Where is your Competitive Edge?

By: Jose Allan Tan

During the dotcom bubble, first-mover advantage often equated to competitive advantage. But as many have found when the bubble burst, being first to market does not always translate to winners.

What is clear today is that being the first to come up with an idea and translating that idea into a product or service has a very short-term advantage. While the Internet has given you broader market reach, it has also created legions of copycats ready to pounce on a good idea fast. In some cases, your competitor will come up with a product or service that is equal if not better than your original idea. It's just the way things are.

There are no winners when it comes to competing on price. Consumers at some point will feel the pitfall of an ever cheaper product - poor quality and bad service are just two common oqwhresults of declining margins.

So how does a business compete? For an organization to effectively compete, it needs to be intimately familiar with its strengths. A company can excel in one of three areas: operations, customer relationship and innovation. In recent years, it has been proven that a well-integrated information technology can add significant value to each of these areas.

McDonalds, UPS and San Miguel Corporation are companies that have excelled in their respective businesses. They understood their strengths and focused on delivering on the promise. When you go to McDonalds, you can be assured that the burgers, the fries and drinks are consistent regardless of which branch you go to anywhere in the world. UPS promises your package will arrived at its destination on schedule. San Miguel beer has established itself as a brand comparable to other quality international beers in the market.

Operational excellence is about delivering on a promise consistently and at a cost that people equate with value. Does your IT organization contribute to this promise? Do your systems connect with customers, business partners and suppliers in a way that supports your value proposition? Are you IT systems intimately entwined to your business process so that at any given time, you are aware of what is happening anywhere in the operations? The IT organization needs to be built in active support of operational excellence if you are to deliver on your promise to everyone who comes in contact with the business.

My parents own a store in our village. My mom literally knows every one of her customers - whether they drop by the store weekly or once a year. When my mom greets you as you enter the shop, you feel that you've known her all your life and that she understands what you want and has just the right thing in mind.

The nirvana of any business is to create that same customer experience. Whether your organization is a traditional brick-and-mortar business or an Internet pureplay, the goal is to create a personalized feeling that makes customers come back to you for repeat business or recommend you to their friends. A number of companies have successfully created systems that deliver exceptional customer experience using innovative technologies.

Does your IT system make it easy to do business with your company? This is particularly true for those who are encouraging customers to use the Net to do their business. How many clicks does it take for your customer to get to where he wants to go? Does your system remember customers coming back to your website? Is your helpdesk able to recognize customers and provide consistent personalize experience?

The best organizations today are innovators in their respective fields. The innovation extends beyond the product and into the business processes enabling them to grab and retain the leadership in the market. Innovators see an opportunity and move very quickly to action. They embrace change and use of all its resources - people, processes and IT - to stake a claim in the business they are in.

To recap, knowing your company's strength is the first step in the process of transforming your business into the powerhouse you envision it to be. Does your organization thrive on operational efficiency? Is customer intimacy the driving force behind your business' success? Does your strength lie in identifying innovative ways to lead the market?

Once identified, information technology must be aligned to that strength. For only when the two are intertwined can you achieve true leadership in the market.

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