I-Commerce: the toughest job

During the upcoming budgeting cycle, the choices made regarding Web usage will set the corporate business tone for the new millennium. In short, will your company take full advantage of the Web or simply use it?

Even though I only hinted at this topic in a recent column, I still got reactions. One reader explained how management wanted his company to dominate their business space "just like Amazon", but nearly choked when he guesstimated the budget necessary to transform this ambitious vision into business reality.

Others found that management is still skeptical about the role of the Web in their business. While they have numerous examples of how Internet commerce and the Web have reduced the costs of information usage in other companies, their execs don't believe it will work for them or their customers. These execs may agree to fund a limited effort, but they're not ready to build it into the core of the business. Of course the IT exec knows this cautious attitude will change as soon as the company discovers its competitors are winning over customers through Web-oriented business practices.

A number of readers said their business was ready to "take the plunge". Some are being driven by a competitor's actions while others are merely encouraged by their own proven business success. They are planning to use the Web's easy and ubiquitous access to change the business economics of their company. In some cases, this means reducing the cost of supplier interaction. Others are looking at enhancing customer support by allowing customers self-service access to information.

The business upside for this last group is huge. It seems that many of these I-commerce converts have the right idea -- focus on continuing to build small winning solutions that can roll up into a larger success.

This is also the approach that many industry leaders are adopting. Last week in Las Vegas at the IBM e-business and Networking Systems Technical Conference, Karl Salnoske, IBM's general manager of electronic commerce, used his key-note address to encourage IT professionals to adopt this very basic "embrace and extend" philosophy. He counselled them to "build on what you already have -- don't start from scratch -- and start with a plan".

Those budgeting to fully take the I-commerce plunge should heed this sane advice. But so should those who are still building up to full-scale I-commerce integration. While their companies aren't committing to fully embrace the Web as a strong business tool, they can still lay some significant groundwork. It is a three-part process: learn the business, build the plan, gain some small-scale successes.

Web success starts by learning and understanding how your company succeeds. Using this insight will enable you to imagine scenarios in which I-commerce can enhance your business. By integrating your dreams with strategies that have worked in other companies you can build some cases that will enhance the leverage of your business. Putting these together with some logical dreaming will enable you to develop a large-scale plan.

You are now set to begin establishing how I-commerce will help your business. Prove that customers will embrace the new tool. Or that costs can be saved.

Armed with either argument, you can then leverage those limited budget dollars on small success points. These successes can allow you to build a stronger position for your budget case next year. Or with some hustle and homework, I-commerce strategies may even help to bail out your budget this year.

Regardless of the means, the end is the same: all thriving businesses will need to embrace I-commerce as a way of doing business.

Do you have strategies for successfully ushering I-commerce efforts through the budgeting process? Send your insights via e-mail.

(Mark Tebbe is president of Lante Corp., a consulting and integration company in Chicago that serves clients worldwide, including several high-tech companies. Send e-mail to mtebbe@lante.com)

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