The Light at the End of the Technology

By Tom Steinert-Threlkeld  |  Posted 2002-10-10 Print this article Print

Achieving results is never easy. Providing a helping hand is our Baseline goal.

When we launched Baseline a year ago, we wanted above all to create something practical. After five years in which technology had been celebrated for its potential, we saw a need for a magazine that would do something more basic: analyze technology's contribution to the bottom line.

Thus Baseline was born—into an economy newly shaken by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In truth, it was hard in those days to focus on much of anything, other than finding one's way in a world that suddenly seemed dark. That helped us come up with a metaphor for what we wanted Baseline to be. We likened it, in our introductory column, to a flashlight.

A year later, the world seems a little less dark. Talk-show hosts are again telling jokes; the U.S. Congress is reassuringly divided; and while no one can tell when disaster will strike next, we've learned to handle our fears and move on.

But the world of technology still needs a flashlight, in our opinion. Baseline fills that role by studying how companies use technology and answering four simple questions:

Question No. 1: What really happened? Baseline prides itself on being backward-looking.Our case studies focus not on what may happen but what already has happened—generally over an 18-month or two-year period. We've written about drug makers (Bayer), retailers (Kmart), financial companies (MasterCard) and manufacturers (U.S. Steel). The search is for experiences with the broadest possible relevance to project leaders, managers and funders. After all, whatever unique characteristics an industry may have, every business has to find ways to improve customer service, speed development cycles, cleanse databases and so on.

Question No. 2: Did it work? The popping of the Internet stock-market bubble ended the idea that it was enough to invest in the potential of technology, with its supposed ability to deliver immediate access to worldwide markets. Nowadays, every dollar spent on technology is scrutinized.

Measuring return on technology-investment is a core mission at Baseline. In the financial models we create, we quantify the extent to which companies have succeeded in reaching their objectives (like the Alcoa model in this issue), or how their performance compares to other companies in the same industry or in a similar situation (see our Roadway model).

Question No. 3: How should you handle a similar project yourself? In every issue, we publish project planners, which detail the item-by-item costs you should expect to incur in a given initiative. Whether it's managing a supply chain or securing a high-rise building from physical and network attacks, Baseline tells you what it'll cost to do it.

Our Workbook section similarly is devoted to helping you think about how to solve problems. There, we publish quizzes, primers and return-on-investment analyses to help you better understand how to approach an assignment. You can find a year's worth of these tools in our download section .

Question No. 4: With whom should you partner? Once you've figured out what you're going to do, the biggest question is often whose products or services to use. Our vendor dossiers (we've published 44 to date) help you do due-diligence on hardware, software and consulting suppliers. The dossiers contain customers' critiques of each would-be partner. Each dossier also provides you with real references: names of project leaders you can talk to, to get the real skinny about these potential partners. There's no better way, we think, to get a reality check.

So that's it. We think we've made a good start in building a magazine you can use to achieve bottom-line results using technology. But we're always looking to increase the luminance of what we do. Please let us know how.

Tom was editor-in-chief of Interactive Week, from 1995 to 2000, leading a team that created the Internet industry's first newspaper and won numerous awards for the publication. He also has been an award-winning technology journalist for the Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He is a graduate of the Harvard Business School and the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

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