Taking the e-train

Taking the e-train

If you don't catch the e-commerce train your business could be left behind. Consultant George Brisbin investigates.

It takes time. It takes investment. It takes vision, from the top ranks of corporate management all the way to line managers. Production, distribution, sales, customer service, finance - all can benefit from actively evolving your company's business into e-business.

In the near future many of the technologies in use today will fuse into a single, information rich network that will be as invisible and commonplace as the telephone or fax.

A key driver in this will be the way businesses adapt to the current benefits and challenges of the Internet. Businesses and industries can choose to direct the future and gain the advantage, or be passive observers of the on-rushing opportunities.

Increased competition and the need to provide better value to shareholders are driving companies to seek new solutions. Now that the pioneers and innovators of e-business have taken the high risks, the first early adopters are reaping the benefits of combining mature technologies with established business processes.

E-business contributes to your business in three direct ways - increasing revenues and market share, reducing costs and creating competitive advantage.

Improving customer relationships and retaining customers increases revenue. The Internet provides an inexpensive and interactive medium for building customer communities and loyalty. Sharing your company's value-added information builds a relationship of trust with your customer and increases their level of satisfaction. Satisfied customers stay longer, buy more and are the best salespeople your company can have.

Cross-selling and up-selling can become systematic, low-cost programs for generating additional revenue. Use of the Internet opens up new markets where it may not be economically feasible to place a physical store.

Costs associated with doing e-business are significantly lower than traditional workflows. Customer "self-service," integrated from the Internet through to core business systems, reduces "middleman" errors and provides users with immediate responses. Customers, whether end-consumers or trading partners, can review orders themselves before processing takes place. This greatly reduces error rates and the negative impact on customer satisfaction.

Even as you read this article, your competitors could be gaining a significant competitive advantage over you. Sure, I could just be trying to scare you into action, but the reality is that early adopters are going online with significant business solutions every week. Some companies are leveraging their traditional strengths onto the Internet, while others are redefining themselves to take advantage of the new e-business models.

Many of the best e-business implementations are not open to the public. You may not even know that your fiercest competitor is already forming new and valuable alliances with suppliers, distributors, and retailers by sharing access to internal business systems. As they drive down costs and share benefits across the entire chain, you will soon be facing a cashed-up competitor with a profitable and integrated business strategy.


In the TV ad for Lotus, Dennis Leary yells out in disgust to a cafe full of casual Internet browsers, "Hey, what are you [people] doing?" A patron in a suit calmly says "Chrysler's program using Lotus Notes and the web saved 1.2 billion dollars." Leary replies, "It's a start."

Several years ago Federal Express decided to freely provide any customer with as much detail as possible over the Internet. This was a very courageous move for the time. They didn't know whether they were building a white elephant or a system to provide incriminating information to aggravated customers. Instead, they have redefined the logistics industry and earned a financial return out of all proportion to the initial investment.

Using this momentum, FedEx has created entirely new business models for itself and taken up a dominant position in the delivery of goods purchased through the Internet.

Here in Australia companies like Alcatel Australia, Gowings and Amway Australia are opening up their internal mainframe applications and business workflows to their partners and customers.

So what is this "e-business" and how does your business profit from it?

A large part of the answer is embedded in the term itself. E-business is business enabled by network technologies such as the Internet or secure private networks. "E-business" reduces "electronic" (technology) to a single 'e' but keeps "business" at its full strength. The term isn't "e-biz," it's e-business.

No amount of technology (or anything else) is going to help your business if you don't know what it is that your business does. A clear vision of the unique values your company brings to market is critical to your success and in particular to your successful implementation of e-business.

To gain that understanding of your business you can conduct internal brainstorming or engage external consultants to provide a structured and focussed assessment of your business values and processes.

With this knowledge, some strategic advice and the help of experienced systems integrators, you can take your most profitable, most important or most expensive business process and enable it with the secure and dependable solutions available today.

The e-business catch phrase, "Start simple, Grow fast" doesn't mean to put up a home page, a counter and a few banner ads to see what happens. The risks have been taken and profitable examples of how to start are available for almost every industry.

"Start simple" means taking advantage of the reliable and scalable solutions available now and adapting them to your own business to increase productivity and customer satisfaction.

The "Grow fast" is the fun part. If you have established your e-business on standards-based solutions that can scale from a desktop to clustered mainframes, then you have the flexibility to expand in whatever direction you need.

Using a proven platform that is designed to talk to more than one type of operating system, you can integrate your business with partners on an ad-hoc basis to take advantage of each others core services and customer relationship strengths.

Electronic communities will reshape industries that are structured by the production process into consumer process driven value providers. Businesses must align themselves to the desires and demands of their customers at all levels. Focussed e-business operators will eliminate companies that do not align themselves with their customers in the expanding electronic marketspace.

The choice to drive the future, or to be driven over by the future, is yours.

George Brisbin is a consultant with Sydney-based consultants FC Mueller & Associates.

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