Monday, July 25, 2011

Review of Business Goes Virtual by Bill Ives

I recently received a review copy of Business Goes Virtual: Realizing the Value of Collaboration, Social and Virtual Strategies by John P. Girard, Cindy Gordon, and JoAnn L. Girard. I have known Cindy for some time and we have done work together on several occasions, including several writing efforts so I had high expectations for this work. The book argues that after some false starts, four critical enablers have converged to make virtual business opportunities a reality: social technology, visionary leadership, an increasing recognition of the value of a collaboration culture, plus virtual worlds. They define virtual business as follows: “A virtual business provides innovative solutions to new and traditional business challenges by exploiting social technology, leadership, and collaboration in both the real and virtual words.”

The book examines four virtual business strategies that are showing promise. The “any place, any time” strategy provides high quality service 24/7 through bypassing traditional geographic challenges. The “people know best” strategy looks at crowd-sourcing the wisdom of every-day people. The “everyone has a stake” strategy allows organizations to take advantage of their stakeholders’ views. Finally, the “real in the virtual world” strategy enables real businesses to sell their wares in the virtual world.

The book provides case examples and best practices. They look at both successes and failures in this new market and make some bets on the future. They conclude that virtual business is here to stay and firms need to develop a strategy to take advantage of this new market or risk their demise.

One strong example is the transformation from printed books to e-books. I am reading a virtual version of their book now. The authors report that on Christmas Day 2009, consumers purchased more Kindle books than physical books through Amazon, a virtual store itself. Now the iPad is booming with Apple selling more tablets than PCs both in terms of volume and revenue – and the iPad is much cheaper. It takes e-reading to new heights and provides connectivity to so many other possibilities. For example, it becomes that much easier to sharing insights from what you are reading or look up related information from other sources. Publishers who recognize this trend will be in position to ride the new wave and those that do not will be ridden over.

This new world will change many things including jobs. The authors note that many of the top jobs of 2010 did not exist in 2004. We are now faced with preparing our children for jobs that do yet exist and to solve problems that are yet unknown. This uncertainty has always been the case to some extent but it has become a much stronger factor. I saw from another source that in 1986 75% of the knowledge that a worker needed was stored in workers’ heads but by 2006, that number was estimated to be 9%. We need new ways of providing the remaining 81% and the virtual world opens up an opportunity for this also through social software.

It is nice that at least some of the challenges brought forward with the virtual world can also be addressed through it and the new technologies that have enabled it. The authors provide a useful chapter on these new technologies including social networks, blogs, microblogs, and wikis. I was interested to see that Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere 2010 Report on American bloggers found that 81% have been blogging more than 2 years and 11% say blogging is their primary income source. I am currently one of those in the latter group. Supporting their growth predictions is that fact that most of their usage stats for most tools have now been surpassed.

Of course it is more than technology and they cover the leadership necessary to go forward in the virtual world. They found a variety of leadership styles to work including both transformational and transactional. They provide a series of stories written by a diverse group of successful virtual business leaders.

The book covers much more including the power of sharing, the four strategies mentioned above, and where the future may take us. I recommend it to anyone who wants to make sense of today’s business world and the opportunities and risks it provides.


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