Tomorrow.net: don't think about the Internet as technology. Think about it as the future of your business.
Which part of it? E-mail? E-commerce? Security issues? Transactions? Intranets? Extranets? Virtual communities? The World Wide Web? Vast databases that can be mined for information? The surface has barely been scratched. The Internet is more than the sum of its parts; there are lots of parts, and there are more to come.
Maybe asking about the Net's future is no longer an appropriate question, however obvious or tempting.
Maybe it's already time for a leap of understanding, an embrace of the inevitable, an almost unquestioning acceptance of a paradigm that has shifted: The future is the Internet.
Surely there's hype embedded in such a statement, especially when it's embedded in the lead to a magazine article. Not even the Internet can be all things to all aspects of all businesses.
Of course not. But the Net, and all of the subsets and components that comprise it, is coming closer than anyone thought possible just a few months ago. Internal and external communications, transactions of all sizes, inventory control and delivery, tracking, marketing and advertising, research and forecasting - along with other aspects specific to your business - have all spawned Net offspring, dominions, domains. Those, in turn, are multiplying, evolving, mutating - on the Net.
And the Net is continuing to grow and expand at a rate of acceptance and innovation that leaves all previous technologies gasping in the digital dust.
The Net touches everything, and changes everything it touches. That's the future, and it's already upon us.
Frank Doyle, global leader for the Technology, Infocomm, and Entertainment Industry at PricewaterhouseCoopers puts it succinctly: "The Internet is the single most significant change I've seen in 25 years in business."
That significance, he's quick to point out, flows less from the technology itself than from the astonishing rate at which that technology has been accepted in business and across society.
The CEO who neglects to attend to the Internet's impact or, worse, takes a wait-and-see attitude in hopes of the Net becoming something like a traditional business medium - relatively stable and manageable, long- or even short-term - does so at his company's peril. The Net is here and despite its newness, it is a business given. If you're doing business, you're doing it on or with the help of the Internet.
So let's ask another question, and do so by rephrasing a certain advertising slogan: Where do you want to go tomorrow?
The answer: Wherever you, your customers, and your business lead you. And the odds are that wherever that is, and whatever aspect of your enterprise is going there, the Internet will make up at least a few of the steps along the way.
Indeed, the Net may well serve as both vehicle and destination for your business's journey into the future.
And that future starts today.
What Is This Thing Called Net?
It starts today on amazingly solid ground, with more than 90 million individuals and businesses connected to the Net. That figure, reached from a virtual standing start less than five years ago, represents a rate of growth more than five times as fast as the acceptance of television two generations ago.
And other than its obvious ability to carry marketing messages, television never offered the business tools and competitive opportunities the Net makes available. And the Net's growth rate is gaining speed.
Admittedly, the half-decade just ending has seen the Net evolve more dramatically than at any time in its three-decade history. For much of that history, the Net was a relatively staid, little-known research tool.
Created in 1969 as a partnership between the ivory towers of academe and the corridors of power at the Pentagon, the original purpose of the Internet carried a Cold War cachet: ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), as it was christened, was to be a network for the exchange of defense-related information. The distributed nature of the network - universities, R&D centers, and military installations across the country was both a consequence of geographic reality and a further bid for security. It was hoped that the Net, or at least parts of it, would survive a nuclear attack.
The attack never came, and administration of the Net was transferred to the National Science Foundation. NSF combined ARPANET with other networks, consolidating communications backbones, and formalizing the underlying protocols that enable separate networks - and separate types of computers - to communicate with each other. Most of that communication took place between and among academic researchers. It was a vast and growing electronic bulletin board bearing a myriad of text messages, organized into disciplines, areas of dialogue, discussion groups.
And until the early 1990s the nature of the Net and its content remained the province, primarily, of academics, a valuable and growing resource inaccessible to most of us.
But it was also a revolution - waiting to happen.
Going Uphill Fast
That revolution got started in March 1989 at CERN (Conseil Europeen pour la Recherche Nucleaire,) a Swiss high-level physics research facility. There, one Tim Berners-Lee devised a tool called a browser, which, along with the new programming language called HTML (Hyper-text Markup Language) upon which it rested, changed the rules of the Net forever.
What Berners-Lee did, writ simple, was to give the Internet a face. That face was called the World Wide Web.
Using a browser, information encapsulated in electronic "pages" created with HTML could be viewed - could contain pictures as well as words, sounds, animation, video, all of it available to anyone who had access to a computer of relatively recent vintage and a modem.
What made the Web a real revolution wasn't simply its innovative anti inviting approach to the presentation of data. HTML and browsers were aimed squarely at users. Not only was each Web page given an address that could be located by computer, the pages themselves were relatively simple to create and manipulate. Anyone (well, almost anyone) could create a Web page.
