S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 29 February 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 
 
A Tale of Two Cities

 

[]

He built this Citi on rock and

roll.

 

Ed Horowitz, a former Viacom

exec, came to Citibank in the

mid-'90s with a singular vision: blow

hundreds of millions of dollars

on new media, and put the bank

on every street corner, TV

screen and home PC he could

find. Citibank had a global

reach, but largely in dense

urban centers; Horowitz wanted

to saturate all six continents

wih an MTV-like interactive

branding parade.

 

He called his project e-Citi,

and at one point, had almost two

thousand Citibankers plugging

away on it.

 

Meanwhile, a continent away,

German software conglomerate SAP

was cooking up a similar scheme

to put some Internet gloss on

its boring financial-management

software that ran the guts of

huge corporations. Board member

Karl-Heinz Hess championed a new

website, and dubbed it

MySAP.com; it launched with an

advertising campaign welcoming

all to "the City of E." No one

knew quite what it meant, save

perhaps SAP's advertising

agency, which surely

congratulated itself at slipping

the rave-culture reference past

its staid corporate client.

 

The big city can be a dangerous

place, however — even if it's

just a metaphor. Horowitz's

e-Citi and Hess's City of E —

attemps at corporate urban

renewal, re-engineering by

bulldozing away the I.T. slums

— are both going nowhere. As

are Horowitz and Hess 's

careers.

 

Let's take a look at Horowitz's

track record: in 1998, he

promised that Direct Access,

Citi's hoary online-banking

software that was bolted onto

the Web, would be blown away by

a new all-Web product his team

was developing. Two years later,

Direct Access — a grubby,

cracked storefront amidst the

scrubbed-clean chain outlets

is still running strong, while

its successor, citi f/i, is

struggling to be known. More to

the point, Direct Access works,

while citi f/i, based on a

kludgy product from e-commerce

shyster-cum-software-maker

BroadVision, barely manages to

display on the latest, greatest

browser.

 

[]

Horowitz also scored deals to

put Citibank ATMs in every

Blockbuster and every Kinko's, a

key to making his vision of an

Internet-only bank work. Only

thing is, the ATMs never

materialized. Instead, citi f/i

promises to snail-mail your

deposits extra fast. A similar

product for college students —

the customers of the future, as

well as prospective urban

hipsters — went nowhere,

landing in a scant dozen

campuses.

 

SAP's problems are more prosaic.

Its R/3 software has always been

a Teutonic nightmare, promising

to automate business processes

but instead forcing companies to

march in lockstep to SAP's ideas

of how they should operate.

Hershey's blew up last Halloween

after SAP's software couldn't

handle the job of getting

chocolate kisses to eager

trick-or-treaters. Even worse,

R/3, designed for

bricks-and-mortar retailers who

operate large distribution

centers, is completely at sea

when it comes to e-commerce

operations that ship millions of

packages directly to consumers.

 

[]

When all else fails, declare

yourself a portal and go home.

 

e-Citi and the City of E,

master-planned burgs meant to

shepherd consumers and

businesses into a fixed vision

of the Digital Future, failed

because they weren't livable, or

even workable. The ghetto

dwellers of Citibank's

information-technology

department won out, because they

got the job done. As for the

City of E, one suspects that

there never was a there there,

just a made-up destination on a

map, a cartographer's trick to

distract you from real places to

go.

 

Faux-urbanite failures haven't

dissuaded smaller fry from

designing their own company

towns. Take Steven Brill's

Contentville, where the

hotheaded self-publisher has set

up a meme-farmers' market for

the very magazines and books

Brill pretends to rake over the

coals in Content. And

Redherring.com hopes to take you

down to Herringtown, where you

can write your own ticket, and

company profile, instead of

waiting in line for an audience

with the Herring's snooty

editors (who, let's face it, are

just getting in the way of

business).

 

[]

While e-Citi sleeps and the City

of E raves, while Contentville

hawks and Herringtown shills,

we're trying to figure out

whether their abandonment of

real cities is due to the

internet's de facto tax breaks

or just old-fashioned white

flight. An office park in Palo

Alto commands twice as much per

square foot as a skyscraper in

San Francisco's Financial

District; Silicon Alley firms

are ditching downtown's Flatiron

for the warehouse frontier of

Manhattan's Far, Far West Side.

 

One has to hand it to Horowitz

and Hess, though, for trying to

build new cities on the green

fields of the Net. They showed

build-it-and-they-will-come

bravado, rare in these days of

cookie-cutter portal wannabes and

clicks-and-mortar brand

extensions. It's a lot easier to

zone a subdivision than plan a

city — or a Citi — building by

building.

 

And building a shining city on a

hill just gives everyone else a

well-lit target.

 
courtesy of Jonathan Van Decimeter
 
picturesTerry Colon



Jonathan Van Decimeter