Making decisions is one job that almost everyone in business must do. The decisions may vary in importance, complexity, and consequence, but in one way or another, we're all decision makers. So it should come as no surprise that, in an economy where the Net is changing everything, it should also change how decisions are made, why they are made, and when they are made. Digital decision making is every bit as Net driven and Net dependent as any other aspect of the new world of work that's being transformed by the intersection of digital technology and Net speed.
Take, for example, Alliant Foodservice Inc.'s move to the Net — the kind of decision that almost every old-line, old-economy company eventually has to reckon with. In telling Alliant's story in real time — as the decision-making process unfolds — Net Company highlights not only how digital technology changes the tools for making decisions but also how it changes the context in which those decisions are made. Here, you get to see how two old-school businesses — a food-services company and a leveraged-buyout firm — combine with a hot, new technology-consulting firm to try to adopt a Net-enabled strategy. The challenge is not to use digital technology to make decisions but to learn to make decisions in a completely new way, because of the imperatives of digital technology. Like it or not, these old-school organizations are having to learn how to function with incomplete information, inadequate analysis, and unfamiliar partners — or they risk being left behind.
Decision making is also at the heart of Landmark Graphics Corp. and its "Decisionarium." What could be more revolutionary than the application of advanced computer technology and imaging to one of the oldest industries in the world? But as is so often the case, the technology itself is not the whole story — or even the point of the story. What is critical, however, is that technology is a powerful enabler that changes how work — in this case, finding oil that lies miles below the earth's surface — gets done. And although the technology is revolutionary and transformational, the work is as old as the oil industry itself. Ultimately, it is the work of collaborating, of team building, of arriving at decisions that every team member can support. Landmark's story is less about using technology to tap the earth's resources than it is about using technology to tap the human resources in any organization.
If this issue of Net Company has an overarching point, it is this: You don't have to look in strange or exotic places to see the importance and power of the Net. It shows up, in fact, in the oldest of old-economy industries and in the most basic of tasks. Some decisions become more urgent and more dicey, whereas others are more accurate and more informed. It's just another example of the digital world working in a digital fashion: Your decisions will either be ones — or zeros.
A version of this article appeared in the Prototype Issue issue of Fast Company magazine.