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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2001, MCB UP Limited
The editorial staff of Benchmarking: An International Journal is committed to helping those working at a senior level in industry, the public sector, consultancy, or academic institutions, to stay current on developments in the areas of quality, technology and benchmarking. The focus of the journal is on "topics that have a substantial management content, rather than being primarily technical in nature." The Internet editorials will center on sites with a similar focus. I will examine sites believed to be of interest to BIJ readers and report, in what I believe to be a fair and objective manner, what I find at those sites.
This, my first editorial as the new Internet Editor, will showcase four sites that should be of interest to readers because of the sheer volume of benchmarking information available. These sites are best described as "general" benchmarking sites because they are not industry or business area specific. There are many other sites dedicated to benchmarking in specific industries, or benchmarking in specific areas such as finance, human resources, and marketing. I plan future Internet editorials, more narrow in scope, devoted to benchmarking sites for specific industries and for specific processes or functions. There are many sites devoted to benchmarking in government, education, and in other non-profit organizations, so it is likely that one or more future Internet Editorials will examine sites pertaining to benchmarking in those settings. All of the sites featured in this first editorial are commercial sites – note the .com extensions. It is not our intent to promote the products or services of the site owners, but rather to objectively review the sites for our readers. Our comments should not be interpreted as endorsements of the organizations or their products.
Internet searches will yield different results depending on what search engine, key words, or phrases one chooses to use in conducting the search. In this editorial, as well as in future editorials, I will divulge the search engines used as well as the key words or phrases used, so that readers can replicate the searches if they so desire. For this first editorial, I used the following three search engines to conduct metasearches on the key word Benchmarking: WWW.Searches.com,WWW.Search.com and WWW.Northernlight.com. Metasearches search multiple search engines in producing a hit list, often deleting duplicates in the process. The search of Northern Light produced a hit list of 257,560 Web sites/pages. Perhaps the most notable thing about the Northern Light search was the large number of industry-specific or area-specific benchmarking sites. The hit list contained links to many diverse sites and pages, ranging from those advertising benchmarking books and reports to organizations benchmarking everything from Internet performance to water utility performance. The Northern Light search would be advisable for anyone wanting to find industry-specific or area-specific benchmarking organizations. The Northern Light hit list offers the advantage of providing a reasonably good description of the site/page. A general description is provided and the site/page is categorized by content (articles and information, directories and lists, etc.) and nature (commercial, government, educational, non-profit, country of origin, etc.). The same "benchmarking" search on Searches.com produced a list of 86 sites and pages, some of which, near the bottom of the list, were simply businesses with benchmarking as part of their name, although they did not really provide any information relevant to benchmarking. Numerous useful sites were identified, mostly near the top of the hit list. The Searches.com hit list provided a narrative description of the site/page and its contents, and it listed the actual URL of the site/page. The Search.com search on "benchmarking" produced a list containing 52 hits. Search.com provided a narrative description of site/page contents and the URL of each site/page. Many of the links found on the Search.com hit list were to links to the sites and pages of organizations. Many of the organizations were consulting firms providing benchmarking services. For the sheer volume and variety of search results, I would have to conclude that the search of NorthernLight.com was the most productive of the three. I could have opted to use any one of dozens more search engines for my searches. I used these three simply to illustrate that different search engines will produce different search results. I plan to use many other search engines for future editorials.
