X-Engineering the Corporation: Reinventing Your Business in the Digital Age

Overview

The walls between a company, its customers, and its suppliers-even between its competitors-are coming down. In a world of free-flowing information and products, X-Engineering the Corporation reveals a radical new vision of the corporation.

Instead of a collection of separate companies turning out goods and services, Champy shows us a web of interacting processes and people that includes every organization touched by a company's product. Gone are the old secrecy controls. In ...

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Overview

The walls between a company, its customers, and its suppliers-even between its competitors-are coming down. In a world of free-flowing information and products, X-Engineering the Corporation reveals a radical new vision of the corporation.

Instead of a collection of separate companies turning out goods and services, Champy shows us a web of interacting processes and people that includes every organization touched by a company's product. Gone are the old secrecy controls. In their place is a collaborative environment where people have all the information they need, ideas are shared, and businesses learn to:

Create Harmony. By getting more in tune with how its customers operate, Owens and Minor delivers medical products exactly when its customers want them-and reduces costs.

Be Transparent. Electronics manufacturing service company Solectron reveals to its customers the details of its processes-an innovation that keeps it competitive while speeding and streamlining production.

Understand the Role of Customers. EMC, the world's leading manufacturer of memory storage devices, talks with, listens to, and values customer "pull" more than ever before-and now defines its process "push" with pinpoint accuracy.

Continuously X-engineer. When PNC Bank used the full power of the Internet in every one of its divisions, its efficiency-and that of its customers-improved exponentially.

Inspiring and illuminating, this book uncovers the unlimited potential that imaginatively applied information technology offers corporations. X-Engineering the Corporation is a must-read: because change is the one thing all businesspeople must do well today.

About the Author: James Champy is chairman of Perot Systems consulting practice. His columns on management are published internationally. He is the coauthor of Reengineering the Corporation and The Arc of Ambition, as well as the author of Reengineering Management.

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Editorial Reviews

Michael Dell
The first book that describes what companies must do to change how they operate and to leverage the real power of information technology...
Patrick J. McGovern
A breakthrough book...a must-read for executives who want to prosper in the networked economy.
Judy C. Lewent
An important contribution to business strategy for the corporation in the twenty-first century...an invaluable resource for executives...
Nitin Nohria
Jim Champy has done it again... promises to unleash a new revolution...to find powerful new ways of enhancing corporate performance.
Harvard Business School
Soundview Executive Book Summaries
Information Technology Meets Reengineering
Now that you have reengineered your company and streamlined your processes for maximum efficiency, you are ready to rise to the next level with X-engineering. X-engineering uses technology-enabled processes to connect organizations with other businesses, and companies with customers to improve efficiency and create value for everyone involved.

Global competitive pressure drives this change, as well as the inefficiency and redundancy that exist in work relationships between organizations and with customers. The Internet and its technologies enable X-engineering, and it involves boundary crossing on a huge scale to create connections in a giant web of transactions. Almost ten years after writing Reengineering the Corporation with Michael Hammer and changing the way companies view efficiency and productivity, James Champy has returned with X-Engineering the Corporation - a more inclusive and wider stretching version of reengineering that has been redesigned to work in today's tough business climate.

The Birth of X-Engineering
X-engineering began when Champy set out to untangle a giant financial mess: A Boston health maintenance organization (HMO) had found $100 million worth of previously unreported red ink on its books.

In an effort to regain control of its operations and finances, the HMO required drastic restructuring that would need to extend far beyond its walls and into many more aspects of the entire health care industry. Since the HMO was merely an intermediary that traded information with its partners, the entire network of organizations with which it worked would also need to be part ofthe reengineering process.

When reengineering was forced to cross the boundaries of many organizations and redesign the working relationships the HMO had with its members, employees, doctors, hospitals and insurers to change the way each of them added value to a patient's experience, X-engineering was born. This cross-organizational process change requires shifts in strategies, and extensive use of information technology (IT) and the Internet to get the job of reinventing an industry done.

Beyond IT
With technological advances in communication at its core, X-engineering is the manifestation of the concept of the "virtual corporation." But, Champy writes, it cannot function on IT alone. It also requires the work of managers who can develop new business processes that cross organizational boundaries and share information with other companies and, eventually, the entire industry. By doing so, Champy explains that these new processes will "both dramatically improve the performance of companies and the value they deliver to customers." With the Internet available to share the lifeblood of vital information among disparate companies and their processes, X-engineering relies on the ability of new technology to gather, share and analyze information with speed and efficiency, and often, transparency.

