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How Digital Is Your Business?

How Digital Is Your Business?

by Adrian J. Slywotzky

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The biggest, most important issue in business today--becoming digital--touches not only traditional enterprises but the most avant-garde of Internet companies as well.

Old-economy companies must take steps to avoid becoming victims of capitalism's creative destruction, the unofficial system that flushes out the old to make way for the new. For dot-com companies


The biggest, most important issue in business today--becoming digital--touches not only traditional enterprises but the most avant-garde of Internet companies as well.

Old-economy companies must take steps to avoid becoming victims of capitalism's creative destruction, the unofficial system that flushes out the old to make way for the new. For dot-com companies the question is whether or not they are flash-in-the-pan businesses with no long-term prospects of profitability and customer loyalty.

Most of the early efforts to answer the question "How digital is your business?" have been shrouded in techno-speak: a veritable Tower of Babel unconnected with the real needs of business. Slywotzky and Morrison show, first of all, that becoming digital is not about any of the following: having a great Web site, setting up a separate e-business, having next-generation software, or wiring your workforce.

What they so creatively demonstrate is that a digital business is one whose strategic options have been transformed--and significantly broadened--by the use of digital technologies. A digital business has strategic differentiation, a business model that creates and captures profits in new ways and develops powerful new value propositions for customers and talent. Above all, a digital business is one that is unique.

How Digital Is Your Business? is a groundbreaking book with universal appeal for everyone in the business world. It offers:

* Profiles of the future: the in-depth story of the digital pioneers--Dell Computer, Charles Schwab, Cisco Systems, Cemex.

* Insight into how to change a traditional enterprise into a digital business: the stories of GE and IBM.

* An analysis of the profitable dot-coms: AOL, Yahoo!, and eBay.

While How Digital Is Your Business? has great stories and case studies, its most invaluable central idea is that of digital business design and the array of powerful digital tools it offers for use in creating a digital future for your own company.

Editorial Reviews

When Industry Week magazine compiled a list of the six individuals whose principles and practices most inspire business leaders around the world, they included Adrian J. Slywotzky, coauthor of How Digital Is Your Business?. Slywotzky was honored for his impact on such global players as Microsoft and Honeywell as well as for his expansive vision of a future in which technology, deregulation, and the accelerated exchange of information reshape classic business models. In How Digital Is Your Business? Slywotzky and coauthor David J. Morrison expand upon the conventional definition of a "digital business" and argue that, in the future, digitalization will be "the price of admission to the game."
Boston Globe
Slywotzky [is] one of the leading lights of a new generation of strategic thinkers.
Industry Week
Six individuals . . . now are the people whose ideas, principles, and practices most challenge, drive, and inspire chief executives in companies across the U.S. and around the world . . . Peter F. Drucker, Bill Gates, Andrew S. Grove, Michael E. Porter, Adrian J. Slywotzky, and John F. Welch, Jr.
CFO Magazine
In every industry, managers struggle to understand the changing rules of competition. Slywotzky's charting of the tectonic shifts in business has made him one of today's hottest corporate strategists.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Slywotzky and Morrison, management consultants and authors of The Profit Zone, return with guidance for companies that will increase their competitiveness and profitability by integrating the most appropriate technology into their strategic business design. Their concept, dubbed "Digital Business Design," is "not about technology for its own sake; it's about serving customers, creating unique value propositions, leveraging talent, radically improving productivity and increasing profits. It's about using digital options to craft a business model that is not only superior, but unique." The companies that demonstrate the best DBD, they argue, are those that focus on business issues first--and then determine how technology can maximize their business. The authors guide readers through a series of fundamental questions, with numerous examples of companies (Charles Schwab, GE, Cisco) that have successfully employed the DBD concept. Key to DBD is a "choiceboard," an "interactive on-line system that allows individual customers to design their own products and services." The best example of a company using choiceboards to increase a customer base, claim Slywotzky and Morrison, is Dell, whose customers can go online and select from an array of options to "custom make" their own computer system. For an increasingly global and digital market, Slywotzky and Morrison lay out a clear and cogent recipe for increased competitiveness and profitability. (Nov.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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The Crown Publishing Group
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Why this book? And why now? After all (you may be thinking), this isn't the first book on e-commerce and the Internet. It may not even be among the first hundred books on these topics, as a casual glance at any bookstore's shelves makes clear. What can this book say that's new and different?

That casual impression is correct in one sense, wrong in another. Correct because the digital revolution has been under way for years and has spawned hundreds of books, including several excellent ones. Wrong because How Digital Is Your Business? is not a book on e-commerce or the Internet. It's a book on digital business. And that means it could not have been written even eighteen months ago.

We define a digital business as one in which strategic options have been transformed--and significantly broadened--by the use of digital technologies. Under this definition, it's not enough to have a great Web site or a wired workforce or neat software that helps to run a factory. A digital business uses digital technologies to devise entirely new value propositions for customers and for the company's own talent; to invent new methods of creating and capturing profits; and, ultimately, to pursue the true goal of strategic differentiation: uniqueness.

Digital business, so defined, is a phenomenon that has emerged only since 1996. It gathered momentum in the last two years of the twentieth century.

