Use technology for quality, not just instant creativity


January 02, 1995|By TOM PETERS

I fervently believe in electronic networking, using so-called groupware (for example, Lotus Notes), to create value through pooled knowledge. Certainly, I believe in customer responsiveness. Still, I was repelled by a recent Computerworld article, "KPMG Turns to FirstClass Groupware."

One Friday at 3 p.m., the accounting-consulting firm KPMG Peat Marwick got a request from an insurance company to submit a bid for a "major technology overhaul," according to the magazine. Over the weekend, four partners in four cities prepared a "thick" proposal, complete with "graphics and diagrams," using the firm's new Knowledge Manager system. They delivered the document to the client at noon Monday and won the business, besting EDS, IBM and Coopers & Lybrand.


But wait . . . I call it the "But Will You Brag About It to Your Grandkids?" test. Suppose one of the four KPMG partners is age 36. Twenty-four years from now, at age 60, will he thumb through a stack of 100 proposals and reports he worked on, stop at the one prepared over the hectic weekend, and exclaim, "Wow! A grand slam! A brand-new approach that led the insurance industry in a whole new direction"? I doubt it.

Call me a skeptic. Call me a Luddite. Call me any thing you want, and you'll not convince me that anything genuinely new, nifty and worth bragging about can be created in a groupwared weekend in cyberspace.

Computerworld reports that a normal response time in this case would have been three to five business days. Well, a pox on both parties' houses: That is, I roundly condemn the insurance company that asked for a serious proposal in five days' time -- and the consultants who accommodated the request. How stupid!

Writing 2,500 words about, say, your new service or product is not that hard. (You could do it in a weekend.) Writing 500 words is a lot harder. And writing three words about it -- e.g., ad copy that turns the world upside down (Nike's "Just Do It") -- is pure, unadulterated agony that could take months.

I'm hardly surprised, and even less impressed, that KPMG could create a "thick" proposal, replete with "graphics and diagrams" (doubtless in all the colors of the rainbow), in 60 hours. Bet they couldn't have written a scintillating, two-page proposal in five (or 15) business days, let alone that harried weekend.

Look, I've been in the proposal and report-writing business for 28 years. There are a handful of my "products" I'm really proud of (e.g., different, and made a difference); and a chest-full that are professional but blah -- and not worth the Tylenol it took to produce them.

The great ones did invariably involve collaboration (which surely would have been easier with Notes or FirstClass). But they took time. Time to dance with the problem. Time to put the whole mess aside and let it gestate. Time to turn 10,000 "easy" words into 1,000 provocative, precise words.

"But we had no choice," the KPMGers might well rebut. "The deadline was absurd. So what? We were up against the likes of EDS. Doing the job over the weekend, with more creativity than the other guys, was a big win."

Don't be so sure. I have no idea how it will turn out. But I'd bet a dinner at Taco Bell that the result for both parties -- insurer, KPMG -- will be unremarkable.

(And then KPMGers will complain to me -- they have before -- that their services are becoming commodities.)

My response to KPMG, sure to garner a hat-full of "don't be naive" letters from readers around the country, is, "So don't respond to asinine requests from clients!"

David Maister, the premier observer of professional service firms, agrees. He rips lawyers, accountants et al. for taking business that doesn't help them grow -- or turn them on. (Maister says providing professional services should be fun. The legendary adman David Ogilvy is on the same wavelength, bragging of having fired many more clients (who were wearing down his folks) than have fired him. British marketing-services whiz Gary Withers joins the parade away from dull business.

So, amen: Groupware yourself to the hilt. I'm all for it.

But use the technology to do something with pizazz, not just to become a lightning-fast drone. And, KPMG partner, next time a client asks for serious help, and says you've got three to five business days to respond, give them EDS, IBM and Coopers & Lybrand's phone numbers, fax numbers and e-mail addresses. Then take the weekend off, read some good fiction, work in your darkroom or take a 12-mile hike -- and be raring to go Monday at 8 a.m. sharp.

You'll dramatically up the odds of having something to brag about to your grandkids, even if your fellow partners do look at you askance.

Tom Peters is a syndicated columnist. Write to him at Tribune Media Services Inc., Suite 1500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611; (800) 245-6536

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