Companies interested in e-commerce shouldn't necessarily assume IT staff will have the business expertise to take on the job.
A survey by research firm IDC, The Australian E-commerce Market, Analysis and Opportunities, found the rapid rise of e-commerce has forced IT departments in many companies to take responsibility for an area in which they have little expertise. It concluded that the Web site's role has changed from merely promoting a corporate presence to handling business transactions, and that IT staff aren't always the best people to manage that.
Australia-based market analyst Tim Sheedy says often the IT department is ultimately responsible for Web site content, even though it's usually had little to do with the content side of the business before.
Wellington-based IDC research manager Pat Pilcher says e-commerce is a critical issue for any enterprise and needs careful consideration. "We're not just talking about buying widget brand X off the company ... It's quite a fundamental building block for the internal running of an organisation."
He says you need to have some understanding of the company as a whole and the role that e-commerce plays within the company. "E-commerce for e-commerce's sake helps no-one."
One alternative to businesses doing e-commerce themselves is using an electronic trading service, like CommX, run by Telecom subsidiary Netway, which allows companies to trade electronically with their partners through the CommX Web site, using browser, fax or existing EDI technology.
E-commerce service development manager Doug Hunt say IT people are on a learning curve with e-commerce, as are general managers.
Hunt says there aren't many people around with e-commerce skills yet, and often people take a "piecemeal" approach. "They'll set up something for one customer and then another one comes along and they do something else for that customer."
An approach that might seem simple in the beginning might not work once you have more customers."Some of those early adopters who don't have the skills aren't really seeing the need to design an architecture and design a standard."
Hunt says the benefits of a managed service like CommX's is that companies can outsource that responsibility. "IT departments need time to up-skill their people and build their own tools and in the meantime we can offer a service in that area."
Pilcher says e-commerce benefits must be assessed by looking at it in terms of its fit with the wider business. "If you don't understand that, you can get yourself into some pretty hot water — spending a couple of hundred thousands dollars on secure servers and big pipes and drains and having this product that spins its wheels at 900rpm and does nothing."
He says the implementation of e-commerce needs to be viewed in a long-term context. "It's like setting up a data warehouse. If you set it up wrong you've got huge problems 10 years out. Do your homework now and it can pay huge dividends later on when you need to branch into other areas."