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Bloomberg plays down cyber-craze


June 22, 1999 -- ALTHOUGH the Internet or electronic commerce will create enormous opportunities for new businesses, don't expect them to totally replace the human touch or the interpersonal relationship that has always existed.

Sharing his vision of tomorrow's way of doing business with his Thai audience, Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Financial Markets which is one of the world's fastest growing multimedia networks, played down the craze of electronic commerce or Internet-related transactions that many say would dominate the way businesses are conducted.

He pointed out that not all the people would buy their clothes by clicking into a Website, pick the items, pay the bills and have them shipped to their home, for a whole lot of shoppers still want to go to their favourite stores to try the outfits by themselves and talk directly to the sales persons. It is this human relationship that the consumers still want as part of their life.

Yet what electronic commerce will do increasingly is the automation of the part of the transactions that have no human value added, Bloomberg said.

When you eat out in a restaurant, you will encounter an automation of the payment transactions through credit cards. But it is impossible to automate the restaurant manager, the waiters or the cooks, who are still necessary out there as the human transactions.

Amazon.com is enormously successful as a discount on-line book-selling company. There is a huge market for this company, which has formidable listings, because most of the books the buyers purchase do not need human transactions. If you click into the site to order a title, you do not need to physically touch the book to check its quality most of the time before you actually buy it.

But Bloomberg said the traditional book stores can survive because some buyers still want to visit the places to browse through the books or talk to store keepers there. If the traditional book stores hook up their transaction system with the suppliers, so that new books will be shipped in immediately to replace the ones sold, they still stand a good chance of continuing to do business by banking on the human relationship.

''We only use technology intelligently, and not go out to try and replace something that needs the human transaction,'' he said.

However, the Internet will alter the shape of the world by allowing the consumers, the shareholders, the voters, the labour unions to come closer together to act in a more united way. Most companies have been making products or offering services based on an aggregated idea of what they believe will mostly attract their customers by listening to their reactions. But they never know what their customers really think or want.

Bloomberg said there is an increasing likelihood that the consumers will come together to actually demand the products they want from the manufacturers. If they come together in 10,000 through e-mail and demand a car-maker to come up with a new five-door model otherwise they'll go to other companies, chances are that the car-maker will listen to them very carefully and try to cater to their needs and tastes.

The same thing will be happen in politics. Most voters have been exercising their voices individually, but if they can come together via e-mail in a huge number through a collective force, they will have a larger say and the politicians will listen to their advice more attentively. Likewise, management of a company will listen more to their shareholders, who come together in a larger number to demand changes.

Bloomberg cited another example of how the Internet has changed the way business is done at General Electric, the US conglomerate. GE had been buying products at an enormous quantity from its suppliers every year. But one day it told the suppliers to visit its Website and take a look at the lists of products it wanted. Instead of having their sales persons calling into the GE offices, the suppliers were required to spell out the prices or quality of the products they would like to offer to GE through the Website.

The arrival of electronic information will transform the world, facilitating international trade and benefiting small countries which have been experiencing difficulty sending their messages across. Bloomberg said it will also make the world more open and narrow the gap between the haves and the haves-not.

The world will become more competitive. If you are a good writer, you'll be very successful because you can reach a wider audience. If you are bad or below par, that's tough luck.

The skills that people will need for the world of tomorrow, Bloomberg suggested, are very basic in the old values. Since technology will become abundant and cheap, what we need is the basic ability of reading, writing, mathematics and presentation and the ability to analyse or make sense of the vast information available.




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