Brave New World

Like the old joke about the weather, in the business world everybody talks about the New Economy, but nobody does anything about it. What's so new about this New Economy, and what do you need to know? We're glad you asked.


[From iSource Business, April 2001] With great opportunity comes great risk. It's one of those self-evident truisms that is self-evident only during the battle damage assessment that follows a major mistake.

And so it is with the New Economy. There are great opportunities, and there are great risks. Especially given the speed of change and information flow in the New Economy. The ability to move quickly also means the ability to err quickly.

But overall, it's better to have opportunity and risk than no opportunity at all. And the New Economy is aflush with opportunity. To get some bullish and bearish perspectives on what executives believe about the New Economy, iSource Business magazine spoke with executives from both pure-play Internet companies and more traditional brick-and-clicks. Here's our lineup of experts: Jim Hunt, e-commerce director, 3M; Mark Goldstein, president and CEO of Bluelight.com, Kmart's Web enterprise; Kevin Surace, CEO of strategic sourcing company Perfect.com; Tom Hennings, CEO of OrderFusion; Orville Bailey, president and CEO of B2eMarkets, an e-sourcing software company; and Bob Shecterle, vice president of product strategy, market-place solutions division of e-business application software company PeopleSoft. Here's what we found out.


What's All the Excitement About?


Recent presidential elections notwithstanding, it's best not to change rules or definitions halfway through an exercise. So let's start with the term New Economy. What, exactly, does that mean?


Hennings' response is blunt. What does New Economy mean to him? Nothing. It's a hype word. It's not that Hennings doesn't grasp the concept, it's just that he realizes that some factors are constant, and the presence of an economy is one of those factors. I'm not sure who invented the term, but there's been an evolution going on in the economy over the last 30 to 40 years, having to do mostly with response times and communications. And as we all can communicate more and more effectively and more broadly, I think the term New Economy' is almost synonymous with globalization. Which means that geographic boundaries are falling away.


Hennings says that this globalization is a natural outgrowth of a key human characteristic: impatience. We are an impatient species. You don't see your housecat wandering around the house tapping his paw on the carpet waiting for you to come home. And the New Economy, as I look at it, is the fulfillment of our impatience.


According to Jim Hunt, the New Economy is business in a new manner. For example, at 3M a lot of what we do is new product introductions and development. It isn't necessarily just selling the products. That's part of it, but it's how we get that information out, how we get the new item out faster.


So there are varying definitions, but the underlying threads are speed, globalization and information transfer. In other words, the New Economy seems to be much like the Old Economy, only exponentially faster. Businesses have valued speed since one courier got the job over another courier because he could cover fiefdom more quickly. Globalization has been around as long as someone looked at the distant horizon and wondered who was out there, and would they swap something with him. And information transfer probably goes back to someone scrawling, Honey, we're out of mammoth, on a cave wall.


So what is it about this New Economy that makes C-level execs look forward to the next evolutionary wrinkle, the next disruptive technology? In a move that should please the less energetic, Hennings predicts an intellectual liberation from grunt work. He explains, The Industrial Revolution was about us not having to do the mundane physical labor that machines could do. There is an awful lot of mundane intellectual labor that all of us have to do. In the coming decade that will go away. I think that's what this next revolution is really about


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