Moving your company beyond e-business

Admit it, you're sick and tired of hearing the term e-business. And so am I. There has not been a more overhyped and underdefined term in a very long time.

          Admit it, you're sick and tired of hearing the term e-business. And so am I. There has not been a more overhyped and underdefined term in a very long time. But I suspect we'll hear the term for some time to come. It will take several more years to actually implement the business and technical strategies needed to truly become e-businesses.

          In fact, a recent Gartner Group report suggests that we will be performing e-business activities as a discrete set of management strategies and technical tasks until sometime between 2006 and 2008. At that time e-business will become just "business."

          Today the primary focus of companies is in making the transition to e-businesses. To make this transition, companies are adding web initiatives onto regular operational practices, integrating the web into current processes, or spinning off new and separate web-related businesses. All of these actions are fine, but each is far too tactical.

          A company becomes a true e-business only when its business processes and model become fully integrated with internet technologies. Although the technical underpinnings needed to make that integration are straightforward, it will take longer to address the people and process issues.

          Companies need to reinvent business processes and workflows with the internet in mind, and people need to learn how to adapt to these newly formed ways of conducting business. This will take time.

          At the heart of the matter, business models need an overhaul. We have spent the last few years focusing on efficiency to give us competitive advantage and cost savings. This has led to the current wave of outsourcing, among other trends.

          We now need to focus our business strategies externally, with our customers in mind. Instead of looking for efficiency gains, we need to seek monetary value while maximizing our business models and processes. In short, we need to clearly focus on increasing the value we bring to our customers.

          To arrive in true e-business territory, we need to adopt strategies that allow us to dynamically reform processes and revenue streams. We need to examine the value of every business decision we make.

          Organisational structures need to be less rigid, and we need to eliminate obstacles that prevent rapid change in our companies. The information we rely on needs to be 100% available, regardless of time and space. Additionally, we need to think of our infrastructures on a more logical basis than physical location.

          The road beyond e-business takes us to a full implementation of the virtual enterprise. We'll need to choose carefully which business functions we retain, which we outsource, and which we "partner-source."

          We need to retain business functions that provide a business advantage and those that involve intellectual capital. An outsourcer is appropriate when it has the capacity to perform a particular function with greater efficiency.

          Look for partner-sourced arrangements when you need a combination of outsourcing and collaboration to bring greater value to your company. In a typical outsource deal, you move control of the business function to the outside provider in a hands-off manner. Partner-sourcing also moves the business function outside, but ongoing collaboration between you and your partner provides greater value.

          There are four strategies you should consider when positioning a company as an e-business: You should focus on highly effective operations, leading the market with your products and services, close ties to your customers, and promotion of your brand.

          You'll likely be more successful if you make one of these your primary concern while factoring in the others.

          If you lead a traditional company on the e-business route, you need to apply separate strategies to online and offline operations. These strategies may intersect at various points along the way, but they should be distinct. Other obvious success factors include proper marketing and technical choices, again with separate online and offline strategies.

          But the truly difficult part of becoming a real e-business is the people. Reorienting your organisation for dynamic change and being willing to adopt such constructs may be difficult. But companies that take the time to reinvent business processes and business models while educating themselves and their staff will achieve e-business success. For them, e-business will become "business."

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