One hundred years ago last December, Guglielmo Marconi arrived in St. John’s, Newfoundland at a windy point now known as Signal Hill and changed the world in a way that continues to resonate in every fiber of our culture, our economy, and our lives. He had planned to receive the first transatlantic transmission in the U.S., but for one of the few times in recorded history, St. John’s, Newfoundland won out for its weather.
It wasn’t the first wireless transmission, but it was the ability to communicate a quarter of the way around the world that would make the difference between a substitute for earthbound telegraphy, and what was to become known as radio. In many ways, as we sit at the edge of the wireless Internet age, it is useful to remember that the whole thing got going largely as a result of the work of one man. Marconi was the Bill Gates of his age, with a couple of exceptions: he actually invented something and there appears to be no account of a lineup of people wanting to punch him in the nose.
Without his work, or another like him, the whole idea of immediacy of information would be moot. Without radio there would have been no global village, no transcendent need for news as it happens, and quite possibly, little need for knowledge of the larger world. Marconi may not have known it at the time, but his wire on a kite led to the whole concept of the world changing, which in turn bred the desire for technology upon technology, the sharing of information on a global scale and the tools to do that with: computers and the Internet.
And it all started with the point-to-point transmission of the letter “S,” which 100 years later was, coincidentally, the first letter of a four-letter word I muttered many times as I wrestled to get Jobber News through its own technological revolution.
For the past quarter century, the Jobber News Annual Marketing Guide has been produced directly and exclusively by the staff of the magazine. For the past ten years, the database of names has sat quietly in a computer in a small office at the end of a row of small offices, isolated from every other system in this publishing company. That all changed this year with the introduction of a relational database that could be merged, purged, folded, spindled and mutilated at will, all with an eye to making better use of the information and making it web-compatible.
The process was excruciating, yet the necessity of making the leap is not something I can argue with. And it is a process that many of you will be going through this year.
In a style typical of the aftermarket, this is happening about a decade later than the technology-leading industries, but the simple fact is that you will need to make the move to more capable computer systems than those available a decade ago simply to survive. Shaping and reshaping data has become as important to your business as reading a catalog. You will need to produce your own pricing matrix as paper sheets disappear. You will need to know more about your customers than you do now. And you’ll need to get as many of them on-line as possible.
A short-term goal will be to get 10% to 20% of your commerce with garages conducted online. If you’ve surpassed that, then you’re probably ahead of the game, but that doesn’t mean you should stand still. You need to free up your counterpeople from processing stock orders so they can deal with customers.
The benefits of just moving to electronic cataloging are demonstrable–and significant–but that only scratches the surface of operational efficiencies to be gained and markets to be tapped.
The transition may hurt, but it will be worthwhile. A former head of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission once said that we tend to overestimate the short-term benefit of technologies and underestimate the long term benefit. I tend to agree.
So, as you endure the longer-than-expected transition period (I.T. does not stand for In Time), feel free to use my favorite “S” word, but keep your resolve. Great things can result. — Andrew Ross, Editor
During the throes of our own technology transition, I neglected to note another anniversary in December: Jobber News Magazine turned 70. Happy Birthday!
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