And everyone wants to get involved. As Doyle notes, "The largest group of continuing education students in the country is retirees learning about Internet." The Internet's not just for Information departments any more. This was - and is - a distributed revolution.
And also a connected one. The more pages of different types available on the Web, the more reasons people had to visit them. The more people who visited the Web, the more who wanted to visit it. At first a sort of electronic entertainment park for the cyber-savvy, the Web quickly (remember, the whole thing is barely as old as this decade) caught the public and business imagination and just took off. "Like nothing we've ever seen," Doyle says.
Which brings us to today; which brings us to tomorrow.
One Large Step
From 16 million computers connected to the Web in 1995, according to International Data Corp., a research organization, there will be more than a quarter billion connected machines at the turn of the millennium. It may well be distracting to business goals, however, to pay too much attention to those machines themselves.
For CEOs, in fact, the first step in making the transition to tomorrow may be to stop thinking in terms of technology altogether, at least when thinking about the Internet. For one thing, so many different technologies are involved in the various aspects and capabilities of the Net - the Web is only one of them - that it's a mistake to think of the Net as a single technology.
What it is is a medium: for communication, for exchange of information, for economic transaction, for storing data, for creating dynamic links among data.
Its immersive nature - we spend our time in the Net's resources as well as moving our information on the Net - makes it more of an environment than any previous medium.
"Once you've made that leap," says Doyle, "you've freed yourself from bricks-and-mortar thinking and can focus on what those bricks and mortar mean in a networked society. The key lesson is not that your business has changed as a result of the Internet, but that your very business models have to change in response to the Net's growth."
To accommodate that change, the CEO needs to focus his enterprise on larger questions than technical specifics.
"The CEO," Doyle proposes, "has to ask questions, constantly and throughout the organization. How do we use the Internet to gain market share? How do we execute and incorporate new technologies while remaining focused on customers and revenue?"
Additionally, Doyle thinks CEOs should issue direct challenges to their organizations. "Employees should be asked to come up with new ways to do business that take advantage of the Net and the opportunities it offers. This should be an ongoing process," he says.
It's vital that those questions also reach beyond corporate boundaries. Paul Weaver, PricewaterhouseCoopers's global leader for technology systems, stresses the importance of CEOs approaching customers, clients, and vendors. "That's the key thing a CEO can do," he says. "Get out into the field and find out how his firm's Internet services are viewed by customers. How do they stack up against those mounted by the competition. Then that information needs to be carried back to the technical staff - and acted upon."
Strike Up the Band
To that end, Net-wise CEOs may well find themselves cutting a new role with an old saw, that saw being Peter Drucker's longago vision of 21st Century CEOs as orchestrators and symphony conductors rather than as generals perched at the peak of a rigid hierarchy.
Hindsight (even five Web-years' worth) endorses Drucker's foresight. Networks are levelers, with the Internet shaping up as the most effective leveler of all.
There's more than wordplay at work here. As Web-watcher (and former Grateful Dead lyricist) John Perry Barlow points out: "As far as the Internet activities of a company are concerned, an executive's authority has to be earned - it's no longer Godgiven. In a company where a mail clerk can set up his own independent Web site, there are too many ways for employees to get the work done without involving the executives." It wasn't just electronic tools this revolution distributed, it was the power those tools conferred.
Here comes another leap of faith - much of the future of a company is now placed in the hands of its youngest employees. In terms of development and implementation, the Internet, like many new paradigms, is the province of the young. "The CEO," Barlow says, "will have to trust youth to have the right instincts for managing themselves. Anyone over 25 tends to become technophobic."
The implied challenge for CEOs is twofold: a) Wrestle with your technophobia and control it, and b) Show your employees that you're enthusiastic and supportive of their technical skills and, more importantly, of the business advantages and opportunities their skills can bring to your company.
Like Life Itself
In short, one aspect of the future of the Internet is an increased dialogue within corporations and companies, as well as between enterprises and customers - a growing sense of community.
While one would probably not go so far as some New Age-y commentators who refer to the Net as a living organism, it's not necessarily a mistake to couch our Internet-related thinking in organic terms. The Net does grow, it is evolving, and some aspects of it have taken on a life of their own.
"The impact of the Net flows throughout an enterprise," Doyle says. "Everyone becomes a knowledge-worker. They, in turn, need to spend time developing customer knowledge- and knowledge-based relationships with customers."
Internally that takes the form of your company's intranet, essentially your internal Web site. The immediate business goals and benefits of an intranet are all but self-evident: clear and quick enterprise-wide communication and coordination, consolidation of information resources in an accessible digital location. Less evident, but no less important, is the degree to which employees will weigh the efficacy of their intranet against their own experiences on the larger Internet.
