Net gainTony Rizzo is one of those rare people who possesses both technical talent and literary skill. Back in the late 1970s Rizzo earned his degree in English and computer science from New York University.
“At the time my advisers thought it was pretty screwy,” says Rizzo. “But it paid off for me.”
Indeed. Rizzo served until recently as editor – in – chief and columnist for Internet World Magazine, a weekly publication with a circulation of 235,000, and one of the most important publications of the new economy.
The Internet is not about technology per se. It’s about basic business, says Rizzo. “It’s about [corporations] using the technology to their strategic and tactical advantage. And it is about using the Internet to optimise the communications along your value chain, including your partners, customers, suppliers and internal audiences.”
Rizzo was born in New York City’s Little Italy neighbourhood and started his literary career as what he terms “a penniless poet” in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, an artistic and bohemian enclave. During this period he worked to create poetry – reading techniques that would enable readers to go through his poems in a non – linear fashion. “It was something that wasn’t exactly at the forefront back then,” he notes. Today, however, hypertext links on the Internet offer similar sorts of layered reading opportunities.
In the early 1980s he gave up his life as a poet for a job at New York University’s Bobst Library, where he was part of a team driving the automation of the library’s circulation and card catalogue systems and the networking of several area college library systems. In addition, he freelanced, writing computer reviews for magazines – a job that in the late 1980s led to his becoming the founding editor of Microsoft Systems Journal. “I was one of the first 1,000 Microsoft employees,” he says.
Rizzo’s literary career took off. He moved to PC Magazine, which at the time published 600 – plus pages of content and ads every two weeks, and then to CMP Media’s Network Computing magazine, where he was a founding editor. This is where he was in early 1993 when he and a colleague conceived and edited one of the first articles in the trade press about the coming Internet gold rush.
This led to Rizzo’s next career move. He became editor – in – chief of NetGuide magazine, one of the first Internet – focused publications. But, by this time – the mid – 1990s – he felt that something was missing. He, like many of his readers, didn’t quite understand the miraculous potential of the Internet for internal communications and customer communications. “I had relied heavily on my hands – on technical background to deliver in my other editing jobs,” says Rizzo. “I wanted and knew I needed significant hands – on experience with the Internet.” So the techie side overwhelmed the literary side of Rizzo’s life once again, and he left his editing post to become a high – tech consultant, eventually winding up at Ernst & Young, one of the top consulting firms in the world. Commuting back and forth from New York to Seattle, Rizzo lived in the Internet excitement of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“Our goal was to deliver a real collection of financial services on the Web,” says Rizzo. “Ernst & Young represents corporate America on the high end. We wanted to see what worked.” Rizzo later returned to his literary pursuits as editor – in – chief of Internet World, but the lessons he learned during his consulting ventures continued to inform what he passed on to his readers, advancing his now – evangelistic belief that the Internet can change the way the world does business.
“The early mistake of Fortune 500 companies was to either put mavericks from outside the company on Internet projects or [to use] old – line IT managers,” says Rizzo. “But that’s not the right way to go. As consultants, we did that. We spent five months building project management charts and planning. But, by the time we had it ready, the technology had changed. The users’ perspective had changed.
“We learned something vital: You’ve got to link the Internet to the business goals of your company – not link your business goals to the Internet.”
According to research by Internet World, there are some 4.7 million businesses in the United States. Only 40,000 of those businesses have 200 or more employees, and 89,000 businesses have 100 or fewer. “These are folks who will truly make the Internet a revolution,” says Rizzo. “Not the dot – bombs with 22 – year – olds, funded by venture capitalists with wild ideas.”
The reason those companies will lead the vanguard of the Internet is that they are now figuring out – with the help of leaders like Rizzo and others – that they can change the world by altering the way they communicate.
“The Internet makes that incredibly easy,” says Rizzo. “The challenge for everyone is to figure out how to deploy their communications and critical business information in their value chain. The way the world will compete going forward can be summarised as ‘my value chain competes with your value chain.’ How do you communicate with your suppliers and internal audiences – as compared with your competition?”
There is some external evidence of this trend as well. At IBM’s recent Partner World confab, CEO Lou Gerstner said that 53 percent of IT spending budgets are controlled by business departments, not computer departments, in major companies. By 2003, some 60 percent will be.
“That will continue to grow,” says Rizzo. “The line of business people and business strategists will drive how the Internet is deployed in corporate America, [which is] driven by Internet – driven infrastructure and the ability to easily and securely communicate with the external world. These business strategists and technologists know that any successful business is a collaborative business.”
What, exactly, are these business technologists doing that is revolutionising their companies? Well, for one thing, they’re building plenty of Web sites for internal use. “What I’m talking about is a Web site inside of your company,” says Rizzo. “What resides there are tools to edit a magazine, for example. So, if I’m on the road, I no longer have to rely on someone e – mailing me a document. I log in via password and the copy is there. That enhances communications and allows for more collaborative work.”
The whole area of customer relationship management is also burgeoning, thanks to the Internet. Visionary Internet – driven programs that companies are implementing – like trying to reduce the number of days it takes to deliver a car to the dealer, with the help of the Internet – will revolutionise business. That may change the face of the Fortune 500 in years to come, Rizzo says, as companies that don’t “get it” fall off the map.
Concludes Rizzo, “The question is: How do you really create an incredible communication network both inside and outside of your company? How do you get your partners on board? How do you constantly stay on the innovative edge of using technology to solve business problems? That’s the sweet spot.”
Tony Rizzo is now working as a corporate Internet and Web technology strategy consultant for a consulting company based in New York.
a business journalist based in Chicago, USA
photo Steve Vaccariello