Vol 39, No. 32

August 7, 2000

Consultant watches industry, teaches pros



Michael Drapkin has been a technology consultant since the '80s, his practice shifting during that time from simply matching people with jobs to developing a broader array of solutions for client businesses. He is principal of Drapkin Technology (drapkintechnology.com) in Monsey and also chairs the e-commerce track for Columbia University's Advanced Information Technology Management program, where he teaches a course on web, Internet and e-commerce.

Drapkin recently discussed his business, his academic career and his assessment of technology trends with Techcetera editor Alex Philippidis ([email protected]

When businesses call you now, at what stage are they? Are they in trouble and need help? Are they trying to go to a higher level? Are they starting up?

It's really all of the above. I get a lot of calls from companies that have just started. I get some from people who are thinking of getting started, that I talked them out of cause I think it's a bad idea, what they're doing. And I tell them why. I get ones that need help. They need additional resources or expertise. And I've done this stuff. I've done almost every phase of this.

You are helping develop new professionals through the e-commerce program you head at Columbia University. What is the program all about?

This summer is the first term for the Advanced Information Technology Management program. It's part of the School of Continuing Education, although potentially become a masters at some point. I have eight students. Next term in the fall, I'll have 18.

It's meant as a senior development program for people who already have significant industry experience. In my first class, I was flabbergasted. Almost everybody in the room said they were either a senior manager or a director. I said, "Why are you here?" They all said "Because I want to be a CIO [chief information officer]." I've got this enormous highly talented group of students that want to go the final mile to reach the top of their careers.

I'm getting calls from VC firms. Why are they calling me? Because suddenly I'm the gatekeeper to this hugh talent pool. They want to get to my Columbia students because people can't find enough talented people, and what they want is to find people like what I have.

You are often quoted on your insights into technology trends. Let's discuss some of them, starting with wireless technology.

I can't go up the West Side Highway without my stupid cell phone calls being dropped. How are you going to do wireless data if you can't even do something that simple?

The larger issue with deployment of wireless is that this is America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. And basically, everybody tries to dominate the market in one way by setting their own standards, and building their own networks. Whereas you go to Europe, you have GSM which is a single standard that will take you all the way from Eastern Europe to Iceland.

Here, we've got Sprint and MCI and AT&T and Verizon and they all use different protocols, networks, and not a lot of interoperability. And they all have old networks at this point. In order to do wireless data, you have to roll out new networks that can support it, which means an investment of billions of dollars. And that's why I'm saying it's not going to happen right away.

How well poised are established companies like Bell Atlantic and Cablevision to offer high-speed Internet services?

Let's take DSL. I have DSL for my business right now. Is it from Bell Atlantic? No. Why? Because another vendor came through and offered it much more quickly than Bell Atlantic did. And why didn't Bell Atlantic do that? They own the central office, for God's sake. They don't have to get permission to go in there. They don't have to get a court order to be able to get equal access.

You know what? Cablevision is just as slow. They ran, they did all the modifications to the poles last summer. I saw them. They could have offered this a year ago. They only now started offering cable modem services.

I've registered with both companies. So, it's not like they have to go around trying to figure out who they want. They've never contacted me. Why not? I'm willing to pay serious money for this kind of service.

On the other hand to be totally fair, the reality is, if you need to have high-speed network services, go get a T1 line. Spend the money if that's important to you. So the issue is not the ability to get high-speed lines. The issue is, how willing are you to pay for them? And how integral is it to the success of your business?

How do you assess the dot-com shakeout?

I think it's a normal progression of business that when you have startups, a lot of them are going to fail. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, 90 percent of startups will fail in their first year of operation. Is it any different for dot-coms? It's just that there were a number of spectacular, ridiculous failures like boo.com and drkoop.com.

What has changed as a result of the shakeout?

Venture capital firms have had to go back to being venture capital firms again. They've just been doing last round financing. They've got to go back to earlier-round financing and really do their homework again and ferret out the real good companies.

I think the other thing that's fundamentally changed is that the concept of 'pure plays' ['Net-only businesses] has become somewhat tainted. Most CEO's of most companies are spending half their time working on an Internet strategy now. So the days where you were able to get by while the helpless giants ignored what was going on are over. In fact, what I consider one of the best models today is for people to partner with an existing company with existing market share, and electrify them by putting them on the web.

Michael Drapkin

43 years old.

Principal of Drapkin Technology (drapkintechnology.com), a senior-level business, technology and management consultancy based in Monsey and launched in 1999.

Chairman of the e-commerce track of Columbia University's Advanced Information Technology Management program, where he teaches a course on web, Internet and e-commerce.

25 years of industry experience. Previously a senior technologist at the web agencies Razorfish and Avalanche.

Also served as a vice president at Lehman Brothers, overseeing the firm's deployment of client/server technology, including their first installation of a company-wide data warehouse for brokerage client business intelligence.

Did personnel consulting through a Mount Kisco, N.Y. business in the late 80s, while living in Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

Quoted in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and national business and technology magazines - including Fortune, Wired and PC Week.

Co-author with Deutsche Bank e-commerce executives Jon Lowy and Dan Marovitz of "3 Clicks Away," a forthcoming book on e-commerce strategy, organization and project management. To be published January 2001 by John Wiley and Sons.

Married with three daughters; a 9-year-old and two 7-year-old twins.

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