 years Internet = 1 year Gregorian.
  2. See Inside the Tornado, Geoffrey Moore.
  3. It reminds me of Java in 1995: when STR, where I worked at the time, wrote the first enterprise Java application, conventional wisdom had it that Java was for animating graphics but not much else.