BenchNet # is the property of The Benchmarking Exchange. TBE describes BenchNet as a "very comprehensive and very user friendly electronic communication and information system designed specifically for use by individuals and organizations involved in Benchmarking and Process Improvement." The site was designed by and for practitioners. BenchNet members can get help with virtually any phase of benchmarking. BenchNet exists to serve those just getting started, as well as those with considerable experience with benchmarking. Basically, it could be said that BenchNet offers something for everyone involved in benchmarking. Most BenchNet services are for members only. Although membership is not free, the membership fees seem to be reasonable. Individual memberships run $185 per year with a one-month trial membership available for $25. Company membership runs $995 for a one-year trial site license that would make BenchNet resources available to all company employees. Consultants cannot purchase a company membership, but instead must purchase a special consultant membership – this practice seems to be fairly common with sites of this nature. Non-members, while they can browse through some of the BenchNet resources, will be greatly restricted in their access to information. So what can a non-member get for free at this site? Non-members can get a very brief overview of benchmarking (see the What is Benchmarking? link on the BenchNet homepage) and basic business processes (see the What's a Business Process? link). Non-members can also learn more about BenchNet's purpose, services, and members by clicking the General Information link on the BenchNet homepage. That link will take the visitor to the "General Information" page where he or she can view a PowerPointTM presentation that provides a good overview of BenchNet. About the only other thing non-members can access is the membership list. The List of Current Members link, also found on the homepage, will allow non-members to see a list of companies that are BenchNet members, as well as a list of countries and industries represented by the BenchNet members. What services are available to BenchNet members? Apparently, many advantages come with BenchNet membership. Among the most obvious benefits of membership are the following: getting assistance from other members with one's benchmarking programs; an opportunity to conduct benchmarking studies, to participate in benchmarking studies, and to see the results of one's own studies and the benchmarking studies of other members; and access to relevant literature about benchmarking. In short the major benefit of membership is the opportunity to share with, learn from and work with other BenchNet members. Once a member signs in, he/she has access to a wealth of resources through the "Member Menu." The "Communications and Collaboration" area contains links to members indexed by organization, country, member names, and industry. One can use the E-mail link to contact the targeted person, or access the Web site of the person's organization using the site link (if the company has a Web page, which most do). This gives members a convenient way to contact other BenchNet members. The Posting Board link allows members to post a request for help or information and to share the results, if desired, with those who provided assistance. This is a great way to solicit participation in projects, get answers to questions about benchmarking, etc. Only when a posting board is active is it helpful, and this one appears to be quite active. I saw postings about a process as old as 1997, postings as recent as 2001, and many other postings in between. The "Communications and Collaboration" area even has a "Jobs" section where employers can post openings and members seeking employment can post their Resumé. The "Resources" area of the "Member Menu" contains links to hundreds of books, audio books, books on disk, software, and videos. Links provide members with access to information about the various resources available and links that will assist in ordering the resources. There is a link to Amazon.Com to make it easy to purchase targeted books or other materials on-line. The "Research" area contains a News Feed link that provides members access to news feeds that are, for the most part, about benchmarking. The "Research" area provides, also, access to a variety of service providers involved in everything from Networking to Education and training. Each "Service" category contains a wealth of links. Members can, in the "Research" area, access case studies and presentations, articles and summaries, and a best practice archives. User-friendly Search tools can be used to look for relevant materials in many of those areas. Under the "Research" area, members will find a "Surveyor" that can be used to conduct surveys and participate in surveys, and there is a "Self Assessor and Diagnostic" tool for self-examination (from an organizational perspective). The "Reference" area is great! The Newsletter link moves one to the "Newsletter" page that contains links to current and past Newsletters. The Newsletters are packed with information about past and present surveys, stories about member companies, links to relevant sites, conference dates, and useful articles like one entitled "Benchmarking: past, present and future." The Glossary link, also found in the "Reference" area, proved to be quite useful in defining many benchmarking terms. The BenchNet site is updated daily. This site is well maintained and well worth the visit. Is it worth joining? Take a look for yourself, then you decide.
