Impressive things are difficult to forget. And, sometimes difficult to describe in a manner which does full justice to their impressiveness.
Let me make an attempt using what sticks in the memory after the last decade or so. We were at a presentation by a fairly large logistics company who were incumbents at a client of ours.
The tender was up for renewal, and our clients had done a wonderful job of making sure that the logistics company was not so deeply embedded in their operations that it would be impossible to get them out if they did not win the new RFP.
An Objective RFP Process
I think the only reason the senior executives of our clients had called us in to run the tender process was that the emotion inside the business was running too much against the incumbents, and of course, the senior executives wanted to make sure that the entire end-to-end RFP process was objective and as emotion-free as possible.
I will explain the reasons for the negative emotions later, but if they had their way, the operational staff would not even invite the incumbents to re-tender. Clearly, if you were the senior executive, you would not want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Plus, who knows what else exists out there.
The RFP process went swimmingly well. The internal team was far too good. Our main task emerged to broaden the search wide enough and keep everyone objective and fact-based. The second part was hard enough under the circumstances.
Light & Sound Show
So, here we were, sitting in the hallowed headquarters of the incumbents going through an impressive light and sound show. Their senior executives had pulled all stops to prepare for this half a day of the extravaganza.
All the technology on display was impressive. Some of it, fresh in from the parent country, was out of this world. You could almost imagine ships loaded with thousands of containers flying in the air. Some of the other images conjured up the images of space ships laden with cargo to the moon.
As the chairman of the meeting, one of my jobs was to keep it on track and to make sure that every vendor had equal time to display their ware. All vendors had been clearly told that first one hour was their time to show and tell what they liked, and the next one hour after the break was ‘our time’ to ask how their solution met our needs.
Keeping It On Track
Because of the sheer number and senior level of people involved in the show, it was difficult to keep everyone on track. In this case, when they wanted to go over the time, we had to call a hard stop and move into the next part of the show.
This was the opportunity for the operational team to reconcile the futuristic light and sound show they had just seen which the service they received for the last 3 years on a day-to-day basis.
The most junior of them who bore the brunt of logistics failure by having to answer rude calls from the customers in the middle of night asked precisely this – ‘how do I reconcile the ability, you just showed us, to track an ant through a maze with the fact that it took you 26 hours to even become aware of the fact that a truckload of dangerous goods was abandoned on the roadside without drivers and staff .’
He trotted out incident after incident – dates, times, facts, statements, names. He had prepared an entire report for his senior management. He used the data from the report to ask the questions.
What became apparent was the even the senior managers of the service providers did not know the full extent of some of their own failures. Their staff had been selective with them in sharing information and customer complaints.
A number of things would never have come to their attention if these questions were not asked in this meeting. Why these questions were left till this late is a topic for a whole new article, but the operational staff was happy for finally getting a chance to get the answer.
It was clear that while the HQ was keenly investing in the infrastructure and technology, the soft skills, process discipline as well as execution capability, were falling way short.
Flashy Technology Can Blind You
This is a curious phenomenon. As the technology investment increases, the human alertness and effort reduce – the net result being somewhat underwhelming in effect.
In the long run, all incompetence can be substituted with suitable technology. With enough patience, tinkering and relentless thinking, almost everything that a human does competently, can be done by a machine.
That is the promise of AI, and like everyone else – I also believe it is only a matter of time.
In the meantime, technology happens to be where it is at any given moment on time. It relentlessly keeps pushing boundaries.
Clearly, off the shelf technology is available anyone who can write a check. By itself, there is nothing to be impressed about.
You Cannot Buy Competitive Advantage Off-the-Shelf
What someone does with that technology is an entirely different thing. Lots of people have the money to buy sports cars, yet there is only one Ayrton Senna. Keep that in mind next time someone tries to use flashy stuff to hijack your logos.