Three Practices
Champy explains that X-engineering responds to three questions:

  1. How does a company need to change?
  2. What are the benefits?
  3. Whose collaboration is needed?


To find answers, a company must look at: its processes, which include all the things it does to create and sell goods and services; the business proposition it offers customers; and the extent of its participation with others in creating shared processes. Process (both internal and external), proposition and participation are the three practices that must be reinvented by X-engineering, and cross-organizational cooperation and change are necessary to make it work.

Why Soundview Likes This Book
X-Engineering the Corporation is filled with the forward thinking that managers need to face an interconnected world where the Internet play a pivotal role in the way businesses function.

With pertinent examples from PNC Bank, Dell, Bank of America, Owens & Minor, and W.W. Grainger, Champy backs up his theories with real scenarios where companies have used them and succeeded through networked restructuring.

Champy offers the promise of performance improvement with carefully described, understandably portrayed ideas that are both innovative and practical. Nothing in his book is overwhelmingly complex or complicated, and his ability to transmit the information in a straightforward manner should ease their application.

By looking at the future of business with a sharp eye on better strategies for today's organizations, Champy takes the successes of re-engineering to the next level without missing a step along the way. Copyright (c) 2002 Soundview Executive Book Summaries

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446528009
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 2/20/2002
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 7.12 (w) x 8.46 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Why X-Engineering? Why Now? 1
Ch. 2 What X-Engineering Is - and Isn't 18
Ch. 3 X-Engineering in Action - Solectron 41
Ch. 4 The Pull of Customers, the Push of Processes 54
Ch. 5 The Rough Road to Harmony 71
Ch. 6 Using X-Engineering to Create Value 90
Ch. 7 Where to Mark the X 107
Ch. 8 How Many Boundaries Will You Cross? 122
Ch. 9 What X-Engineering Demands from You 143
Ch. 10 Ten Mistakes That Every X-Engineer Should Avoid 167
Ch. 11 X-Engineering in Action - SciQuest 189
Ch. 12 X-Engineering in Action - PNC Bank 201
Epilogue 220
Acknowledgments 223
Index 225
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First Chapter

Chapter 1

Why X-engineering? Why Now?

When Michael Hammer and I conceived our 1993 bestseller, Reengineering the Corporation, we recognized that the economy confronted a period of enormous change and that businesses urgently needed ways to respond. On all sides, companies were beset by globalization, by the sudden invasions of once—safe markets, by the growing demands of ever more sophisticated customers. All too many were strangling in departmentalization, mired in their single—minded focus on individual tasks. Our message: Work would have to be redesigned—reengineered, we called it—in terms of processes rather than tasks or departments.

The book touched a nerve, setting off a great wave of reengineering in company after company around the world. True to our vision, reengineering achieved enormous efficiencies. For example, a recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study, found that reengineering in the aerospace industry has led to a 30 percent boost in productivity since 1993. Similar productivity gains were reported in industries ranging from insurance to computer component manufacturing.

The impact of reengineering, however, was internal; by and large, the reforms ended at the company gate. That is no longer enough. The technology revolution and the global economic realignment of the past five years demand that businesses prepare for the next stage of transformation. The advances of reengineering must be extended to include all stakeholders—not just a company's shareholders, but its managers, employees, customers, suppliers, and partners as well.

I have heard much criticism that the efficiencies created by the first round of reengineering mainly benefited shareholders at the expense of customers and employees. As banks merged, for example, staffs were consolidated and downsized in the name of reengineering. Fewer people were asked to do more work, while others were laid off and customer service deteriorated. That imbalance cannot be sustained. Indeed, shareholders can expect to go on profiting from business changes only if—a crucial if—customers and employees begin to benefit as well.

What the world's harsh new economic conditions teach us, above all, is that every part of business is now connected at some level to every other part. All are interdependent. No part can thrive in isolation. Like the human body, the whole is healthy only if the parts are healthy.

