The Internet transformed the business landscape forever, and today's CIOs are still dealing with the dot-consequences.
"That mighty alchemist the Internet is thrusting businesses of all shapes and sizes into a maelstrom of epic proportions," I wrote in the May 2000 Mastering the Dot: E-enabling the Organization special issue of CIO magazine. "By the time the turmoil subsides some will have drowned, others will lie gasping on the shores of an economic backwater, a few will remain untouched, while others will have emerged triumphant to lord it over a brand new economic landscape," I wrote.
"It's a dog-eat-dog world where paranoia and uncertainty abound and opportunities are seemingly unlimited. Where the greatest threat to your commercial survival might come from a garage-based start-up that can suddenly service your customers far better than you can. Where you fiercest competitor may already be scheming to spin out its brightest ideas and know-how into a "dotcom" business, then launch a hostile takeover of your company. And where competitors can seduce your customers from the other side of the globe. Yet where opportunities abound to transform your entire value proposition, reinvent the way you do business, and make over your relationship with every employee, partner, supplier and customer."
Overblown rhetoric aside, the basic truths of these statements seemed obvious. After spending two months immersed in researching the myriad ways the Internet was transforming the business landscape, its disruptive potential was clear, with my direct experience only reinforcing those notions. Had it not, after all, already transformed the practice of journalism?
In my first newsroom I typewrote stories three paragraphs at a time on slips of paper that copy boys could rip from the machine and send to the sub-editors' desk the instant I typed "more to come". At the Australian Associated Press a few years later I had belted out copy on visual display units (VDUs, also known as green screens) fed by telex machines and broadcast that copy direct to every Australian (and some New Zealand, from memory) newsroom. When I wrote Mastering the Dot, I was e-mailing stories from my home office in Canberra to Sydney, researching on the World Wide Web, and making new and treasured connections online with IT professionals from many corners of the globe.
My understanding of the Internet's transformative powers was intuitive and visceral. I had impatiently anticipated the World Wide Web and fought to make myself an early adopter as vigorously as I had agitated for the passing of those wretched typewriters. And my early online shopping experiences had convinced me that it was woe betide any company declining to offer online sales and services.
Yet after years of watching lacklustre Aussie management in action, I worried, if you will forgive my presumption, about the adaptability of Australian business.
The transformative power of the Web was also the meme of the time. (Now, of course, it is more common to ask whether there has ever been a more over-hyped and undervalued technology.) In 2000, I was taking my cue from the "digirati", the high-tech movers and shakers, who were calling the Internet, as noted by The Economist, "the most transforming invention in human history.
"It has the capacity to change everything - the way we work, the way we learn and play, even, maybe, the way we sleep or have sex. What is more, it is doing so at far greater speed than the other great disruptive technologies of the 20th century, such as electricity, the telephone and the car," The Economist ventured.
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