I got quite a few surprising reactions to the post ‘Good news; making new revenues and profits from technology’. To some people I was cheating as they stated that the devices had nothing to do with IT (which funnily enough is also the same reaction I get when I cover the topic of Smart Phones, which many people also say have nothing to do with IT). Others get the point and recognise that all of these examples are at least at some point integrated to, or with, the enterprises IT systems, and therefore just as IT came to include Mainframes, Smart Phones are, or should be, part of the ‘real estate’ of the Enterprise and IT.
I covered the topic of Smart Phones and their use in business in a previous post so I want to move on to illustrate my point about new technologies. It’s amazing how many new technologies use wireless, which by integration with IT, create the business value. Notice again the business case is ‘value’ by improving sales revenues more than ‘cost’ by just administering better. But maybe these can be the same thing?

My example for this is drawn from Wal-Mart which has driven many new technologies through the hype cycle and into real value ahead of others. It’s is based on a relatively straight forward wireless barcode reading unit that was originally rolled out starting in 2006, called the Telxon. But the real value was created by the full integration of this device into Wal-Mart systems. Just exactly what Wal-Mart had achieved by 2009 came to light accidentally in a strange way when a New York Post reporter did a piece on what it was like to work at Wal-Mart. The one thing that really impressed him was exactly what he and his fellow Wal-Mart co-workers could achieve with their Telxon barcode readers over the in-store wireless network. The abstract below has been captured and repeated on several sites.
Having pledged ourselves, we encountered the aspect of Wal-Mart employment that impressed me most: The Telxon, pronounced “Telzon,” a hand-held bar-code scanner with a wireless connection to the store’s computer. When pointed at any product, the Telxon would reveal astonishing amounts of information: the quantity that should be on the shelf, the availability from the nearest warehouse, the retail price, and (most amazing of all) the markup.
All of us were given access to this information, because — in theory, at least — anyone in the store could order a couple extra pallets of anything, and could discount it heavily as a Volume Producing Item (known as a VPI), competing with other departments to rack up the most profitable sales each month. Floor clerks even had portable equipment to print their own price stickers. This was how Wal-Mart detected demand and responded to it: by distributing decision-making power to grass-roots level. It was as simple yet as radical as that.
We received an inspirational talk on this subject, from an employee who reacted after the store test-marketed tents that could protect cars for people who didn’t have enough garage space. They sold out quickly, and several customers came in asking for more. Clearly this was a singular, exceptional case of word-of-mouth, so he ordered literally a truckload of tent-garages, “Which I shouldn’t have done really without asking someone,” he said with a shrug, “because I hadn’t been working at the store for long.” But the item was a huge success. His VPI was the biggest in store history — and that kind of thing doesn’t go unnoticed in Arkansas.

Now just reflect on the integration that this required! It’s not just database access that’s going on here. There are links to processes, and most important of all, though not made explicitly clear, there must be a management of identity, and this too must be linked to what data, process, etc. are made available. I think that this whole integration qualifies to be described as a Business Information system, except the scale and means of deployment make it much more than that term would normally mean. This is about massive decentralisation – taking the information to as many people in as many places in the front line of Wal-Mart’s business as need it. Sorry, wrong term – it’s not “need it”, or “want it” – it’s a push system to encourage Wal-Mart workers on the job to be proactive. This is what new devices, new technologies and most of all, continuously connected by wireless, can mean, it’s making the old, well-known phrase absolutely real, and of course it’s a job for the IT department!
Give your knowledge workers the right information, at the right time, in the right format, at the right place, to drive the best possible decision.