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Digital champions are emerging victorious

BACK in 1995, Nicholas Negro-ponte in his book Being Digital

suggested the greatest single obstacle to the roll-out of the information economy was the vast army of digitally homeless CEOs and senior managers.

He argued even those who were not digitally homeless were at best digitally challenged.

This was never to suggest CEOs and senior managers needed to become propeller heads. The CEO discomfort was largely an outcome of user unfriendly computers.

In 1995-97, the early days of electronic commerce, I frequently encountered senior managers who thought e-commerce was simply another information technology project for their company and looked to their IT manager to follow through.

At the end of an absorbing e-commerce project about two years ago I recall a brain storming session where we had some fun and categorised the classical responses within traditional large organisations to the challenges of the Internet and online economy.

We decided that, in most organisations, there are digital champions, evangelists, opportunists, digital illiterates, technological tyrants and business nomads.

• Digital Champions are the early adopters of the new IT. They tend to be the big picture thinkers and to adopt a strategic approach to issues. They recognise while e-commerce initiatives are important, so are commitments to established cust-omers. Effective digital champions develop an online strategy alongside ‘business as usual’ commitments.

• Internet Evangelists are people who have fallen in love with the new technology and usually don’t understand the full picture. I have seen these people arrive at the office after having a rush of blood to the head on the weekend and urge the organisation to drop everything and develop a web site. When someone suggests developing a serious Internet strategy for the whole firm they often lose interest.

• Internet Opportunists typically have a short-term focus and a limited vision of the future. These people have very high expectations of returns in the immediate to short term for any change of company direction. They are often described as low on strategy and high on greed.

• Digital Illiterates are (were) people who held the fixed view that the Internet was a passing fad. It had to be a fad because it is the simplest reaction to something new you don’t understand. When their organisation needs a decisive response they are usually inactive and confused.

• Technology Tyrants are often, but don’t have to be, IT managers. Their focus is on traditional closed IT systems and are often what we call proprietary prisoners – protecting their existing invest-ment. They can’t see beyond what has worked well in the past”.

• Business Nomads are the dazed stragglers, not sure what it all means but eventually go where the wind blows. Often a suggestion for an e-commerce business plan produces a nil response.

Australia is progressing well through the ranks of the countries harnessing the power of the Internet for business purposes. The number of nomads, tyrants, illiterates and opportunists is dwindling. After a slow and painful start the digital champions are winning the day.

• Mal Bryce is a consultant to Dow Digital and a former WA Deputy Premier.

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