Thought Leaders – Bill Gates: Business @ the speed of thought


At ERP Central, we specialise in advising organisations on the best business management software to meet their industry needs and improve efficiency. As such, we like to focus on business intelligence shared by the leading thinkers in the world of business and technology. So we thought we’d highlight some of the foremost thought leaders from across the globe in a series of articles.

Given that we work with some of the leading Microsoft Dynamics NAV partners in the UK, it made sense that our first Thought Leaders blog should focus on Mr Microsoft himself; Bill Gates.

Bill Gates; Thought Leader

Having founded Microsoft back in 1975, Bill Gates created an organisation that has become the world’s largest provider of software for personal computers. With such a rich history of innovation within the tech industry and a huge influence on the business world in general, we couldn’t really do this in one article.

This two-part blog will look specifically at the key topics in his 1999 book “Business @ the Speed of Thought”. We reflect on some of the business strategies deployed at Microsoft and other successful companies and reflect on his vision at that time.

Business at the speed of thought

Leadership at the speed of thought

In “Business @ the Speed of Thought”, Bill Gates explains how business and technology are integrated. He also focuses on how digital infrastructure and information networks can be optimised for success. In 1999, not many companies were using digital technology, which meant that they weren’t fully benefiting from their employee capabilities and were lacking the speed of response required to compete in the newly emerging high-speed business world. Bill Gates explains that tools to make these changes were available at that time and encouraged businesses and business leaders to use them.    

Technology: asset not overhead

The book's aim was to educate managers on how to use technology to both improve and ultimately positively transform their business. Bill Gates wanted managers to view technology as a strategic asset rather than an overhead, giving numerous examples of successful initiatives deployed at Microsoft, GM, Dell, etc. He explained that in a digital environment, power is realised when information is shared and that control from the centre is unlikely to work. More importantly, managers need real-time, high quality information to solve problems and take advantage of opportunities as and when they arise.

Digital nervous systemA digital nervous system

Some copies of the book came with the subtitle “using a digital nervous system”. The corporate, digital equivalent of the human nervous system, it provides a well-integrated flow of information to the right part of the organisation at the right time. Companies are encouraged to use a digital nervous system to regularly transform their internal business processes in order to adapt to an environment that is constantly changing to meet customer needs and competition.

Digital Information Flow

Throughout the book, Bill Gates references examples and anecdotes of ways in which businesses could make the flow of digital information a basic part of their company. Back in 1999, much of this was hypothetical but here are the 12 key elements that we picked out, all of which are just as relevant today. Many of them currently being used by the world's most successful organisations.

Knowledge Work

  • All information flows should be via email so individuals can quickly act on news.
  • Study sales patterns in order to understand trends and to personalise services to customers.
  • Use PCs for business analysis and shift knowledge workers into high-level-thinking work about products, services and profitability.
  • Use digital tools to create cross-departmental virtual teams that share knowledge and build on ideas.
  • Convert paper process to digital, thus eliminating administrative bottlenecks and freeing knowledge workers for more important tasks.

Business Operations

  • Use digital tools to eliminate single task jobs and change them into value-added jobs that use the skills of the knowledge worker.
  • Create a digital feedback loop to improve the efficiency of physical processes and develop the quality of products and services created.
  • Use digital systems to route customer complaints immediately to the people who can improve a product or a service.
  • Use digital communications to redefine the nature of your business and the boundaries around your business.

Commerce

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Use digital tools to help customers solve problems for themselves and reserve personal contact to respond to complex, high value customer needs.

The comprehensive contents of the book cover these key steps in further detail. Bill Gates concluded that successful companies of the next decade would be the ones that use digital tools to reinvent the way they work.

speed of thought

Efficiency at the speed of thought

The link between the kind of connectivity that Bill Gates spoke about back in 1999 and the business management software of today is clear. The benefits of ERP solutions like Microsoft Dynamics NAV prove that with a strong digital nervous system, like the human body, businesses can grow and thrive.

In the second part of our Thought Leaders series, we’ll look at Bill Gates’ thoughts on the shifts that businesses face and some of the pre-millennial predictions he made about technology and business.


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