Adapting to the shifting tides

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The Independent Online
DON TAPSCOTT believes that public faith in the status quo has been shaken to its roots. He points to events such as the end of the Soviet Union and the moves to reform white minority rule in South Africa.

While individuals may merely look on in amazement at the changes, a company that does the same instead of quickly adapting to the new conditions is dead, he says. And the computer side of the business is fundamental to that adaptation.

This is the basis for his book, Paradigm Shift: the New Promise of Information Technology, written with co-author Art Caston. It has taken the North American business world by storm.

The book lists four fundamental changes in the way of looking at things - or paradigm shifts - that affect business:

The new geopolitical order.

The new business environment, with its increasingly open and competitive marketplace.

The new enterprise organisation, which is open and information-based.

The new technology, which has different goals as it enters a second era. The book concentrates on this aspect in particular and how it affects the others.

The authors argue that while there has been a lot of discussion about the shape of the new organisation, no effort has been made to link this with developments in computers that facilitate essential change, such as team- based working.

'Those who don't understand this change will lose any competitive edge and soon end up in deep trouble,' said Mr Tapscott. 'Information technology is now transforming the way people do business, play and think.'

Based on a multi-million- pound study supported by 4,500 business and political organisations including the European Community, the book is primarily designed to promote the services of DMR, the information technology consultancy of which the authors are both vice- presidents. But it also serves as a consciousness-raising exercise for the business reader eager to get a grip on the changing conditions.

The book explains how far information technology has developed from its beginnings as a replacement for clerical workers. Now, instead of replicating old methods, it is creating new ways of running things.

To illustrate the potential, the authors draw on companies such as Hertz, Toys 'R' Us, Sears Roebuck and Federal Express. They say that while these have developed in a way that would have been inconceivable just a few years ago, it is not too late to join them. The transition that began with the arrival of the personal computer is likely to go on into the next century.

'It's starting to get tricky,' said Mr Tapscott. 'The next few years will be critical in terms of understanding the shift.'

But that does not mean that organisations can afford to wait and see how things settle down. It is important to get going immediately, he said, because for all the long- term benefits of waiting, there are also short-term gains to be had. And once the commitment has been made, it is easier to shift direction or emphasis.

'Paradigm Shift' is published by McGraw-Hill at pounds 21.95.

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