Mother England lags in e-comm race

I'm sitting here in a transit lounge in Los Angeles International airport writing my column. Ten years ago this would have been impossible. Today, in this lounge alone it's commonplace - and not a little annoying that I can't escape the office even here. Which makes what I've just read in the UK paper The Guardian all that more difficult to understand.

I’m sitting here in a transit lounge in Los Angeles International airport on my way to Hanover for CeBit 2000, writing my column.

Ah, the joys of the Internet era. Ten years ago this would have been impossible. Five years ago it would have been difficult. Today, in this lounge alone it’s commonplace — and not a little annoying that I can’t escape the office even here.

Which makes what I’ve just read in the UK paper The Guardian all that more difficult to understand.

“Mervyn King sceptical about Internet’s effect on economy” cried one headline and, “Yorkshire chief dismisses Net craze” bellows another. Who is this Mervyn fellow? It turns out he’s the deputy governor of the Bank of England and, according to The Guardian, he “dismissed the notion that the Internet was transforming the performance of the British economy”.

Perhaps he’s right ? Perhaps the Internet has yet to happen to the UK business community. He claims the only sign of e-commerce he can see is that “Internet booksellers tend to be cheaper than those on the high street” but once the cost of post and packaging is taken into account there is no difference.

So the good news is we are years ahead of the UK when it comes to e-commerce.

Here we have someone with as much say over an economy as our own Don Brash has over ours, and yet he fails to understand the basic principles of e-commerce.

The other story is even more amusing — the chief executive of the Yorkshire building society believes this whole Internet banking thing is a bit of a fad that will pass given time. He believes the Internet’s impact on the banking sector will be “relatively short lived”.

Don’t forget, this is a country where if you want to get a balance on your account from a branch other than your own, you have to pay to get them to ring up your branch to check. Presumably they look it up in that big leather-bound ledger that lives on the shelf next to the shoebox where they keep your savings. “The fashion for Internet-based products will wane,” says the CEO.

So we’re ahead of them on the Net banking front as well. No surprise there. The thing is, Europe is soon going to wake up to the potential of the Net.

It’s just too big to ignore and while these two individuals seem to be hell bent on sticking their heads in the sand, I’m sure there are 20 others who can actually see the light and will get stuck in and be seeking a piece of the e-commerce pie.

That’s your market they’ll be looking at — your customers they’ll be taking. As a side note, in the same paper there were two other stories about the Internet — one has Abbey National spending 200 million pounds on its new Internet bank, called cahoot, and Halifax bank adding two billion pounds to its market value by announcing an Internet insurance venture.

They’ll catch up, be assured of that, but you have a head start. You have the edge on them so don’t let it slide.

It might only be six months, may-be a year, but that’s an eternity in Internet time. It’s kind of like dog years — Internet months are about 10 times as fast as calendar months — and you’d better get used to it because it’s not slowing down.

We should also be concerned by another story in the UK press — the highest-paid graduates last year came from Manchester University and were all science students.

The highest paid of them all started in his new job, straight from a computer science degree, on 63,000 pounds.

Even the regular science students go into higher paying jobs while in New Zealand they seem to be actively encouraged to find other forms of income. More on that in another column I think.

Paul Brislen is a regular columnist and reporter for Computerworld. Phone him on: 0-9-302 8751

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