For the Presidentís Memo in the February 2000 issue of Concrete International, ACI President Jo Coke asked ACIís new Executive Vice President Jim Toscas to provide some of his perspectives on the Institute and to share his thoughts about the new 21st Century and its challenges. This is the second part of Jimís message.
Getting Ready for Our Second Century (Part II)
by James G. Toscas
We discussed last month how information technology, particularly the Internet, is profoundly changing the way people communicate with one another, access information, and conduct business. This poses both challenges and opportunities for professional and technical societies like ACI. On one hand, thanks to digitized data, global networking, and sophisticated search engines, more information than ever before is quickly and easily available. On the other hand, thanks to the ease and low cost of placing data on the web, it is often more difficult than ever before to assure quality and reliability of that information.
The Instituteís "product-based, process-driven" operational model (which we described last month) has served it well over the years, and is still working today. The seeds of something different, however, have already been planted. In addition to becoming more plentiful overall, information is being prepared in more ways for more specific applications, to the point that individual customers can define their own customized information "packages."
The purpose here is to bring information one step closer to becoming knowledge; that is, information whose content, context, and organization make it readily useful to the recipient. For example, if your research determines that the price of a pharmaceutical company stock went up, you have obtained information. But if you learn that it went up while pharmaceuticals as a group were going down, and that in the past 25 years this has only happened five times, and that each time it was due to insiders buying in advance of a breakthrough announcement, you have acquired knowledge. To remain viable, information-based organizations will need to implement information management systems that cannot only hold and retrieve large quantities of information, but can also provide customized delivery to the end user in such a way as to constitute knowledge.
Assuming we can build and operate such a system, what knowledge should ACI direct its attention to? The answer: everything that serves its ultimate goal of improving the design, construction, manufacture, use, and maintenance of things made from concrete and related materials. Much of this knowledge will come from within ACIís own technical organization, but outside sources will also be needed to complete the picture.
Does this mean ACI must undergo drastic changes? Perhaps not as many as one might think. After all, the Institute has been generating knowledge for decades. The basic process of integration, consensus, and synthesis, yielding a top-quality knowledge product, will remain one of the necessary elements in the creation of value.
The other necessary elements, which have recently become more apparent, could be described with something we might call the "Value Equation:"
Value = Quality ◊ Timeliness ◊ Relevance
ACI has always held quality as its primary objective for its products and services, and without quality there can be no value. However, even the highest quality product, if delivered much too late to satisfy a key need, or if it is too esoteric to be useful to any but a small group of specialists, can have little value to the industry or to the civilization that we ultimately serve.
ACIís technical, education, and certification operations will have to refine their processes in order to package and deliver knowledge with quality and timeliness to meet continuously changing needs. This will make our operations more "knowledge-based." The most significant challenge, however, may be the development of completely new functions to accurately and rapidly determine these needsóto assure relevance. This is marketing, in the broadest sense of the term. It will require much more than the ads and brochures weíve always done; we will need to do more surveying, analysis, and targeting of the Instituteís membership and customer base. The recently established Marketing Committee and the addition of marketing savvy to the staff will provide this capability. Putting the pieces together gives us a "knowledge-based, market-driven" operational model.
One of the tools of the knowledge-based, market-driven trade is a world-class Internet capability, including information presentation, search, and retrieval; electronic publication; e-commerce; member communications; and committee activities. We are well on the way to providing this with an aggressive web site development program underway.
Last to be treated here, but first in priority, ACI must be guided by a clear vision of the ends it seeks to achieve and an explicit strategy to achieve these ends. The present Strategic Plan is certainly a solid base but the shift to a knowledge-based, market-driven model will require that this be revisited. In fact, it will require that we stop considering the "Strategic Plan" as a document, and begin looking at "strategic planning" as an ongoing process. The Board of Direction has already made plans to examine the Instituteís strategic planning process during 2000. In this new century, however, thereís a new twistóthe recognition that our ends can best be achieved through working with other organizations having similar goals. This includes not only the 40-plus concrete-related associations in the United States but similar organizations worldwide. Our overall strategy must be a global strategy and our goals should involve strategic communication, tactical cooperation, operational collaboration, and message coordination with our sister organizations.
Adding it all up, itís clear that some exciting changes will be in store during ACIís second century. We have the necessary resources today to position ACI to serve successfully in the years ahead. Itís up to us to apply these resources intelligently for the benefit of civilization.
James G. Toscas,
Executive Vice President,
American Concrete Institute