Editors Note: January 29, 2001

How's business these days? If your first response is to blame a drop in corporate IT spending, you may have the right answer but the wrong strategy.

Hows business these days? If your first response is to blame a drop in corporate IT spending, you may have the right answer but the wrong strategy.

I recently posed that question to Tom Fornoff, VP of alliances at Sapient, which ranked No. 1 on our Smart 50 Companies list for the past two years. While the integrator has watched its stock deflate by association with Web integrators, it has done the kind of reshuffling of resources and refocusing on new markets that most companies should be doing.

The top priority at Sapient these days is new business development. If that sounds foreign, its nothing more than New Economy lingo for sales, which is the single most important foundation stone in business. However, its also something thats easy to forget in boom times like weve just seen, when competition-induced fear is enough to drive sales through the roof.

Disruptive technologies like the Internet have been creating periods of boom and bust for centuries. The same thing happened with the invention of the telegraph, the automobile, railroads, telephones and electricity. Although the technologies stick around for many years, the boom periods end abruptly, strangling the life out of hundreds or even thousands of companies riding on those technologies.

Still, a good sales staff and a cohesive selling strategy is only part of the picture. Fornoff says Sapient also is putting its resources into six vertical markets (financial services, energy services, retail/consumer, technology/industrial services, media/entertainment and public services), with a heavy emphasis on enterprise application integration.

Focusing on multiple verticals allows you to matrix skill sets, like back-end systems integration, e-commerce design and LAN/WAN integration. That means you dont have to hire as many experts for any single vertical market because you can share them across more than one.

Still, its nothing new. The Big Five have been doing this for years. The trade-off is that you cant always schedule experts to be at a customer site the next day, particularly if your business is global. That hurt big consultancies over recent years, when time to completion was critical.

But corporations are in no rush to jump into e-commerce and e-business these days. They want a solution thats well thought out, because theres far less fear that their business will be devoured by a dot-com startup run by a 25-year-old paper billionaire. And they want proof that if they invest in technology and services, its going to boost their profits or competitive edge.

This sounds like the pre-Internet explosion all over again—awaiting the next boom.