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  • The Economist

How to Be an E-manager

Anyone who is a good manager can also become a good E-manager. However, some qualities have become even more important than they used to be. Here are the top ten things you need.

Across the desk of anybody writing about management these days pours a torrent of books about running an e-business. Most start off by saying that everything is different — and then talk as though everything was much the same. It is true that the Internet changes the skills required from managers, but not fundamentally so. Anyone who is a good manager can also become a good e-manager.

However, some qualities have become even more important than they used to be. Here, for any manager too busy wrestling with the Internet economy to plough through the literature, are the top ten things you need.

1. Speed. The list could, perhaps, stop right here. Being quick is more important than being large — indeed, large companies find it hard to be speedy. “There are very few things that the Internet slows down,” reflects the MIT Media Lab’s Mr Schrage. “Companies that take three or four months to reach a decision find that others have redesigned their websites in that time.” Production cycles grow shorter; consumers expect service around the clock; companies do things in parallel that they would once have done sequentially. One way to be speedy is to avoid big-bang decisions. Internet-based technology can help. At Oracle, Gary Roberts, head of global information technologies, points out that Internet applications tend to be smaller than yesterday’s proprietary systems, and the software is faster to develop. But speed is also a matter of a company’s decision-making processes. Bureaucracy is a killer.

2. Good people. Human beings are the most important of all corporate inputs. Companies need fewer but better people: “celebrity teams,” as Novell’s Mr Schmidt puts it. Employees with new talents, skills and attitudes must be made to feel at home. Completely new jobs have sprung up in the past three years: content manager, information architect, chief e-business officer, chief knowledge officer. Companies need new ways to hire and — trickier — retain these people. They also need new ways to measure their performance.

3. Openness. The open nature of the Internet drives its success. The economic rewards that come from belonging to a large network will ensure that the new standards that emerge will remain open. In addition, as the Paris-based OECD pointed out in “The Economic and Social Impact of Electronic Commerce”, a prescient study published last year, “Openness has emerged as a strategy.” Many e-businesses allow their partners, suppliers or consumers an extraordinary degree of access to their databases and inner workings. To allow another business inside the corporate machine in this way requires trust, and a willingness to expose your weaknesses and mistakes to the world.

4. Collaboration skills. The Internet creates many new opportunities for teams and companies to work together. Only as companies learn new ways for their own people to collaborate do they begin fully to realise the opportunities to work with customers, suppliers and partners. Teams may be separated by time zone or by geographic distance, or they may work for different employers: the spread of outsourcing means that companies manage many more alliances. That calls for a different approach from that required to manage competition.

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