Saying Goodbye To "411"

I had a major realization today. All the services we've taken for granted are changing faster than you might think. This is what happened ... I was in desperate need of a phone number and a couple of issues were working against me. First problem was that I have recently changed from a Blackberry to the iPhone (those little keys were just too difficult to deal with) and I couldn't easily transfer my stored phoned numbers and had not re-entered them in the iPhone. The second problem was I didn't have internet access. So I tried "411". This used to be a low cost service that usually provided the desired result. Not anymore, at least based upon my recent experiences ... and I did some checking that depending on your state and service provider you can be charged anywhere from $1.00 - $1.75 per call. This one went like this once the phonetic operator transferred me to a live operator (names protected, of course):

Operator: "411, how can I help you?"
GB: "For Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, I'm looking for James Nova at Financial Services, Inc."
Operator: "Is that a business or a person?"
GB: "It's a person and a business"
Operator: "I have no listing for either"
GB: That's unusual ... every time I've looked on Google, it has come right up"
Operator: "Sir, this is not Google"
GB: "I know it's not Google, but since you are in the business of finding phone numbers, I’d think you'd have better information than Google"
Operator: "Sir, this is not Google"
GB: "I know you're not Google and I'll expect that you won't charge me for the call since you couldn't find the number"
Operator: "Thank you and have a good day"

The point of all this is that the "experts" are no longer the experts. Easy technology is driving real time transparency and quickly taking over how we once interacted in all aspects of our lives. I'm talking about sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Plaxo et al. Just today, there was a report in Philadelphia that 1000 youth ages 14 to 17 were invited through Twitter and MySpace to "riot" on South Street robbing folks and causing general mayhem. The local police reported they will change "their normal tactics" and make sure this does not happen again.

A couple of weeks ago I attended the A.T. Kearney Executive Roundtable. There was quite a large attendance of Senior Supply Chain and Procurement Executives (most responsible for billions of dollars of spend per year). There were great discussions and debates by the attendees -- Risk Management, Supplier Collaboration (a subject I hope my partner Jason Magidson writes about on SpendMatters in the very near future), and, what is more important today ... short term savings or longer term partnerships. But I found that the most interesting comment came from Joe Raudabaugh, President of A.T. Kearney Procurement and Analytic Solutions.

Joe said (and I'm paraphrasing): "Procurement has to decide whether they will engage to retain or gain leadership in the future. Service oriented architectures, improved analytics, the fusion of social software and more classic collaboration technologies and the netgens entering the workforce will fundamentally change how, where and by whom key decisions are addressed. You really have to watch and understand how these netgens or "Gen Y" generation is using today's social and professional networks. The traditional "keepers" of business information are going to change and it will gravitate towards those who embrace the latest technology that allows for real time collaboration of design, sourcing, innovation, market intelligence and all those things that make a business successful. If Procurement wants to keep on the journey of being truly strategic, they will make sure they quickly adapt to the rapid technology and get engaged in the stakeholder forums that will emerge. They will have to lead with insight, speed and demonstrate their ability to lead within these new forums."

Then there was a broader debate amongst the participants and external faculty members which revealed that some firms are already tracking their employee's internal collaboration activities and they can see which employees really have knowledge and creativity, which employees are driving decisions and by default those who are absent. Just as eSourcing brought transparency to the negotiation process it seems collaboration technology and igens will bring transparency to how we lead and operate.

So being a "Procurement technology guy", Joe's comments really caused me to reflect that while many Procurement organizations have adopted 10 year old technology, few are making real inroads toward leveraging the rapidly changing technology landscape. In most cases there is a real "thinking gap" between the current decision makers and the generation driving the information technology change. The real forward thinkers are going to figure this out and act accordingly.

Gregg Brandyberry

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