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The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business As Usual , C. Locke 2000

Living on the Fault Line: Managing for Shareholder Value in the Age of the Internet , G. Moore 2000

Communities of Practice: The Organizational Frontier , E. Wenger & W. Snyder, Harvard Business Review, January/February 2000

Net Ready: Strategies for Success in the E-conomy , A. Hartman, 2000.

When global competition challenged businesses twenty years ago, organizations responded with improvements to business processes that led to lowered costs, reduced cycle times, and improved quality. This produced corporate efficiency rates previously unrealized. While these factors remain important in today’s environment, the explosive use of Internet technologies has presented a new competitive challenge.

As former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, has said, “The central and most important aspect of this economy is that consumers and investors have a far broader array of choices than ever before, and they can switch far more easily with better information and better deals....This ability to choose more broadly and to switch more easily is the central fact of modern economic life.”

The new business imperative has quickly become the ability of organizations to secure the fleeting loyalty of customers, employees, and investors. These constituencies now operate in a world where a better opportunity is just a click away, and the cost of switching product or service supplier is inconsequential. This new competitive threat forces companies to do more than add efficiency through investment in process reengineering and technology deployment; they must now rethink the very nature of their enterprise.

A new economic structure, enabled by Internet-related technology, shaped by people-centric solutions, and forged by new competitive forces has displaced the traditional enterprise model. This emerging structure is called the Model Internet Company. The role and delivery of learning in the Model Internet Company is dramatically changing, but its importance has never been more critical.

Leaders of today’s competitive organizations need to understand the forces behind this emerging business model, and create multi-dimensional learning programs to take advantage of the opportunities provided by this radically new environment.

Learning takes on a broader meaning in this paradigm, extending beyond the core organization to incorporate knowledge of related external organizations and content. In the Model Internet Company, learning can be a strategic weapon for securing the loyalty of demanding customers, sought-after employees and fickle investors.

The Model Internet Company takes a new approach to organizations and the traditional principles that support them. It focuses on moving organizations into the “new economy,” shifting emphasis from enterprise models to Business Networks, and from process-oriented solutions to People-Centric ones.

Business Networks: Enhancing an organization’s interaction with internal and external constituents

The Model Internet Company understands and embraces the importance of each interaction with their organization, at every level, and with every constituency. Their understanding of how users can best contribute, learn and grow through these interactions benefits not only the people who interact with the company, but ultimately the company itself.

As organizations use the Internet for competitive advantage,  the greatest opportunity comes through net sourcing, or outsourcing via the Internet, business functions best delivered by expert providers. An increasing number of specialized business services are becoming available as Internet-based services. These services include ASPs (Application Service Providers), BSPs (Business Service Providers) and other hosted services.

As Geoffrey Moore discusses in his book Living on the Faultline, the more companies focus on those areas where they really excel, their true competitive differentiators, the more success they will enjoy with satisfied employees, customers, and partners. The first step in obtaining this focus is to minimize management’s attention to and investment in non-core business activities. This can help address today’s organizations: attempting to be all things to all people, often losing sight of what made them successful in the first place.

Providing products and services has also become increasingly complex, as purchases now often include a sophisticated bundle of complementary offerings from diverse providers. In reality, consumers may now purchase far more than an automobile. The purchase may include a service agreement that covers anything from regular oil changes to tire changes, that utilizes a satellite navigational program (OnStar by GM), and comes complete with invitations to prestigious social events (Mercedes Benz).

But how does a company effectively educate its customers regarding these programs, without overwhelming them with the details of these important product extensions? Even more complex, how does an organization effectively educate a customer service organization that needs to quickly respond to customer calls on the myriad of services that were bundled with the product?

To effectively address these key questions, organizations need to understand the critical difference in operating as a business network versus an enterprise. The difference is an enterprise has to deliver a complete solution to the every end customer. The reality is that the product or service may actually be the combined effort of several organizations. To deliver on this promise, knowledge management and learning programs need to be effectively integrated and economically distributed through the broader network of business partners, and often to the customer as well. Model Internet Companies, through personalized intranets and extranets, allow organizations to enhance their interaction with internal and external constituents. They allow people access to each other and to educational information in powerful new ways.

People-Centric Architectures: The MIC Approach

With the new economy, successful organizations will need to look to the Model Internet Company to embrace people—understanding not only their needs, but how they work, how they learn and how best to keep them loyal. As enterprises grapple with an ever-increasing number of Internet applications and an explosive amount of content, new architectures will emerge. This includes content intended for employees, managers, and executives within an organization, as well as for customers, partners, and suppliers outside the organization.

