Business at the Speed of Thought

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Business at the Speed of Thought by Bill Gates

In 1999, with the release of his book “Business at the Speed of Thought” Bill Gates attempted to enlighten the world to the fact that in order to succeed and become leaders in the future, businesses throughout the world would have to implement digital technology. The book itself is written entirely from Mr. Gates’ point of view. He wrote it in response to a number of requests from multi level business managers, organizational and corporate leaders, and IT professionals that wanted to know more about digital technology, and what he called a “digital nervous system”, which he claimed would help information flow.

He describes how a “digital nervous system can transform businesses of all kinds and make public entities such as hospitals, government at all levels, and schools more responsive by infusing more energy into them. In the book he focuses on three major elements of a business: 1. Customer/partner relationships 2. Employees and, 3. Process. As well as three corporate functions: 1. Commerce 2. Knowledge Management and, 3. Operations. He developed 12 steps that he felt would be key elements to building and making digital information technology flow, which he refers to throughout the book as part of a guideline to developing a “Digital Nervous System.” They are as follows:

For knowledge work:
1. Insist that communication flow through the organization over email so that you can act on news with reflex like speed
2. Study Sales data online to find patterns and share insight easily. Understand overall trends and personalize service for individual customers. 3. Use PCs for business analysis, and shift knowledge workers into high level thinking work about products, services and profitability.

4. Use digital tools to create cross-departmental virtual teams that can share knowledge and build on each other’s ideas in real time world-wide. Use digital systems to capture corporate history for use by anyone.

5. Convert every paper process to a digital process, eliminating administrative bottlenecks and freeing knowledge workers for more important tasks. For Business operations:
6. Use digital tools to eliminate single task jobs or change them into value-added jobs that use the skills of a knowledge worker.
7. Create a digital feedback loop to improve the efficiency of physical processes and improve the quality of the products and services created. Every employee should be able to easily track all the key metrics.

8. Use digital systems to route customer complaints immediately to the people who can improve a product or service.
9. Use digital communications to redefine the nature of your business and the boundaries around your business. Become larger and more substantial or smaller and more intimate as the customer situation warrants.

For Commerce:
10. Trade information for time. Decrease cycle time by using digital transactions with all suppliers and partners, and transform every business process into just-in- time delivery.
11. Use digital delivery of sales and service to eliminate the middleman from customer transactions. If you’re a middleman, use digital tools to add value to transactions.
12. Use digital tools to help customers solve problems for themselves, and reserve personal contact to complex, high-value customer needs.
Throughout the book Mr. Gates explains in detail how he transformed Microsoft Corporation through the use of digital technology. He uses many examples of what was done with Microsoft in the conversion from paper to digital, throughout his book as a guideline as to processes that can be achieved as well as how Microsoft was able to go about doing it. In his conversion from a paper office to paperless office Microsoft was able to achieve the following results: A company wide reduction from over 1000 forms to a total of 60. Which resulted in an overall a paper reduction of over 90%. The total savings for Microsoft in...
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