Marriage of true minds

Business hasn't accelerated anywhere near as much as you've been led to believe. Yes, it's faster. But.

ManagementSpeak: One of our core values is to act with a sense of urgency.

Translation: This organisation pays no attention to anything until it's a crisis.

-- Pay attention to IS Survivalist Craig McAllister, this week's interpreter.

I once spoke at the wedding of some young friends. "Here's some advice," I said. "Don't ask a middle-aged divorced guy for advice on marriage." I hope a middle-aged remarried guy does better. Uh ... excuse me for a moment everyone: Sharon, I don't know why you said yes, but I do know why I asked you -- you're just plain wonderful, and I would have been a dope if I hadn't.

Okay, I'm being self-indulgent, but marriage is a lifelong commitment. Compare that to business, where time scales are so compressed that we now have mere seconds to accomplish what used to take years.

Now forget the comparison, because business hasn't accelerated anywhere near as much as you've been led to believe. Yes, it's faster. But.

Businesses operate in three distinct time scales -- transactional, marketing and strategic -- and a lot of the perceived acceleration is, to a large extent, our confusing one for another.

At the transaction level -- the buy-and-deliver process -- business acceleration is very real. Buyers might not decide any faster, but once they have decided, they want instant delivery. The term "Real-Time Business" (GartnerSpeak: "Zero-latency enterprise") is about the transactional time scale. Real time really is a lot faster than its predecessors.

Luckily, the need to deliver before the decision to buy is unlikely. We're reaching the point of diminishing returns.

Then there's what we in IT have been calling internet time, supposedly the new pace for business. Marketing managers, though, have always worked at this pace. We were able to ignore Marketing Time until recently, when the web introduced us to it.

Before the web, we worked exclusively within the strategic time scale, building systems that endured and that still need to endure far longer than the latest marketing campaign. Our working in Marketing Time doesn't make a marketing campaign a business strategy.

Business strategies connect capabilities to marketplaces. A business's capabilities don't change quickly, and a marketplace -- a complex, interconnected web of interactions among multiple businesses -- changes more slowly than any single company within it.

Strategies must last for years. Still, they do change faster than they used to back when, for example, Guinness signed a 9000-year lease. Talk about "... 'til death do you part?"

In it for the long haul? Send Lewis an email. Lewis is president of IT Catalysts, an independent consultancy specialising in IT effectiveness and strategic alignment.

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