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Nabisco Computers

"The real dummies are the people who, though technically expert, couldn't design hardware and software that's usable by normal consumers if their lives depended upon it" ¹

TechXNY recently convened here in New York City. A couple years ago the PC Expo component of TechXNY alone would have fully occupied two floors of the Jacob Javitz Convention Center--this year they occupied a small part of one. The Information Technology spending mania of the past two decades is but a memory. I.T. markets now more closely resemble traditional markets--where low cost, high value producers of consumer-friendly products are the ONLY winners/ survivors.

Going forward, successful products/ services must exhibit obvious and dramatic productivity/ cost benefits over the existing solution, and the organizational (or individual) disruption for said "NEW benefit" must be nominal. Bad products that replace other bad products will no longer find willing buyers/ victims. Excellence in service and usable designs will become a force that makes--or breaks--companies, as is the case with more mature products like television.

Recently, we purchased two packs of Oreo cookies for a company luncheon. A colleague opened one pack and didn't like the crunch, so she called the 800 number clearly noted on the package. After one ring, and a very short and friendly conversation, the Nabisco representative said she was issuing two replacement coupons. The experience was expeditious, pleasant, and three days later we had coupons for two free Nabisco items of our choice. That is an example of a consumer product company! The Information Technology industry has few comparables. Well-managed I.T. companies will realize the markets have inexorably changed, and they will embrace the Nabisco approach--or they will die. Nabisco knows how to sell consumer products: The consumer, not the cookie, is king!

Gone are the days of half-baked PCs flying off the shelves (along with all the related buggy paraphernalia). That phenomenon resulted from an explosive and disruptive technological change that provided a far superior solution, one that everybody wanted "in" on. Such dramatic shifts happen a few times a century (e.g., steam engines, railroads, electricity, etc.). PCs and their cousins, PDAs etc., are now basic appliances--like microwave ovens.

The microwave once revolutionized meal preparation, but a few years later it became a commonplace, simple appliance. We don't view the microwave as "exciting cooking technology"; we view it as a way to get a fast hot meal. Most technologies quickly become commodities that provide certain characteristic benefits, e.g., fast hot food. To quote Barry M. Schuler, former CEO of America Online Inc. "Normal people don't lust after technology," he says. "They want whatever it's supposed to do." ² Should a company want to be the vendor of this fast hot food benefit, then they need render that benefit quickly, easily, and reliably, and do so at an attractive price.

At TechXNY, EZ Rated was the guest company on a radio show covering technology. At the break, before the final show segment, the producer, who had been listening intently, said, "It is as if we just lived through the I.T. 'robber Baron' phase."



¹ Wall Street Journal, Microsoft Will Offer Options For Upgrading to Windows XP, Walter S. Mossberg, June 28, 2001

² BusinessWeek, AOL's Point Man In The Web War
How CEO Barry Schuler Plans To Leave Microsoft In The Dust, Amy Borrus, July 2, 2001

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