Expert Voice: Lynne Markus on Integrating with Business Partners

Despite the amazing technical advances of recent years, and all the talk about agility and real-time information, the information systems that link customer to supplier remain woefully limited. A 2004 report from the National Institute of Standards and Technology estimated that each year, inadequate integration between supply-chain partners costs the automotive and electronics industries combined around $9 billion in lost income and business opportunities. What’s the problem? It’s partly the mind-boggling complexity of the technology. But according to M. Lynne Markus, a professor of information management at Bentley Collegein Waltham, Mass., the real reason is as old as EDI itself: the difficulty of getting partners to adopt these systems and use them well.

Markus, a researcher who has taught at City University of Hong Kong, Claremont Graduate University, the University of California at Los Angeles and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is equally at home with the human and the technical sides of information systems. She has written unusually readable and practical studies of ERP systems and open-source development. Recently, Markus, with Barbara Bashein, a San Diego-based consultant, completed a report on the challenges of developing a cost-effective electronic partner integration infrastructure for the Society for Information Management’s Advanced Practices Council. The report on “Interorganizational Technochange” is available at SIM’s website.

Successful partner integration largely depends on understanding both industry trends and your company’s business relationships. But as Markus recently told Executive Editor Allan Alter, “When we look at how we deploy information systems, we have to focus on change management. How do we change our ways of thinking about our relationships in order to use our new IT-enabled processes more effectively?” Success, she insists, requires a variant of the Golden Rule: “ ’My benefits depend on your benefits, so what can I do that will benefit you while benefiting me?’ I’m not talking here about altruism for its own sake,” she continues. “I’m talking about a very self-interested view: ‘How can I help you to help me?'”

An edited version of their conversation follows:

CIO Insight: What shape is electronic partner integration in today?
When we talk about electronic partner integration, we’re talking about the ability to exchange information electronically, across organizational boundaries, ideally in real time, and without manual intervention. That is not the state of affairs today for most organizations. By and large, only the largest organizations have implemented EDI, and they only use EDI with a few of their partners for only a few of their transactions: purchase orders, sales notices and advanced shipment notices. There are many more transactions and types of collaboration that can occur, but usually don’t, such as collaboration around sales and order forecasting. It is still the case today that a very large number of small and medium-sized enterprises do not do business via EDI. Although increasing numbers of them are using Web interfaces, they are corresponding with their partners largely through fax and e-mail.

Next page: The Golden Rule of Partnering

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