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An SMB CEO’s view on where innovation equals technology

Historically speaking, IBM understands better than almost any other high-tech company I’ve come across how corporate innovation can be facilitated by (or hampered by) technology investments. It certainly has plenty of research to illustrate this, including its most recent “Enterprise of the Future” study, which includes results from the company’s Global CEO survey of more than 1,100 chief executives.

Since I know many of you are mainly focused on SMB prospects, I wanted to share a few findings focused on midmarket companies as well as some thoughts from one of the midmarket CEOs I spoke with when the study was released a few weeks back. (IBM defines midmarket companies as those with between 100 and 1,000 employees.)


First off, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that close to 90 percent of the CEOs are expecting substantial changes to their organizations in the near future, while 57 percent believe they’ve been successful at managing changing the past. One way that the respondents said they’ll cope with this is by investing heavily in the ability to process and act on consumer and partner behavior. About 22 percent of the midsize organizations plan to invest in this area over the next three years, which was a double-digit increase from the last time that IBM conducted its CEO survey in 2006.

Other areas where midsize-company CEOs plan to invest include global capabilities (20 percent are looking at emerging economies) and in strategies for corporate social responsibility (where the CEOs plan to increase investments by 34 percent over the next three years).

To understand more about what these intentions mean, I spoke with Robert Wolf, co-founder of Moosejaw, a retailer of outdoor clothing and gear based in Keego Harbor, Mich., that sells through 7 stores and an Internet site. The big challenge for Wolf, he says, was how to recreate the rather unorthodox environment found in the Moosejaw stores on the internet. “It would not be shocking to go into a store and find people dancing on the counters. When the Web started to take off, we needed to figure out how to recreate the experience.

The challenge, in Wolf’s mind, was how to create loyalty where it’s almost impossible to create loyalty. Definitely something you need to do when you have a brand name that isn’t necessarily known on a national (or international) basis.

There were two things that Wolf believed were critical; both things, obviously, that were made possible through technology. And, in this case, through IBM technology.

The first — simple in concept, but not necessarily in implementation – was a project to ensure that the inventory information used on the Web site was current with the stories. Previously, the information would update overnight, which created some inventory and order mismatches and, subsequently, some customer service challenges.

The second was to create a way for visitors to sort and filter search results on the Moosejaw Web site according to how previous customers had rated the items. In other words, the items that got the best reviews are what shows up first, not necessarily the most expensive items. This is part of Moosejaw’s effort to avoid steep price discounting.

“The key to managing change is not to be risk-averse,” he says.

Next up, a site and application optimized for iPhones.

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