Industry insiders speaking at the recent Internet & Electronic Commerce Conference & Exposition in the US were in violent agreement: the Net changes everything.
Though organisations won't have to entirely scrap current supply and distributing mechanisms, melding these traditional ways of doing business with the Internet will also pose challenges, according to the pundits.
"Are you willing to say, 'I don't care how we used to do it, how can we do it now?'," declared Brad Sharp, executive vice president and CEO of software maker Sterling Commerce.
One big mistake that many organisations make when moving to the Web is to simply put a Web front end on the way they currently do business, according to Tomas Frederick, director of advanced technology at IT consultancy Arthur Andersen. Frederick calls this approach an "inside-out" view of business.
"The Internet demands you take an 'outside-in' view of your business . . . because it forces you to understand how interaction [with the customer] defines your brand," he said.
Other observers stressed that business executives really have to understand the online experience from the users' point of view - and look at their own Web sites that way.
"It's important that your executives buy a book from amazon.com . . . or buy some flowers from PC Flowers," said Dave Duffield, president, CEO and chairman of ERP vendor PeopleSoft.
Organisations that really understand the experience of going online for most users - who do not have high-bandwidth access to the Internet - will be a step ahead of their competition, added Gary Eichhorn, president and CEO of Open Market, which sells Internet commerce software.
"You have to design your Web site for your customer instead of your T1 line," Eichhorn said. "Eighty per cent of the Web sites out there just suck . . . you have to make your way through 10 different buyer screens and then on the ninth screen if you make a mistake you have to start all over again."
The IT industry is filled with examples of organisations that have and have not successfully combined the electronic and physical worlds, panellists said. Compaq was held up as an example of a vendor that so far has not been able to bridge the differences and tensions created by, on the one hand, its ability to offer customers purchasing online, and on the other hand, its traditional resellers.