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What ‘Pull’ and the “Semantic Web” Mean for Small Business

April 21, 2010

From David Seigel

I will explain the coming shift from pushing information using the principles of the semantic web. This post is about the business drivers and the need for businesses to react better to increasingly complex customer demands.

1.    We are shifting from pushing information to pulling it. Media companies know that they will have to give their consumers full control to pull stories, news, music, television, movies, and all their content to them when they want it, where they want it, the way they want it. This shift is coming to all industries, from medicine to banking to cars and toys.

2.    The shift has already begun. The financial reporting industry has already embraced the semantic web and has built the largest commercial ecosystem of online, interoperable data so far. Many other industries are gearing up to follow. Your industry is no exception.

3.    Products will be pulled. As you take a product off the shelf, you’ll be pulling on the entire supply chain, causing a ripple effect back to the manufacturer. Your customers will start pulling your products from you, rather than you pushing them. Customers will be much more involved in product development; cycles will shorten dramatically.

4.    Big hint: This goes for marketing, too. Push marketing will become less and less relevant. Customers will say what they are looking for and you will have to respond on their terms, not yours.

5.    Services will be pulled as well. A building will order its own supplies and maintenance services. Your services may be combined with those of your competitor without you even knowing it. Customers will dictate the terms and you will have to go along.

6.    Most business processes will invert. The sales-oriented or solutions-oriented culture many companies have will be much less profitable, as market and customer-driven processes rise. Customers will soon be in a position to enter their desires in a way that can fit into your manufacturing or production processes directly.

7.    Customers will become ten times more powerful! They will keep the customer-relationship on their side. Projects like the VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) Project at Harvard and OpenID will put customers much more in charge.

8.    Pulling will have a profound impact on our entire economy. More than $3 trillion of our economy will be affected. Everything from retail to health care to the IRS will be streamlined by the principles of pull.

9.    Watch for the warning signs of push cancer. Push is about vendor lock-in and proprietary data strategies. Apple and Facebook are push companies—they will both face strong competition from the open web. They will both have to change their cultures to embrace pull or they will become much smaller.

10.   Watch for the signs of pull. Pull is the natural way businesses should work to put the customer first. When you hear about companies opening their data, giving customers account portability, and talking about interoperability with competitors, that’s the language of pull. Google embraces some of the principles of pull, but we’ll see how far they go. There is a lot at stake—learn now to open your corporate culture to the principles that will shape successful 21st century companies.

The first industry to implement pull was the bowling industry, which thirty years ago changed from people keeping score to the equipment keeping score automatically in real time. That simple innovation saved the industry as it made bowling more accessible. Media is going through it now. Yours is next.

David Siegel is an author, angel investor, and public speaker in New York City. He is the author of four books about the Internet. His latest book, Pull: the Power of the Semantic Web to Transform Your Business explains the shift from pushing information to pulling it, and the impact that will have on business. You can follow him on Twitter at @pullnews.

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