The Benchmarking Network, Inc.http://www.well.com/user/benchmar/
Owned by The Benchmarking Network, Inc., this site contains much information for those with an interest in benchmarking. Some resources are restricted to members, but many are available to non-members. The Benchmarking NetworkTM "leads studies with organizations throughout the world." TBN strives to use the most sophisticated technology available in providing its customers with high quality services. TBN uses its global network of organizations for conducting studies to identify best practice and to provide much needed assistance to its members with benchmarking related activities. Among the many areas addressed in benchmarking studies are organizational structure, internal controls, reward and recognition systems, and training and recruiting. The Studies link on the homepage provides a long list of study areas. An index is available for quick access to the alphabetized list of studies. Access to the actual study results is restricted to members. The Books link on the homepage provides access to a page listing a number of books about benchmarking. Short reviews for each book are available at the click of a mouse. Order information is available for each book and some can be ordered on-line using a handy link to Amazon.com. You need not be a member to purchase the books. At the bottom of the books is a link called Free Group Studies. That link can be used to sign up for receipt of selected studies at no charge, and one can sign up to participate in future studies. A free monthly, electronic newsletter is available to those who qualify (criteria seemed to be that one work for a large organization involved in benchmarking) and who are willing to take a minute or two to sign up for it. The newsletter may be helpful with a firm's benchmarking efforts as it includes "a feature article about new trends in benchmarking, information about open studies, and links to other benchmarking sites." Visitors can find out about the services offered by TBN by clicking the Services link on the home page. Services available to TBN members include but are not limited to the following: assistance with getting a benchmarking program started in one's organization; conducting studies to continuously update benchmarks in a wide variety of performance areas; assistance in conducting benchmarking studies; opportunities to participate in studies; training to support all phases of a benchmarking program; member access to database resources that include such things as current best practice benchmarks and relevant literature on benchmarking studies and practice; and implementation support – they don't actually do benchmarking for you. Perhaps the most useful aspect of the site for non-members is all the links to other benchmarking organizations. Near the bottom of the homepage are two long lists of links. The "Industry Focused" list consists of links to Industry specific benchmarking organizations, such as the Automotive Suppliers Benchmarking Association. The "Process Focused" list consists of links to process specific benchmarking organizations such as the Activity Based Costing Benchmarking Association. This is a very convenient way to organize the links. It should reduce the time required to find benchmarking information relevant to one's own industry or discipline by reducing the time wasted browsing through sites of little value. If one clicks the Highlights link on the homepage, and scrolls down the "Highlights" page, one will find another list of relevant links. Most of them are links to the same organizations listed on the homepage, but the link names are more descriptive, as they use the full name of the organization/association in most cases. The links seem to be current. Every link that was selected was current. That is usually a good indication that a page/site is well maintained. There is a Site Map link on the homepage that offers visitors an alternative way of exploring the site. It eliminates much of the clutter and makes exploring the site quick and easy. This was a good site and one worth visiting, even if one is not a member. The links alone make it worth the visit. I was unable to find a way to sign up for membership, or to ascertain the cost of membership. That is something that should be corrected in the future. I sent an e-mail inquiry about membership details, but did not receive a response in time to include it in this editorial. This is an interesting site and worth a visit.
BRISC is an acronym for Benchmarking Reconnaissance and Information Sharing Consulting. BRISC is an information service business that "helps companies, groups and organizations to better understand what they know about themselves and where they should go." BRISC gathers data and interprets that data, thereby creating the information that they disseminate. The dissemination of information, or what they call "getting the word out," is their primary purpose. It becomes abundantly clear when visiting the Web site that BRISC relies heavily on IT for its information sharing activities. There is a Services and Projects link on the homepage that will allow one to examine the services provided by this consulting firm. I saw no projects listed. The services of this firm have a slightly different twist when compared to other sites visited. Interested readers should examine the services descriptions. Perhaps the most valuable resource found at this site is the links. The Benchmarking Links link found on the homepage will take the visitor to a page with many useful links. The organization of the links on the "Benchmarking Links" page is rather unusual, but it is helpful. There is a link on that page called Benchmarking Around the World that takes one to another page, where one can select a region of interest and examine a list (the list is organized by country) of links for benchmarking organizations from that region of the world. Also on the "Benchmarking Links" page, there is a Topics link that takes one to a page where one can select from among the following four links based on one's choice of topical area: People, Technology, Learning, and Function & Industry. These links move one to pages housing links associated with one's area of choice (i.e. the People page contains links to sites pertaining to best practice in human resources, and more). The links on these pages are supplemented with text providing substantial detail about the nature of the sites to which the links point. I found links to articles, links to books and journals, and links to organizations doing benchmarking or providing benchmarking products and/or services. The Newsletter link (under NEWS on the homepage) takes one to the Newsletter archive. Some interesting reading materials can be found by following the many links in the newsletters, but some links did not work. That problem was not uncommon at the BRISC site. The site appears to suffer from recent neglect, most evident in the form of linkrot (links that are outdated and do not function properly). A number of the links that were examined did not work. Other evidence of infrequent updating was found on the "Events Calendar." The calendar had no events more recent than November of 2000. Likewise the date of the last update listed on the homepage was November 14, 2000, and the most recent "Newsletter" was dated October 31, 2000. This site offers real promise in providing links to useful benchmarking information. One would hope that the neglect that was evident when I visited the site is only temporary, and that the person or persons responsible for maintaining the site will update it soon.