This book was written to help managers confront the new challenge of connectedness and interdependency. Where reengineering showed managers how to organize work around processes inside a company, X-engineering argues that the company must now extend its processes outside—hence the X, which stands for crossing boundaries between organizations. When an organization's processes are integrated with those of other companies, all the partners can pool their efforts and effectively become a new multi-company enterprise, far stronger than its individual members could ever be on their own.

X-engineering is the art and science of using technology-enabled processes to connect businesses with other businesses and companies with their customers to achieve dramatic improvements in efficiency and create value for everyone involved.

What is driving this sweeping change is a combination of global competitive pressure and the frustrating inefficiency and redundancy that still persists in work relationships between organizations and with customers. The change is enabled, of course, by that all-purpose information medium, the ubiquitous Internet, and its associated technologies. When I call my approach X-engineering, I mean to invoke boundary-crossing on a scale approaching the Internet's ability to connect the world in a seamless web of transactions. This is hardly far-fetched. Many large organizations have already adopted forms of X-engineering, in practice if not yet in name.

Most businesspeople, I suspect, think of the reengineering movement as a thing of the past. I think it has just begun. X-engineering is reengineering squared: a vastly expanded new version, redesigned and refitted for timely service in the world's tough new business climate. With all due immodesty, I predict that the corporate transformations spurred by X-engineering in this decade will dwarf those wrought by reengineering in the last one.

Reengineering and X-engineering are alike in that they both make it possible to greatly improve business performance. They both require radical rethinking and fundamental change, and they both have a process focus. Then they part company. Reengineering is applied within the organization largely to cut costs, raise quality, and increase speed and productivity. X-engineering also improves internal efficiency, but that is just the beginning. It promises vast improvement in operations and processes across organizations—that is, among companies and their suppliers, partners, and customers. The result will be breakthrough innovations in the ways companies operate and new value propositions for customers. Ultimately, the X-engineered corporation mobilizes not only its own improved processes but also those of its X-engineered allies.

The potential impact of X-engineering can be glimpsed in this simple fact: Business spends about $2 trillion a year on logistics, 40 percent of which goes for paperwork and administration. X-engineering those processes could achieve mammoth savings. Right now, for example, the routine process of shipping something across the Atlantic is a logistical nightmare, thanks to red tape that requires shippers to execute 26 separate documents. If X-engineering could slash these administrative costs by half—a relatively modest ambition—companies and presumably consumers would be richer by $400 billion a year.

In the chapters ahead, I set forth in detail the theory and practice of X-engineering. I also offer case histories of some of the businesses that have made great strides by applying X-engineering concepts. In this chapter, my goal is more modest. I show how reengineering and X-engineering were born. I explain why the business world has been so slow to adapt to the Internet despite its huge potential, and I detail how this new technology is changing the very definition of the corporation.

From Reengineering to X-engineering

One of our key insights into the need for reengineering came from an insurance executive who sought our help in the late 1980s. He told us that it took his company 24 days to issue a new policy—nearly a month just to write up a simple life policy and send out a bill. The delays were both annoying and expensive, but that wasn't the worst of it. "Here's my real problem," he said. "I don't want to give reluctant customers that much time to change their minds."

It turned out that the actual time necessary to create and print a policy and send a bill was 10 minutes: After all, policies are usually composed of standard boilerplate clauses, and every department was fully automated. So how could the process conceivably take 24 days?

We traced the order's paper trail through the organization. We visited the 14 different departments on its route. We saw all the computers—and we concluded that the company's problem was caused by its extreme fragmentation and specialization. No amount of increased efficiency inside those 14 separate stovepipes was going to help. The only way to make any dramatic gain in our client's performance was to tear down the system, dismantle those stovepipes, and create a clear, clean line from the beginning to the end of every process.

And that became reengineering.

A decade later, in the summer of 2000, I had a similar epiphany about X-engineering. It came while I was sitting in the conference room of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Inc., a health maintenance organization (HMO) in Boston, Massachusetts. Founded by a group of doctors from Harvard Medical School and previously known as Harvard Community Health Plan, it has always been committed to providing the best possible health care.

Harvard Pilgrim had a new chief executive officer, Charles D. Baker, who had arrived to find impending disaster. At least $100 million of previously unreported red ink was on the books, and there wasn't much of a cushion to lean on. Even more disturbing, the organization, like many HMOs, was having trouble tracking its expenses and its members.