The interface with the larger world of customers, clients, and vendors imposes the same attention to extranets, the electronic networks that join your resources with theirs. As with all other aspects of their Internet presence, customers expect an extranet to be easy to use, a rewarding and enjoyable experience, as well as one with business value.
Barlow thinks extranets merely make obvious - and electronic - what's always been implicit about successful companies: "Business success has always been based on relationships, not products. The Internet makes that explicit."
Just as we've grown accustomed to thinking in terms of corporate culture, we now face a world changed by network culture, whether the network is a relatively small internal one or the larger Internet. The alteration of expectations is the same: employees and customers grow quickly accustomed to an easy-to-use interface, immediacy of access, immediacy of response, and availability of resources.
Net-Age CEOs need not get all touchy-feely about the Net - their tech employees are doing that for them. But they should be aware of the opportunities the Net offers their organizations to provide touchy-feely on-line service and responsiveness to customers. Those customers' expectations will be shaped by the whole of their wider Net experiences, and that includes the most pleasant and efficient of those experiences, as well as the most typical, not to mention the worst and most frustrating.
Think of it in terms of infrastructure. When planning a new real-world site or office you and your staff take into account availability of phone service, power, water, and so on. If they're not available - or are substandard - you go elsewhere. So will your Net customers.
"People," John Perry Barlow points out, "will bring to your company's Web site [or extranet] a set of expectations of how the world works on the Net. Your firm has to live up to those expectations." That means, whether it's fair or not, an industrial customer who's bought books effortlessly from Amazon.com is likely to resent any inefficiencies or technical glitches encountered when dealing with your firm over the Net. Whether yours is a consumer site or not, its effectiveness will be gauged against those consumer sites that set the bar for ease of use.
"It's like the telephone," Barlow says. "By now it's a completely invisible component of everything that takes place over it. It's not the phone people think about, it's the conversation. And the Internet may ultimately be more pervasive in business than the telephone." Anything that can be clone to render Net communication and transaction invisible works to the benefit of the Net relationship - and your company.
If I Had A Hammer
Those benefits can be great, but managing them can be tricky. Internet technology allows companies to obtain more information than ever about customers and potential customers.
"The Net's resources let businesses drill deeper than ever before into customers' individual preferences, needs, desires," Doyle says.
That drilling, though, whether in the form of mining databases or gathering information from "cookies" (bits of code exchanged between computers during Web visits), carries with it privacy issues of which the Internet-using public is being made increasingly aware. In addition to leading your organization to the creation of Internet business experiences and relationships that fulfill customer business expectations, your organization must also reassure customers about your respect for their digital rights.
All of this implies a change not only in the ways companies do business but also in the ways they think about doing business - and about themselves. A true paradigm shift.
Therein, Barlow feels, lies the greatest area of risk for companies - and their CEOs. "My primary warning," he says, "is to be from here on out wary of institutional thinking. The Net is a metamorphic force, rapidly changing and rapidly accelerating change. Institutions tend to hate change and to some extent are set up to stop change from happening."
Telecommunications technology, of which the Internet is the latest and arguably most profound iteration, has been historically and widely touted for breaking down barriers of time and distance. In the age of the Internet, it's also breaking down traditional institutional walls.
The effective CEO understands the power of this silicon sledgehammer. In the 21st Century the most effective CEOs will be the ones who help swing it.
Don't Hang Up - Do Hang On
Step back to reality for a moment, to the here and now, insofar as there is a fixed here-and-now to be found in a world in digital flux.
Obviously the Internet creates a myriad of challenges for companies to meet - and to meet constantly. As a result of the Internet, every business is now a 24-hour business, with customers expecting constant accessibility and immediate response. Already businesses see customers driving the speed with which the Internet has become the key business technology for the next millennium. With the arrival in the next couple of years of "information appliances" - all the power and capability of computers, but as easy to use as a TV - that speed will increase. Barlow's invisible telephone is coming to the Internet quickly.
Whatever your company's product or service, you're also in the Internet business, whether you want to be or not.
That business is not going to stop changing. New technologies, new approaches, new businesses and business models will add to its metamorphosis. The butterfly has already shed its cocoon - it's just going to keep sprouting newer and more colorful wings. Wings that fly higher and farther - and lift larger loads with less effort.
"Consumers," Doyle says, "want the Internet to be even easier and easier to use, and it's going to be. Within a very short time. And when that happens, when accessing the Internet is as easy as making a phone call or operating a toaster, the results will dwarf the expansion we've already seen."
The numbers will be staggering, all but universal. Although some pundits predict that Internet expansion will hit a wall a some point, Barlow demurs. "I think you're going to see the same exponential growth continue to the point where, sometime in the mid -'00s practically everybody on the planet will have Internet access."