Best-Practice.com is an e-marketplace where "a network of companies and organisations from around the world, all involved in the provision of best practice information and services, have come together to create the first port of call for any person or organisation looking to learn from the best practice of others." It is a community of business people who wish to bring about change in their businesses. BPC has assembled a virtual community of people who can help. It offers those searching for ways to improve organizational performance the help they need in the form of information, tools, and moral support. BPC attempts to match those who need help with those who can provide it. Membership is free, and it took only minutes to fill out the form for membership and minutes to be confirmed as a member. This process may take days or weeks for some sites. The site is tastefully done and relatively easy to navigate. The Information Portal link found on the homepage provides access to some of the more useful services available to site visitors. Much of the information is available to non-members as well as members. The "Information Portal" has a number of links. One of the most useful links is accessed via the Search for Best Practice button. Here, one can conduct a search for case studies that might help in one's benchmarking efforts. I conducted a search using Automotive as the keyword and found two matches. The two studies were described quite well, and I had the opportunity to add them to my cart for purchase at checkout. A currency converter is provided to allow one to determine the cost of a particular case study in one's own currency. Other buttons allow one to browse the case studies by category (Browse by Category Button) and to examine benchmarking tools (Other E-Tools button). I found no case studies that were free, but I must note that the case study descriptions provided sufficient detail to help one decide if a purchase is warranted. Some of the cases were relatively inexpensive and some were a bit pricey. Reviews could be posted for the studies, but I found no reviews for the case studies that I examined. The Communications link on the home page allows one to participate in online forums, providing a chance to exchange questions and answers with other like-minded persons. Participants seemed more interested in asking questions than participating in the forums – there was much more activity in the "Questions" area. This is a good place for one to ask a question about benchmarking and get an answer – hopefully a good answer. The "Forums" and "Ask Questions" services seem underutilized at present. Increased usage would make both more valuable. The Events Planner link opens the calendar of events, which was current, but not well populated with events. Links in the "Event Planner" make additional details about the events available to those who might be interested. One can use the drop-down list found near the top of the planner to select a month for viewing. The planner is well done. The homepage contained three categories of news items. The first was "Industry news." The links found under "Industry News," for reasons I do not fully understand, pointed to the sites of several organizations rather than to industry news, or sites providing industry news. The "In Site: What's New" category contained links to what appeared to be recently added case studies. The "Business News" included a Web Feed news service featuring the business news of the day, but nothing directly related to benchmarking that I could find. This site appears to be relatively new. The site is first and foremost a "case supermarket," but other features hold value for members – remember that membership is free. With increased activity and interest, the forum and question and answer features could become very valuable tools for sharing benchmarking experiences and expertise. Overall, I would have to conclude that this site offers significant promise. I may revisit this site in the future to see if it is evolving in a way that might help it to reach its potential. The site is worth a look.
My goal, as the Internet Editor for Benchmarking: An International Journal, is to write Internet Editorials that will be valuable to BIJ readers. I can best accomplish this goal with the help of BIJ readers. If you have suggestions for future editorials, such as industries or areas you would like to see covered, or specific sites you would like to see included, please e-mail me your suggestions. Your input will help me to better serve you by writing Internet editorials consistent with your information needs. Send your comments and suggestions to Ron McGaughey at email@example.com.
Ronald E. McGaugheyInternet Editor