The new people-centric architecture using the Internet, will be one based on three fundamental elements: role-based relevancy, content convergence, and dynamic access. This new architecture will not displace but supplement existing information architectures, It will focus on all three elements to improve the efficacy of web-enabled, and soon wireless enabled, applications while decreasing the cost of development and cycle time for deployment. Let’s look at these three elements individually.

Role-Based Relevancy

Role-based relevancy seeks to reduce unnecessary clutter that arrives on an individual’s Internet desktop since that interferes with their ability to focus. For the average worker, personalization is the first step toward providing role-based relevancy. Other mechanisms in the relevance engine, including event triggers, factoids, workflows and analytics will make the workday more productive and satisfying.

Enterprise portals from software companies, like Epicentric and Plumtree now focus on personalized, relevant access to corporate information that spans multiple departments. Unfortunately, this personalization too often provides news, weather, stock quotes, and other information with questionable relevance to the workplace. Although they provide great examples of how information can be personalized, until they also relate to work and can be personalized in a similar fashion, their acceptance will face hurdles.

Content Convergence

Content convergence is the systemic linking of content from several sources, both inside and outside the organization, to create people-oriented solutions and compelling online experiences.

Because of the people-centric orientation of these solutions, they are called ebusiness communities rather than ebusiness applications. An ebusiness community seeks to facilitate the online conversation and interaction among people with a common business interest. An ebusiness application usually seeks to automate a business process.

Ebusiness communities are often formed around events in order to bundle a variety of products and services into a more convenient and cohesive solution. Hiring a new employee in most organizations includes everything from ordering business cards, enrolling in a benefits program, linking with telecommunication and computing systems and enrolling in training programs. While many of these activities can be automated, the number of people involved or impacted in this new hire experience is usually extensive; a new-hire ebusiness community can provides the right forum to manage this increasingly complex event.

Ebusiness communities, in their most complete form, go well beyond chat sessions and discussion forums. Four major types of content exist in an ebusiness community structure—knowledge, collaboration, analytics, and transactions called the Experience Framework.

Experience Framework

The impact of collective content has a greater and more positive impact on the user, enabling a more successful and valuable experience. Knowledge without the ability to transact is limiting. Analytics with out the relevant supporting knowledge is useless.

Ebusiness communities provide the perfect environment for just-in-time learning in today’s world. The ability to provide an interviewer with the guidelines for interviewing a disabled person just before the interview takes place, or supply a sales person with the important features and functions of a new product offering just before the pitch is made to a major prospect, validates the power of the Internet to enable learning. In many cases, learning will no longer take place in the “learning community,” per se, but rather in the context of what is important to the end user.

In addition, learning can be effectively monitored and managed. The HR staff can monitor the number of employees who have taken training on safety in the workplace, sexual harassment policy, or the company mission and core values.

And learning can be tailored. People learn in different ways. Some are visual, while others need the words and ideas. A learning profile can be added to the personalization engine of the people-centric architecture to automatically deliver an appropriately tailored learning vehicle.

People-centric solutions, or ebusiness communities, seek to deliver relevant information to the right people to promote goal oriented learning and success. These communities offer an environment that fosters learning by its very structure. It brings together content sources from various business networks and ensures the convergence of relevant information, then offers them in an environment of knowledge, collaboration, analytics, and the ability to take action, or transact.

Dynamic Access

The final major element of People-Centric Architectures is dynamic access. Dynamic access addresses the inevitable transition to a variety of mobile devices and Internet appliances. The ability to supply appropriate content based on the device and location of the user will become increasingly important in the coming years. While the technology hurdles are significant, they pale in comparison to the content (including learning content) management issues in the new world of dynamic anywhere/anytime access.

Learning as a Strategic Tool

The new business reality created by the Internet world is here. Organizations can no longer compete, succeed, or even survive without acknowledging the new structure of business, its demands, and the diversity of constituencies that need to be served in ways that provide real value and engender user loyalty. As organizations turn their focus to core competencies to create true differentiation for their products and services, they realize that business networks, or the effective combination of complementary service providers, are crucial to their business success. All these challenges, from customer loyalty, to investor confidence, to effective partner relationships to accomplishing non-core tasks drive the need for learning into ever-broadening arenas.

The Model Internet Company, using an online ebusiness community model, opens the door for learning activities across the organization. These activities help improve learning related to the organization, supply key information relating to customers and partners, and enhance an employee’s own expertise and ability to influence the success of their organization. Learning in today’s Model Internet Company will mean a break from the confines of the classroom to the creation of new strategic tools that help to gain and maintain competitive advantage in the new economy.

Dean Alms is a founder, Co-President and Chief Strategy Officer for Groundswell Inc., a premier provider of Internet consulting and implementation services focused on building people-centric solutions. You can reach him directly at or on the web at



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