* Not until 1998 did Dell Computer's on-line configurator--one of the first Choiceboards, a powerful new tool for digital business--appear in anything like its current form.

* Not until May of the same year did it become apparent that what we call 10X Productivity--order-of-magnitude improvement in cost, capital requirements, and cycle time--could be and in fact was being realized through the use of digital technologies.

* Not until early in 1999 did it become clear that AOL, Yahoo!, and eBay had all developed viable business models for doing business on the Internet.

* And not until the early months of 2000 did it become clear that GE, one of the business world's great incumbent companies, was moving forcefully to bring about the first successful large-scale transition from a nondigital to a digital business model.

Add to these facts the reality that the creation of a fully developed digital business design takes four to five years to complete, and it's apparent that what we now know about digital business was impossible to know, except in vague outline form, prior to 2000. Thus, we'd argue, this is the first book about digital business. It won't be the last.

Having been exposed to the hype and furor that digital technologies have aroused, we have no desire to contribute to them. But we believe that digital business represents a fundamental change from past business models. By comparison, other business movements, like the quality movement of the 1980s or the reengineering movement of the 1990s, will prove to be significantly narrower and more technical, and will have less impact.

The breadth and depth of the digital revolution are so important that no one in business can afford not to make digital business a leading priority during the next half-decade. The situation of today's business leaders--those responsible for decisions that affect customers and determine how talent, money, and other resources are deployed--is comparable to that of any professional whose field is being altered forever by the emergence of a new and better way of working.

Think of an architect during the early years of the twentieth century, when steel-girder construction and the invention of the elevator were making skyscrapers possible; or imagine a physician in the middle of the nineteenth century, when the discoveries of anesthesia (in the 1840s) and of sterile technique (in the 1860s) were transforming surgery from a torturous horror into a life-saving miracle. No responsible professional would want to ignore such developments. It's now clear--far clearer than it was even two years ago--that the changes made possible by new digital ways of doing business will be equally radical, beneficial, and liberating.

The history of digital business is just emerging from the discovery stage. But early developments have already revealed some important lessons for those who would lead--or join--the second wave of business digitization. This book makes available to anyone in business the economic and organizational implications of the success stories (as well as the struggles and setbacks) of companies that are showing the way toward the Digital Business Designs of the future.

These companies are the digital pioneers, and several chapters in this book tell their stories: Dell Computer (Chapter 4), Cemex (Chapter 5), Charles Schwab (Chapter 7), and Cisco Systems (Chapter 9). Taken together, these chapters illustrate the extraordinary outcomes that Digital Business Design makes possible, and they suggest the qualitative changes in business culture and values that accompany digitization. The stories of these four companies offer profiles of the digital businesses of the future.

Chapters 12 and 13 present a different kind of case study: the current experiences of two large and powerful incumbents, GE and IBM, as they transform themselves into digital businesses. These chapters sketch out what it takes to change a traditional enterprise into a digital business, and some of the problems and obstacles that must be overcome.

Chapter 14 tells yet another type of business story: the success of the few large-scale Internet-based businesses that have developed viable (and profitable) digital business designs. AOL, Yahoo!, and eBay are examples of what it takes to start in a digital space and build an effective business model. Legions of struggling dot-com companies have begun to learn some of the hard but necessary lessons.

Other chapters focus on specific aspects of digital business design: the Choiceboard, a powerful but little-known digital tool; 10X Productivity, one of the remarkable benefits that digitization offers; and the organizational effects of going digital. Each element of the digital business picture provides ideas and methods that can help every company that is crafting a transition from a conventional to a Digital Business Design. The chapter sequence allows the ideas, information, and stories to be mutually reinforcing and cumulative in their effect.

We hope that, after reading this book, the importance and urgency of digitization for all businesses today will be clear. The current business climate of relative prosperity (and the record-setting bull market) can dampen the sense of urgency about fundamental business reinvention. "We're doing fine," is the feeling, "so why rush into something we don't really understand?" That reaction is human, understandable, and very dangerous.

Consider the people for whom you're responsible: your customers, your employees, your partners. Within the next three years, it simply won't be possible to do a world-class job of serving them, and the other stakeholders who rely on you, without becoming digital. But if you begin today the process of transforming your company through Digital Business Design, you'll be able to offer them benefits no other company can match--the unique value propositions that are the ultimate reward of digitization.

The time is now, and the starting gate is right here.

From the Hardcover edition.

What People are Saying About This

Michael Dell
Let's be clear about one thing: If you take a business that's a bad business and put it online, it's still a bad business. It's just become an online bad business.

Meet the Author

ADRIAN J. SLYWOTZKY is the author of Value Migration and the coauthor of The Profit Zone and Profit Patterns. Mr. Slywotzky is a graduate of Harvard College and has an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is vice president of Mercer Management Consulting and was recently selected by Industry Week as one of the six most influential people in management.

DAVID J. MORRISON is the coauthor of The Profit Zone and Profit Patterns. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he also holds an engineering degree from Princeton and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. Mr. Morrison is vice chairman of Mercer Management Consulting and head of MercerDigital, the firm's e-commerce practice.

KARL WEBER is a writer and editor specializing in business and current affairs.

From the Hardcover edition.

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