Information work is thinking work. When thinking and working together are significantly assisted by computer technology, you have a digital nervous system. It consists of the advanced digital processes that knowledge workers use to make better decisions - to think, act, react, and adapt. Michael Dertouzos of MIT writes that the future "Information Marketplace" will require a large amount of special software and complex combinations of human and machine processes - an excellent description of a digital nervous system at work.
Do you view information technology as a way to solve specific problems? Then you're probably only getting a fraction of the benefits that modern computers and software can provide. Instead, you should be creating systems that will deliver information immediately to anyone who can use it - " digital nervous systems."
As the boss of Microsoft, the world's most successful software company, I played a large part in the birth of the Information Age. In this book I explain the idea of a digital nervous system - the use of information technology to satisfy people's needs at work and at home, just as the human nervous system supports the human mind.
Like a living creature, an organization works best if it can rely on a nervous system that sends information immediately to the parts that need it. A digital nervous system can unite all of an organization 's systems and processes, releasing rivers of information and allowing businesses to make huge leaps in efficiency, growth, and profits. I have a simple but strong belief: how you gather, manage, and use information will decide whether you win or lose.
The best way to put distance between your company and the crowd is to do an excellent job with information. There are more competitors today. There is more information available about them and about the market, which is now worldwide. The winners will be the ones who develop a world-class digital nervous system so that information can easily flow through their companies for maximum and constant learning.
I know what you're going to say: no, it's efficient processes! It's quality! It's winning market share and creating brands that are recognized! It's getting close to customers! Success, of course, depends on all of these things. Nobody can help you if your processes aren't efficient , if you don't care about quality, if you don't work hard to build your brand, if your customer service is poor. A bad business plan will fail however good your information is. And bad practice will spoil a good plan. If you do enough things badly, you'll go out of business.
But whatever else you have on your side today - smart employees, excellent products, loyal customers, cash in the bank - you need a fast flow of good information to make processes efficient , raise quality, and improve the way you put your plan into practice. Most companies have good people working for them. Most companies want to treat their customers well. Good, useful data exists somewhere within most organization s. Information flow is the lifeblood of your company because it enables you to get the most out of your people and to learn from your customers. See if you have the information to answer these questions:
- What do customers think about your products? What problems do they want you to fix? What new features do they want you to add?
- What problems do your partners have as they sell your products or work with you?
A digital nervous system won't guarantee you the right answers to these questions. But it will free you from the old paper processes so that you'll have the time to think about the questions. It will give you the data to start thinking immediately, and to see the trends coming at you. A digital nervous system will make it possible for facts and ideas to quickly surface from deep in your organization , from the people who have information about these questions and, it's likely, many of the answers. Most important, it will allow you to do all these things fast.
An old business joke says that if the railroads had understood that they were in the transport business instead of the steel-rail business, we'd all be flying on Union Pacific Airlines. Many businesses have changed their goals in even more basic ways. But it's not always clear where the next growth opportunity is.
McDonald's has the strong est brand name and market share and a good reputation for quality. But a market analysis recently suggested the company change its business model. McDonald's has occasionally promoted movie-linked toys. The analysis suggested that the company should use its well-known small-profit product to sell the high-profit toys, and not the other way round. Such a change is un likely, but not unthinkable in today's fast- changing business world.