Baker's questions were initially about survival. How does a business get into a condition where it learns about its real income and costs a full year after it closes its books? How could it fix its operations and get its financials under control while continuing to provide the quality health care that had made its reputation?

Baker and his new management team could have cut costs in the disturbing fashion of many HMOs—by simply dumping whole categories of patients who required more care than the norm. But these doctors and managers had a great sense of purpose: Not only did they want to use the best of their ability to continue to serve all their members, but they were going to solve all the conundrums that plague the health care industry.

Baker and his colleagues had other questions in need of answers: How can we improve our services, for example by tracking the outcomes of our treatments, without increasing the costs of health care? Why does it sometimes take over a year to settle up our financial arrangements with our doctors and hospitals? Why do our members have to fill out new forms and register again every time they see a new care provider? Why can't we have universal health care records, accessible to all providers—with the members' permission, of course? Why are all of us in health care spending as much as 35 percent of every expense dollar on administrative processes that often involve multiple health care providers and other insurers? What if we could spend most of that money directly on the delivery of care?

What struck me at our meeting was that a solution for Harvard Pilgrim would require more than reengineering the processes inside the organization. Harvard Pilgrim was not a finite business that could ever thrive alone, no matter how superb its internal processes might become. Like so many other businesses today, this HMO was essentially an intermediary, trading in information with its partners. It was, in fact, a complex network of mutual processes and relationships with other organizations.

Solving Harvard Pilgrim's problems would thus require crossing the boundaries of multiple organizations. The HMO would have to redesign its working relationships with members, employers, doctors, hospitals, and other insurers. Each player in the health care industry would have to change the way it added value to the patient's experience. And none of them could do it alone. The solution would require cross-organizational process change, shifts in strategy, and the generous application of the Internet and related information technologies. In the end, the health care industry would have to be reinvented. And the key to that kind of reinvention is what became X-engineering.

As I realized that day in Boston, there must be a broader approach to doing business that expands the application of technological advances across whole industries without respect to organizational or geographic boundaries. What had been vacuous concepts—"the networked economy" or the "virtual corporation," for example—could now be made a reality. But it would not happen simply through the application of technology. It would happen only if managers radically changed their business processes—this time not just within their companies or even just where customers and companies meet. The opportunity was now to create a new generation of processes that would cross the boundaries of organizations and be shared first between companies and eventually throughout a whole industry.

These new processes would both dramatically improve the performance of companies and the value they deliver to customers. I also realized that understanding the real effects of the Internet and the role of information technology would be critical to successful X-engineering. For example, I needed to decide whether these tools were disruptive or indispensable or perhaps both. After all, many company processes can and have been reengineered without the use of information technology. But in X-engineering the Internet is the central nervous system, the medium for sharing vital information and integrating disparate companies and their processes. It is indispensable to X-engineering. Not surprisingly, the Internet also brings all the challenges of disruption.

The power of the Internet as a technological development ranks with the advent of electricity, the internal—combustion engine, nuclear power, and the computer itself. It is the ubiquitous network that can link all organizations, and it is driving a fundamental shift in the way organizations operate. Over time, it will not only improve the performance of managers and employees—it will alter the very nature of their work. Moreover, it will allow organizations to become not just tools of change but creators of change.

Information has always been powerful; the Internet makes it very nearly omnipotent. We can now gather, analyze, and share information with a speed and sophistication that dramatically raises organizational intelligence. In our new digital democracy, what used to be "secrets" that managers believed provided competitive advantage become common knowledge almost instantly— information that farsighted companies disseminate to all hands. Transparency of information and processes becomes the norm.

This openness and ease of information dispersal is the key to mobilizing a company and its customers, suppliers, and partners for a common purpose. And that will enable almost miraculous efficiency. Every day, process-savvy companies use the Internet to routinely exceed performance levels unimagined 10 years ago. Just as the four-minute mile seemed impossible until Roger Bannister ran it one day in 1954—whereupon runner after runner matched his breakthrough until that milestone became routine—the performance standards of a decade ago are now easily surpassed.

