If you’ve ever wondered why companies today continue to post brochure-ware Web sites with no means to communicate or collect information, consider a phenomenon from the post-war pacific islands.

In the years following the Second World War, the superstitious inhabitants of the pacific islands built wooden models of airplanes and placed them on landing strips in the hopes this would lure back “the Gods of America” that had made them prosper.

This concept, known as Cargo Cultism, is a term IT consultant and former Y2K guru Peter de Jager uses to describe the actions of many organizations today – “If it ‘looks like’ the right technology, then it will produce the desired results.

“I would submit to you that most organizations operate under Cargo Cult,” said de Jager, suggesting that if they present something that looks like technology, they will reap the benefits. “That’s all it takes, just spend the money and you will reap the benefits.”

In a recent survey conducted by Blue Bell- Penn-based Unisys, the company found that the majority of banks the company tested created Web sites that ‘looked real’ but were not supported on the back-end with the necessary infrastructure.

“Buying a CRM system is an exercise in futility for banks that don’t respond to e-mail. To put a CRM system in place you first have to have a philosophy that actually believes the customer is king,” said de Jager, speaking recently at Leaders, Lemmings and Laggards, a Unisys sponsored conference examining the financial services industry, held near Nice, France.

De Jager also warned against forcing the use of new technology in an organization when no one knows exactly what issues are being addressed. This is often lead by what he calls “departmental warriors” – someone who introduces a new way of doing business before anyone understands why it is being put in place.

“If I’m a member of an organization and the management wants to bring about change, I do not want to hear the word buy-in. It is the No. 1 phrase used in the change management process but the moment you make that statement you’re already halfway down the wrong path,” he said. “Instead, ask ‘What would you like to do to solve this?’”

Finally, he says “technological dysfunction” can also plague an organization, but this is considered more acceptable, because for some companies, there is at least a recognition that more than just technology is required to answer the problem.

To be a leader and not a lemming in today’s corporate world, making the right decisions about IT investments means knowing not just what products to choose, but how to make them effective across an organization, de Jager said.

Too often decision-makers choose technology out of fear of missing out, rather than as a means to answer a defined need or problem,

Each time a new technology is introduced by the IT industry, it is presented in two ways: “‘Do this and you will be blessed with the benefits.’ And when that fails, a more effective approach seems to be ‘If you don’t do this you will be cursed with the consequences,’ said de Jager.

“Fear, it seems, gets people to move ahead more than anything else.

But the real way to think about the future is not by starting with the solution, but by having a better definition of the problem.”

Widely known for his work on Y2K issues, de Jager has moved on to consult on several different projects including his involvement as associate director of The Global Future Forum, a think-tank of futurists, academics and business people, backed by Unisys.

During a presentation to about 54 journalists and members of the financial community from around the world, de Jager presented some information from a Web Responsiveness study conducted this summer by Unisys.

The study evaluated the way financial institutions worldwide are using their Web sites to provide improved customer service. Choosing 400 financial institutions from the July 2001 issue of The Banker, Unisys began evaluating each bank’s use of technology to reach customers.

Of the 400 used in the study, 64 did not have a Web site. Of the remaining 336, 164 offered no e-mail address to reach the bank’s home office.

“Why is a bank putting up a site that will cost $250,000 a year to run if there is no e-mail address?” he said. “If I’m a customer, I may think they’re idiots.”

Of the other 162 that did offer an electronic means to respond, just 94 answered an e-mail asking for information about opening a new account – 25 of those responses were not helpful. The balance chose to ignore, or didn’t have the resources in place to respond to a potential new customer, said de Jager, labeling them the lemmings of the financial sector.

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