An overstated case for the proposition that our socioeconomic future depends largely upon the emergence of amorphous entities that the authors dub ``virtual corporations.'' By the breathless account of Davidow (Marketing High Technology, 1986) and Malone (Going Public, 1991, etc.), a virtual corporation is a radically restructured, free-form enterprise equipped to deliver immediate consumer gratification in cost- effective fashion. Among other examples of virtual goods and services that are already available, the authors cite camcorders that make instant movies, desktop publishing, and eyeglasses in an hour. Davidow and Malone go on to assess the advanced systems and/or procedures that permit industry to offer such products. Covered as well are organizational issues—most notably, the changing roles played by labor, management, customers, suppliers, and others in an era marked by intense transnational competition. That the most commercial concerns must be adaptive, flexible, and responsive—as well better able to gather, process, and act upon relevant data if they are to survive, much less thrive—seems inarguable. Whether all or even very many of them may be obliged to do so according to the convulsive, scattershot prescriptions of Davidow and Malone, however, will strike even casual observers as a very open question. Moreover, the authors offer few insights that could be accurately described as new. In fact, to create what passes for a coherent synthesis, they simply combine anecdotal commentary on computer-aided design, flexible manufacturing, kaizen (incremental improvement), kanban (just-in-time inventory practices), visionary leadership, and other trendy topics with short, baleful takes on the bad old days when mass production (and merchandising) set the pace. Speculative nonsense, albeit of the slick, state-of-the-art sort for which there is an indisputably durable demand.
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