There is a popular misconception that the breaking of the dotcom bubble on Wall Street signaled a disenchantment with the Internet as a way of doing business and even with high technology in general. Not so. What has changed is how technology and the Web are being used. At the retailer Staples, Inc., for instance, even as management slammed the brakes on launching new e-businesses and folded its Staples.com subsidiary back into the parent company, new technology was being put in place to increase efficiency. An investment of $2.5 million in a new data-storage system was expected to return $10 million in savings, and an online help desk for store managers and clerks should bring a 60 percent return on investment over four years—well over four times the average Staples return.

That is typical of the bottom-line savings we are seeing through process change and the application of technology. Here are some other examples:

  • Item: FedEx Corporation is encouraging its customers to keep tabs on packages via its Web site. Why? It costs FedEx $2.14 to track a package if a customer calls its phone center, 4 cents if a customer does it via the Web. And FedEx receives more than 600,000 such queries a day.
  • Item: By using online auctions, the pharmaceutical and consumer-products giant Bristol-Myers Squibb Company has trimmed 6 to 8 percent of its cost on everything from chemicals to medicine dispensers and reduced time in its purchasing process.
  • Item: The health care provider Humana, Inc., used to spend $128 to handle a single job application and rŽsumŽ. Putting that process online has collapsed the cost to a nearly invisible 6 cents, boosting productivity some 2,133 times.
  • Item: Banks enjoy a savings bonanza when their customers use the Web. At one financial institution I know, the cost of handling a transaction over the Internet costs the bank just 2 cents, compared with 24 cents via a cash machine, 54 cents by telephone, and $1.25 by teller.
  • Item: The General Electric Company is saving some $600 million a year. How? By making just a third of its procurement purchases online.
  • Item: International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) has seen its purchasing costs drop by $6.5 billion in two years simply by putting its procurement process online. Another benefit of its e-procurement process: Its contract cycle time has declined from one year to 30 days.

In truth, the real potential of the Internet was never in auctions of gewgaws or the spamming of e—mail advertising. Cutting costs is the name of the Internet game. To be sure, investment in technology is turning down as companies digest the huge investments they have made in recent years. In a survey in May 2001, 260 chief information officers said their planned growth in technology budgets was down to 4 percent from 19 percent six months previously. But the plan was still to grow, and 70 percent of the respondents to a survey of 150 senior executives by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania said Internet technology was crucial—both for customer service and for making purchasing more efficient.

Beyond all this, the Internet is transforming competition itself. Traditionally, companies have used various methods to capture and retain customers, improve operational efficiency, and achieve competitive advantage. In my consulting work I identified many of those options long ago. For example, companies have always sought to gain new efficiencies by trimming manufacturing costs, cutting inventories, and slashing distribution expenses. All that is still possible, but the use of the Internet will lift all boats. Competitors' costs will become similar—and their prices will drift closer together.

This leveling of the playing field is being accelerated by a wave of new alliances and partnerships. Ronald Coase, the Nobel Prize—winning economist, pointed out years ago that the high transaction costs involved in finding and working with new partners led companies to try to do everything themselves. Today the Internet has made partnering easier and far less expensive. This has encouraged many businesses to look outside their borders, seeking alliances with companies that can perform particular processes better than they can. Paradoxically, the nature of competition today leads companies to cooperate. In other words, the right conditions are in place for X-engineering

It is abundantly clear that information technology has become the 600-pound gorilla in thousands of businesses the world over. The task for managers is to master the new technology instead of becoming its victim.

Fear and Longing

Fear of the new, longing for the old, all muddled by a desire not to fail—such are the emotions that confuse high-tech novices in any industry, and especially in those confronting X-engineering for the first time. This is nothing new. Progress has exacted a price in perceived danger ever since the first labor-saving loom scared English textile workers into torching their mills. The price of today's technology is clear: Understand its business impact or fall behind, perhaps forever. Accordingly, every manager now realizes that sooner or later he or she will have to accept and adopt the Internet. But the technology is advancing so rapidly that many find themselves nearly overwhelmed by the possibilities. Buried in information, with too little time to absorb and apply it, these managers grope along from day to day in a fog of unanswered questions:

  • The Internet is vital to my company's future, but how can I use it? I have already downsized, right-sized, reinvented, restructured, and, yes, reengineered. What else can I squeeze out of the business and my workforce?
  • How do I know I'm making the right technology choices? How do I keep up with the constant and rapid evolution of technical products? Where am I supposed to get the money?
  • How much of this technology should I develop for myself, and how much can I leave to partners? How much control of my operations can I afford to give up to suppliers and partners?
  • If the "networked economy" means getting closer to my customers and suppliers, how can I exert control over my business? Can I still run my business the way I want to? Who's in charge?
  • How long can I put off major decisions about changing how I operate? And most troubling of all, why should I change and embrace technology when the Internet seems to do nothing but drive down the price of my products?

