Let the Net Work for You
Networking is great!
No it isn't, it is a nightmare!
No! - It is brilliant, and it is still the future!
Confused? Let me explain.
NETWORKING - "The Good Old Days"
In the good old days when Supply Departments had a large number of staff, you could take a holiday or go on a business trip, or go to a week long industry conference, and there would be a replacement assigned to cover your work while you were away. In fact, good Supply Managers encouraged their staff to go to conferences, or visit their counterparts in other operations or industries to learn better ways to work.
"Rubbing Shoulders" or "Networking" with colleagues at conferences was a great way to keep up with the latest developments in your field. In fact, if you could stand the hang-over the following day, you could learn more about the latest industry trends from colleagues around the bar or in the hospitality suite after the day's presentations.
NETWORKING - "The Computer Age"
The advent of the computer in our business promised "paperless systems" with the underlying threat that it would take our jobs. However, paper re-cycling operations were never so busy - and as bigger and better mainframe systems were introduced, we found IT consultants, and systems development / implementation teams materialising everywhere.
However, staff numbers did decrease in some areas as the Computer started to handle the more mundane tasks like posting issue and receipt entries to stock ledgers. Then automatic ordering and expediting became a reality. Purchasing staff had to start thinking big. Instead of getting three quotes for every item requisitioned, the "Big Blanket Order" or "Forward Purchasing Contract" came into vogue. You only needed to get a quote or tender once every year or so for hundreds or even thousands of inventory line items at a time. Purchasing Officers had to become Contract Administrators or just fade away.
Those remaining were faced with the daunting task of grappling with cumbersome contract documentation and their dumb terminals were readily replaced with the PC they always wanted, linking them to the mainframe. They had to become proficient word processors because even sending a memo involved keying your own message into the "Office Network". Anyone involved with setting up Local Area Networks (LAN's) will know the frustration of establishing ethernet links and the associated crashes caused by incompatible software versions between PC's.
Group-wide Company Intranets provided a great medium for spreading social club notices and the latest jokes and graphics, which cluttered your PC, and seemed to be nothing more than another hindrance to productivity. The chosen few in the Company who were first granted access to the Internet will recall the hassles navigating the Gateway. In fact, almost everyone who first surfed the Net using Windows 95 would have cursed Gates and Windows at some point in their development.
However, we have wakened from this nightmare to a bright new day.
NETWORKING - "Now and the Future"
According to recent statistics, Internet users are doubling in number every one hundred days and there will soon be an estimated billion users of the Net worldwide.
My organisation has found it the most economical means of communicating with staff and clients all round Australia. We have been paying our employees via electronic funds transfer (EFT) since 1997. Most of our clients now pay invoices the same way, and applicants for employment can now register on-line by completing a mini CV on our Web Site. It was also practical and comforting to keep in touch almost daily with my daughter, as she hopped from one Internet Café to another on her working holiday in Europe.
We have developed a suite of standard contract documentation for a client to cover a wide variety of service and supply contract scenarios. By following some simple rules such as minimal use of graphics (logos, frames etc.), a complete set of contract documentation which previously took over an hour to transmit via e-mail, now takes only a few minutes - as fast as a fax and in a more useable format.
There is innovative software appearing every week, which promises to revolutionise the way we work. Web-based purchasing packages are available which sit on top of mainframe systems to link remote operations and warehouses, and facilitate requisitioning and order tracking. Similar software can link numerous supplier catalogues, and of course on-line cataloguing has been a reality for some time.
Some innovative organisations I deal with have been using tele-conferences for several years to discuss global sourcing strategies with their overseas operations. Video interviews and conferences over the Net is the latest development which will enable economical face-to-face negotiations over vast distances. It will certainly enhance my business of recruitment and contract employment for Supply Professionals, which still relies heavily on the old form of Networking, by eliminating the tyranny of distance.
The more we investigate and develop the potential of the Internet, the more time we will have to engage in good old-fashioned Networking.
Communicating effectively with peers and experts in your chosen field is still the best form of training, and more jobs are won through Networking than ever before.