Faster horses and chainsaws

“Next Christmas, the iPod will be dead, finished, gone, kaput.” Sir Alan Sugar, founder of Amstrad (Feb 2005).

Wed, March 6th, 19:55


“If I gave my customers what they wanted, I would have given them a faster horse.” So said Henry Ford, allegedly. Now, in point of fact, he may not have ever actually said that, but I believe the sentiment is nonetheless valid. Reflecting on some recent conversations I’ve had with customers it occurs to me that all too often service providers (either Businesses to Businesses, or internally focussed ICT Departments) concentrate on the provision of services that their customers are looking for. There’s nothing wrong with this to a point, but how often have we seen great innovation and change coming about from a supplier taking a punt on something that no one had asked for yet?

Think about electricity, motor cars, the Internet, broadband, the iPod, Twitter and Facebook or digital cameras. All are products or services that the mass market were not clamouring for before their arrival and, in fact, were only initially adopted by the ever-present early adopter brigade. But as their use progressed and adoption slowly (increasingly quickly nowadays) grew, people found they now relied on these services or devices to get on with their day-to-day lives. Melvin Kranzberg’s second law of technology – he has six – states “Invention is the mother of necessity”. Apart from seeming to make Invention its own grandmother, this makes the point rather neatly that once a product or service becomes embedded in our day to day lives, we begin to rely on it rather than just want it or like it.

“There are going to be no more than one million people capable of being trained as chauffeurs”
Carl Benz (1901) explaining why the global car market was going to be no bigger than 1.5m vehicles.

“Radio has no future.”
Lord Kelvin, 1897.

I firmly and passionately believe that Unified Communications (UC) fits into this “not-a-faster-horse” category. Your customers may not realise that Video Conferencing or Instant Messaging or Click to Call Telephony or Online Collaboration are things that they need – in many cases they’ve never even heard of them. They are simply consumed with getting on with their day-to-day jobs and, like a person cutting a tree down with a handsaw, they don’t have the time or the interest to chat with you about chainsaws. They’ve been using the handsaw all these years and they keep it as sharp as they can and they use it very efficiently, thank you very much.

So, if you want to get UC moving in your organisation and you are wondering where to start, here are some ideas. From my own personal experience and seeing what works in other organisations, the best way to sell a new idea to people is to get it into the hands of those early adopters as quickly as possible. Set up a pilot system and put 5-50 people on it. You can do this yourself or bring in a service provider to assist. Support it yourself if you can’t get anyone else to do so (early adopters don’t need to be hand-held, so the overhead isn’t huge). Pick a couple of business processes you think would be improved with and gather metrics before and after. These can be really simple (travel cost saved, time saved per day, additional customers served, etc.) The resulting improvement will feed your business case and the early adopters will be your best ambassadors.

“The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty—a fad”.
President of Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford’s lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Co., 1903.

Getting out of the faster-horse rut and moving into the provision of chain saws (to mix my metaphors) takes guts, vision and a thick skin. Be prepared for detractors and nay-sayers and have your counter-arguments well-rehearsed. The benefit for your organisation will be profound and long-lasting and they will thank you in the end.

Stephen Mulligan is eircom’s Unified Communications Principal and helps customers to understand what UC is all about and how to optimise your organisation’s working methods.

Connect to Stephen on LinkedIn or connect with Stephen here for more information.

Stephen Mulligan

eircom Business Centre