Editorial: July 2001

By Ellen Pearlman  |  Posted 07-01-2001

The concept of power is embedded deeply in just about every aspect of our culture—our religious beliefs, our political thinking, our views of physical strength, the language we use to talk about business management and strategy, the purposes to which we put the technology we create and the energy required to drive it. Everything is infused with power, as both a cause and an effect, a method and a goal.

In this month's issue, the term crops up in multiple ways. Until recently, the growing power of the Web to "empower" customers and to make business processes more efficient was taken for granted. Consultants, analysts, the media and technology gurus of every stripe were selling a vision of a world in which technology had triumphed over all, greasing the wheels of commerce to create a frictionless, almost perfect marketplace of rational pricing and seamlessly matched supply and demand. But the collapse of many pure-play new economy companies has dealt that future a blow. Now the hard work is beginning, and the real story lies in how old-economy companies such as Solectron and other electronics manufacturers are struggling to move ahead to make their businesses ready for the Web (see Deciphering RosettaNet).

Just as electronics manufacturers are refining their relationships with suppliers through a combination of improved business processes and technology-based online exchanges, firms are busy installing CRM systems designed to smooth their relations with their customers. While the catchphrase is "customer empowerment," the real goal is to gather as much information about customers as possible, and then to use that information to maximize revenue per customer through a combination of improved customer service and intelligent, Web-based marketing. The technology executives who responded to a recent CIO Insight survey cited better customer support, better customer information and increased efficiency as the top three goals for their CRM systems (see Research: CRM).

But none of this will ever come to pass without the power—the electrical power—to make it happen. Like the so-called power of the Web, electrical power has been taken for granted for years, and while we may moan about our own monthly electricity bills, we haven't really had to worry that it won't be there when we need it. Until recently. CIOs, for their part, may think they can do little to fight the growing electricity crisis in the U.S., but as our story and experts' roundtable show (see The Intelligent Grid), the Net is providing tools for companies to regain some power over their ability to keep the lights on and the computers humming. The trouble is, technology can help only so much. Real solutions will require leadership power—business leaders and strategists working together to solve growing energy demands and the limits of our aging power grid. We welcome your views on what you think needs to be done.