Life Rafts

In a poem by Josephine Miles, a perfectly ordinary beach picnicker is saved from drowning by a most unlikely white knight — a Swedish-speaking pilot swooping down in a helicopter. Unfortunately, businesses at risk have to make do with more traditional options. For many months now, people have been fighting the depression with every piece of conventional artillery they have: scaling back expenses, putting expansion plans on hold, letting multitudes of employees go. But in a much less overt way, some companies have stumbled onto innovative techniques to stay afloat, and in the process have rediscovered and adopted business practices discarded years ago as démodé but now found to be surprisingly relevant.

Those little sparks of creative energy are what Operations & Fulfillment focuses on bringing you this year: the many ways in which the survival impulse, both personal and professional, manifests itself. In recent surveys, readers and industry experts told us over and over again that in this unsettling business climate, their top priorities are to do more with less; cope with the security concerns and business process changes that life after Sept. 11 entails; and perhaps most important, retain and motivate employees while maintaining strict fiscal austerity. One perceptive operations executive pointed out that although the economy will recover eventually, it will never go back to the turbocharged levels of the perk-filled dot-com days, meaning that many business tools used to prop up the New Economy are, ironically, obsolete.

So what’s left is common sense, and starting with this issue, we plan to offer plenty of it. For instance, it’s no secret that traditional retail, with its well-established distribution infrastructure, has had a leg up on pure-plays from the beginning, but is plagued with software integration and customer service problems. Think of our new department, “Storehouse” (page 8), as a supply shed of ideas, observations, tactics, and witticisms that help you handle the day-to-day business of retail distribution. And although dot-com may be dot-gone, there’s still an abundance of sophisticated technology floating around, a lot of it useful if you can only figure out what the heck it does. Turn to our new technology column (page 38) for decryption. Managers’ newfound emphasis on an old business principle, financial control, will find a natural complement in our column on finance (page 52), which provides inside information on what heads of operations are doing in real life to cope with shrinking budgets. OK, maybe it’s not as thrilling as climbing aboard that chopper, but it sure beats the alternative.

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