The answers to these questions and many similar ones will be found in the chapters ahead, but this much can be said right now: In the real world, a company's decisions about business change that is driven or enabled by new technologies often owe less to logic than to long-established patterns of managerial behavior.

Although managers recognize that the Internet and other technologies will affect their businesses, they aren't sure how, and that uncertainty breeds anxiety. They have only a flimsy grasp of the Internet's possibilities and the operating changes it will demand. Accordingly, they respond with nothing more venturesome than brochure-ware—pro forma, this-is-who-we-are Web sites. Danny Hillis, the legendary cofounder of Thinking Machines Corporation, pointed out a common failing in a recent speech at the Santa Fe Institute:

All companies think of e-commerce as an add-on to their existing business. I call this the drive-in window mistake. When cars first came along, many businesses just assumed that they would add a drive-in window but that the rest of their business would essentially remain the same. [But] the real impact of cars was to move shopping traffic from downtown to the shopping malls. Suddenly, realize it or not, everyone was in the shopping-by-car economy. In the same way, all business is becoming e-commerce. Adding a Web portal to your existing business is like adding a drive-in window to a downtown department store. Instead, information drives the entire process from discovering products to selecting them, transporting them, servicing them, and managing the relationship with the customer. Managers must rethink their entire business.

Many managers choose to disregard Hillis's advice. They remain skeptics, understandably turned off by Web evangelists who spout overwrought prophecies ("be digital or die"). The recent crash of dot-com companies is also cited as a good reason to put off technology initiatives or experiments with new ways of doing business. To be sure, the debacle was real, but the collapse of a Wall Street bubble must not be confused with the enduring technology that inspired investors to inflate that bubble and that will undoubtedly outlive it.

I have met other company leaders who react to the Internet with what I call the not-on-my-watch response. They know or suspect the potential impact of the new technology, but they choose to do nothing about it. They draw denial about their shoulders like a comforting cloak, assuring themselves and their colleagues that nothing major needs to be done for another decade or two.

Five years ago, for example, the executives of a major Southern bank visited me in my office in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They wanted to talk about the future of retail banking. We spent the morning discussing this, and around noon I told my visitors that I was going to give them a glimpse of their future—a demonstration of what a virtual, digital bank looked like. I brought out my laptop and pulled up the site of a British bank that had just gone online.

As the bankers witnessed what services were available and how quickly and easily transactions could be completed, the conversation began to wander. A strange levity filled the room. One man turned to me and said, "Jim, tell me, do we have to fly home in our own plane or are you going to beam us home?"

I could see that my Southern friends were not really up for any more talk about the Internet's impact on their lives and livelihoods. They chose to shrug it off. It might be true that some day the Internet would cause their massive infrastructure of branch banks to crumble, forcing them to fire or retrain thousands of people. But surely it wouldn't happen on their watch.

Eventually, I realized that the unstated reasons why people avoid new technologies are neither simple nor perverse. Indeed, it is human nature to be uncomfortable with the very notion of major change. As Shakespeare's Hamlet put it, we would all "rather bear those ills we have/Than fly to others that we know not of."

Hamlet preferred denial to dread. So do most people. Unless you are dead certain that change will be beneficial, unless you have an unusual degree of courage and sureness in your judgments, you are likely to make one of two choices when confronted by a potentially transforming new technology. Neither response will allow your company to advance.

The first choice is Hamlet's: to dither and ultimately do nothing. The second is to do something small. Most managers have been taught to take an incremental approach to change. Small actions rarely lead to large mistakes. We can easily backtrack. We can defend our actions to our directors and the market. Yes, we can say, we know all about the Internet, and we are moving gradually and prudently in response.

In truth, however, incremental change is fruitless when it comes to embracing a technology that by definition creates radical business change. And even if small steps were useful, as I learned to my dismay while helping businesses reengineer in the 1990s, every large organization has the corporate antibodies to kill any incremental change program.

