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Get connecting or lose out!

01 Mar 09

The advantages of businesses getting together to offer collective services to their customers are fairly obvious to most people.

For example, my guess is that most would agree the ability to access everything you need after someone rear-ends your car from one place (insurance companies, panel beaters, police, etc.), without having to retell your story each time, would be a good thing.
Similarly, I can’t think of anyone who would object to hospital emergency staff accessing their medical history (allergies, existing medical conditions, next of kin, etc.) if they arrived unconscious as a result of the aforementioned car mishap.
So if all this makes good sense, then why isn’t it happening? I think the answer can be uncovered by taking a quick look at business history. For years, organisations have drawn their commercial powerbase and assigned market opportunity according to a particular territory or specialty, such as North versus South Island sales reps, or the seven territories that make up Auckland, or by the various industry sub-trades (midwife, gynaecologist, nurse, social worker and so on).
Many of these ‘territorialists’ sound the security alarm bells, claiming that it is nearly impossible to ensure that these connections are efficiently protected, or they say it’s just too complicated and expensive to join up all the different software systems within and between organisations.
In my view, these excuses are just plain hogwash.
The technology underlying all these life-enhancing connections already exists – in fact, it’s been around for more than a decade. It’s secure, fairly cheap, and really easy to use. Just ask the young people who frequent the über-interconnected worlds of online social networks. These people are growing up within interconnected worlds, publishing all sorts of information on the web, managing their online identities and even defining which bits their friends or ‘connections’ are permitted to access.
When these highly connected youngsters join the workforce, they’ll wonder why the type of connectivity they have grown accustomed to with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr and the like, has not really proliferated throughout the business world. And if businesses don’t start connecting their bits and pieces together with others residing within – and even outside – their industries, then they may rapidly find themselves sidelined, ignored, and ultimately obsolete, especially if you are a reseller.
One only has to look at the music, travel, and computer industries to see what happened when channel businesses tried to contest, thwart or even ignore the consumer’s desire – and ability – to deal directly with the musicians, airlines and computer manufacturers. Instead of joining forces with other industry players to offer a collection of goods and services delivered to them how, when and where they wanted, many of these businesses were ‘dis-intermediated’ from the value chain altogether.
And it’s happening now with other industries. Recruitment companies are feeling the effects as both companies and job hunters turn to communities liked LinkedIn and Plaxo to increase the number of potentially helpful connections in lieu of going through the agencies. The number of invitations I’ve received to make new connections in LinkedIn, for example, has sky-rocketed this year as people build up their own professional networks in case they find their job falling victim to the current economic climate.
So my advice to channel businesses would be to get out there and get connected, recognise that your customers want better – and more mobile – access to the goods and services you offer, and create a compellingly collective and boundary-less offering for them. Because if you don’t, then others will, and you will be watching from the sidelines as your customers turn to those who are connected.

Bennett Medary is CEO of the Simpl Group, which specialises in providing consultancy, software development and integration, and project management to organisations including New Zealand DHBs, The Ministry of Health, Downer EDI, Vodafone and Meridian Energy.Bennett categorises the motivating purpose behind Simpl as a lifelong desire to harness technology to enhance people’s lives.

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