"It's not going to slow down," Doyle says. "The Internet is the business given for the 21st century."
Just don't ask about its future.
It is the future.
30 YEARS IN THE LIFE...
ARPANET links host computers at different academic locations
23 host computers on Net
First e-mail program Internet Working Group establish to help set Net standards
ARPANET goes international
Telenet, first commercial Internet Term "Internet" first used
TCP/IP protocols established 100 ARPANET computer hosts
Compact discs introduced
NST creates large network for non-ARPANET computers 200 ARPANET computer hosts First PC
Host computers passes 500 mark First PC-based local network
First Macintosh Host computers break 1,000 mark Domain name system introduced
1,900 host computers on Net Quantum Computer on-line service founded by Steve Case: would become AOL
Hosts exceed 5,000
20,000 host computers in use
60,000 host computers in use 10% of Internet hacked by "worm" Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) created
100,000 Internet hosts Tim Bernes-Lee creates HTML laying framework for WWW Gateways link private e-mail and Net Internet is only communication during Tiananmen Square riots
ARPANET dwarfed by Internet 300,000 host computers in use. NSF permits commercial use of Net WWW unleashed
1 million host computers in use Phrase "surfing the net" first in use
Mosiac Web browser created by Marc Andreesen Web traffic expands at annualized rate of 340,000% InterNIC to manage Web Growth Host computers pass 2 million mark Clinton's e-mail address announced: email@example.com Service outages result from explosive Internet growth CIA Web site hacked
ARPANET/Internet turns 25 First Internet shopping malls First pizza sold over Web AOL and other services begin offering Internet access 4 million hosts in use AOL passes 1 million mark Web servers pass 1,500 mark
NSF cedes control of Net to InterNIC Netscape IPO is third largest in history 6.6 million host computers 23,000 Web sites Web traffic is largest use of Internet Fees charged for domain names Amazon/com founded
10 million host computers on Net 230,000 Web sites counted AOL exceeds 5 million subscribers 68% of Web sites are .com Internet commerce reaches $1 billion/yr.
Internet hosts surpass 16 million mark 100,000 networks connected to Net 650,000 Web sites As many as 10 million Web pages AOL passes 10 million mark 60 million Internet users worldwide E-commerce becomes major engine for conferences and consultants
36 million hosts on Internet 1.5 million domains on Net 2.5 million Web servers 60 million Internet users in U.S. Non-English speaking nations home to 42% of Internet users Monica Lewinsky story breaks on Net 25 million users visit Web to read Starr Report
Market cap for Amazon.com dwarfs real-world competitors AOL buys CompuServe; then Netscape Retail explosion on the Net Christmas purchase exceed $2 billion As many as 100 million Web pages Internet statistics becoming untrackable
Midnight, Dec 31: All bets off
12:01AM, Jan. 1: Most bets back on
HAL's birthday celebrated on the Web
Internet exceeds phone as prime communications medium Number of Web pages beyond count Number of Net hosts beyond count Number of users equal to population of planet(s)
Airplane Rule: an old hacker phrase extended to electronic technologies based on the theory that the more complex the technical system, the likelier the chance of a component failure that brings down the whole enterprise; e.g., more engines, more chance for engine failure.
Belle, Whistles, and Gongs: over-featured program or system; emphasis is on gongs; what you get when you add too many extras and complicate what should be simple; worse than just bells and whistles.
Card Walloper: derisive tech-speak for programmer whose job involves payroll management or other routine task.
Heisenbug: a bug that exists until you begin to look for it; from Heisenberg's insight into physics - the act of observing alters the properties of the observed.
Lion Food: tech-term for middle managers; derived from story of pair of lions who escaped from zoo; one lion ate a suburban family, was found and killed; the other hid in the bushes outside a large corporation, ate a middle manager every day, was never found nor even suspected of being there.
Machoflops: operational claims made in marketing or sales literature by hardware manufacturers; performance never matches promise.
Milking Cookies: the process of deriving information from bits of information - "cookies" - traded between computers connected over the Internet.
Notwork: a network that doesn't; often used by technical staff as a (not affectionate) term of reference aimed at their company's electronic infrastructure.
Sagan: from Carl of lamented memory; used for any large number, as in "billions and billions."
Samurai: ethical hacker for hire; unlike criminal or vandalism-oriented hackers and crackers, true silicon Samurai adhere to rigorous and self-imposed standards of loyalty to employers; often hired to seek out rogue employees within a corporation's technical staff.
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|Title Annotation:||includes glossary of terms; Chief Executive Guide: Beyond the Internet|
|Publication:||Chief Executive (U.S.)|
|Date:||Mar 15, 1999|
|Previous Article:||Fast-lane technology.|