More than 30 years ago, the U.S. Congress established the Office of Technology Assessment precisely to evaluate the secondary effects of new technologies, including their disturbance of traditional ways of life and business. It turned out to be an almost impossible task. Trying to predict the ripple effects of a new technology is a dubious proposition. In our hubris, we can make grand pronouncements—but in our wisdom we must realize that they are, at best, educated guesses.

The history of Thomas Edison's invention of the electric light is instructive. It turned out to be far more than simply a convenience, an alternative to high—cost manufactured gas. The rhythms and very nature of our lives were forever altered. The lightbulb opened up the night: We could read at all hours, work longer days, party 'til dawn. (At the same time, we learned to get along on less sleep—20 percent less than our counterparts of a century ago, according to the National Sleep Foundation.)

Could any of this have been envisioned by the businesspeople of Edison's day? Unlikely. Edison made his discovery in 1879, but as the economic historian Paul David points out, it took 40 years or so before the nation woke up to the real potential of electricity. Manufacturers, for example, could not see any particular advantage in the new power source. They were doing quite well, thank you, with their basement steam engines sending power upstairs via belts and pulleys to run factories four or five stories tall. Switching from steam to electricity seemed at first to offer no visible gain. It was not until the manufacturers came up with a new vision of their factories that the modern, one—story plant emerged, with each machine run by its own motor.

Arguably, there was plenty of time to digest changes in those days. But today innovations occur at unprecedented speeds, and reaction time has shrunk to what seems like nanoseconds. This creates more confusion and anxiety for managers. How do we understand and capitalize on a new technology before the next best thing overtakes it? And can a company ever be entirely sure that it has chosen the right course when it makes a radical change in its operations?

With X-engineering the fear and longing will be about a lot more than technology. Managers will be pressured to surrender hard-won control to the greater good of business-to-business and business-to-customer integration—to literally share their entire companies with other companies and customers. To some leaders this will feel reckless, a form of managerial abdication. Your reactions will be shaped by years of competitive behavior:

  • Do I really want to trust my company's intimate secrets to strangers who may have only their own interests at heart? Are my partners and customers hiding their real agendas?
  • My people and I spent our whole lives honing our competitive instincts—that is how we built this great company and that is what keeps it great. Frankly, we are trained warriors and proud of it. Okay, I understand that we now have to turn our guns into plowshares and all become peaceful X-engineers. I know it intellectually. But it is jarring to my sensibilities.
  • Everyone in my business can tell you the stories of mergers and acquisitions that failed because of incompatible cultures and leaders. Won't this be a problem in X-engineering? After all, we are unique and indubitably superior to the others. How can we avoid oil-and-water conflicts and an early divorce? Failed mergers typically squander millions on visions that never should have been pursued, much less articulated. Tell me how our X-engineered vision can escape that fate and instead thrive for the common good.

Acknowledging our denials and our fears is the first step to overcoming them. It is also the first step every manager must take on the road to X-engineering. Then, as with any set of new ideas, it is important to understand how they apply to your business. And you will learn how to do that in the next chapter.

Copyright© 2002 by James Champy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2002

    A great book for the first-timers

    I ordered the book from bn.com on standard shipping but got it as if it was on priority mail. It is a great book for those who have not read any of the Champy/Hammer reengineering books. However, those, who have and practice reengineering or `the art of agility¿ in corporate America ¿ will be disappointed. The book provides no new solutions to the present chaos in global business. The book does not even identify the systemic problems plaguing corporate America. Forget about connecting the dots, the book cannot even show you the dots. Everyone knows to create harmony or to be good to your customer. It is easy to name companies who are doing well and highlight some general processes even though the same company might file for chapter 11 a few months down the road. The problem is systemic like cancer that pervades the business community as evidenced from great companies like Xerox, Polaroid, Global Crossing, K-Mart, Stage Stores, Worldcom and so on. The book does not identify the problem nor prescribes the life style changing solution. The book does not even complain that the people who work in information technology department have no clue about ¿information¿ let alone know how to use them. Everyone in the IT department is an expert in the specific silo based hardware or software tools ¿ but not in the ¿information¿. The companies never ask for it and hence never get it. So¿nothing new here. On a side note: the printing of the book is the same quality as a cheap pulp fiction and not the quality of a business textbook.

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