In the first stages of the Internet revolution, a nice-looking, easily navigable corporate Web site was the hallmark of every forward-looking company. Today, just a few years later, a major company with only an informational Web site,what is now called “brochure-ware”,is seen as a dinosaur. A mere corporate “Internet presence” is now a sign of corporate Internet Absence.
The simple fact is the Web has changed the way businesses operate and how business is conducted. By leveraging the universality of the Web and the power of e-Business solutions, companies are making quantum leaps in terms of reach, efficiency, and speed of response to opportunity. The Web is helping companies open new sales channels, streamline operations, improve customer service, deliver new products and services, and forge closer ties with partners up and down the value and supply chains. The market leaders have truly reengineered their businesses around the Web, using it to transform the ways in which the corporation as a whole thinks and acts.
Cisco Systems and Dell Computer Corp., to name two well-known examples, have used the Web to increase efficiencies and improve information flow, which has, in turn, enabled them to focus on the needs of customers and the opportunities of the marketplace rather than on performing and maintaining internal operations. The result has been spectacular business success.
The Web has forced even the most complacent companies to take notice and act. It has effectively shifted the balance of power between companies and their customers. Companies can no longer depend on weak, ignorant, or reliably loyal customers; local monopolies are facing national competition from online companies; and there are fewer middlemen as retail and wholesale continue to converge. The customer, in effect, has evolved from king to overlord.
The need to respond to these changes, opportunities, and challenges by integrating the Internet and leveraging its power throughout the corporation has put the task of developing, and executing the right Internet strategy front and center in many corporate boardrooms, and has spawned a growing and highly profitable niche consulting market.
The obsession with innovative and novel business models among the Web elite has given rise to a more general perception that developing a winning corporate Internet strategy is an arcane exercise,a process of business reinvention that itself must be invented anew for each business. But nothing could be further from the truth.
It’s true that every company’s situation, customer base, business processes and overall value proposition are at least somewhat different, so each company’s Internet strategy is likely to be unique to some extent. However, consulting companies, such as SEI Information Technology, have identified a number of common basic processes and tasks involved in developing a sound strategy. The processes have proven successful in companies of all sizes. The essential processes are:
Looking Inward to Understand:
F The overall objectives of the business
F The operative business model
F How the business currently deploys technology
F Any impacting policies or guidelines
Looking Outward to Assess:
F Competitors,what are their strategies, how will they impact your strategy and how should you respond?
F “Best of Breed” Solutions,what are the e-business leaders in your marketplace doing, and which of their strategies and tactics will work for you?
F Emerging Technologies,how will they impact the business and strategy and how can they be harnessed to help it?
Looking Forward to Devise:
F A high-level e-business vision for the company
F A quick-win approach,to show Return on Investment (ROI) quickly and build support for the strategy
F A robust, scalable technical architecture on which to implement the strategy
A Plan to Execute the Strategy
Working within this structured process, a company must consider and address a number of critical and often thorny issues in order to ensure that the strategy is comprehensive and viable. Among these issues are:
Business Model, Strategy, and Processes,How does the Web dovetail with the operative model and processes? Is it necessary to reorient the entire business, or can it be integrated into the existing operation at strategic points?
Existing Business Channels,What affect will your strategy have on your current distributors and suppliers?
Organizational Impacts,How does your strategy affect your business? Will your customer service department be able to answer questions about online transactions? Can your order fulfillment center handle the new volume of orders sourced from your site? Does your IT staff have the time and the right skills to help execute your strategy?
Cost Control/Return on Investment,How realistic and reliable are your estimates for the initial cost of implementing your strategy and for its ROI?
Legacy Systems Infrastructure,Does your strategy integrate the Web with your company’s front-office and back-office legacy systems? Can you harness the flexibility of the Internet to enhance your existing IT systems?
Supply-Chain Interoperability, Does your strategy integrate business processes with your supply and value chain partners, and facilitate rapid information exchange?
Security,How will you ensure that your strategy at no point jeopardizes company or customer assets or information?
Time to Market,Can you execute your strategy and recoup the benefits before the shifting terrain of the Web economy has made it obsolete and ineffective?
By carefully following a process like the one above, your company can arrive at a strategy that’s appropriate for it and its ambitions. But that’s only a first step. An e-business strategy, of course, is only as good as its execution. And solid execution will take proactive, nimble, and adaptive leadership and skilled, experienced IT technicians.
Implementing an e-business strategy will greatly impact your business and is not a task to be taken lightly. Corporations should seek out an experienced IT consulting firm with a history of successes to help them through this important process. When reviewing firms, companies should analyze several areas:
Strategic Analysis,does the consulting firm shoehorn all its clients into a one-solution-fits-all approach or does it carefully analyze your business needs to recommend the most appropriate applications?
Time-to-Market in the Internet economy, it is critical that a consulting company be able to implement your e-business strategy quickly and efficiently before your competition races on by.
Knowledge transfer The last thing you want is a consultant that implements a strategy, provides a quickie training session then leaves you to fend for yourself. Look for a firm that will integrate your technical staff on the project team so they will be fully versed on all aspects of use and support.
Ongoing technical and procedural support even when a company’s staff has been integrated on the development team, there may be technical and user issues that arise after implementation. Make sure your consulting firm will be available when you need them.
Familiarity with latest applications, systems and processes Seek a consulting firm that emphasizes continuing education and ongoing training of its employees. Their technicians are likely to be more knowledgeable about the newest applications, systems and processes in the marketplace, as well as which ones work the best.
References Perhaps most important of all, look for consulting firms with a history of long-term relationships and successful projects for companies with similar needs to your own. Consulting firms with long-term relationships listen to their clients and provide valuable services that keep their customers coming back.
Jim Maza is Associate Director of SEI Information Technology’s e-Business Practice. For more information, check out SEI’s website at www.sei-it.com.