iEC: panelists offer tips on dealing with the Net

iEC: panelists offer tips on dealing with the Net

Computer industry insiders speaking yesterday at the fifth annual Internet & Electronic Commerce Conference & Exposition (iEC) were in violent agreement: the Net changes everything.

Though companies 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 panellists here at the show.

Echoing a main point in the keynote given by Ray Lane, Oracle president and chief operating officer, speakers at a panel on "The Future of E-Business" agreed that the Internet will cause companies everywhere to rethink the way they do business.

"Are you willing to say, 'I don't care how we used to do it, how can we do it now?' " said J. Brad Sharp, executive vice president and chief operating officer of software maker Sterling Commerce.

One big mistake that many companies 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 business consultant Arthur Andersen LLP. 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.

Offering some helpful hints to companies that are just now going online, the panellists stressed that company 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 executives from your companies buy a book from . . . or buy some flowers from PC Flowers," said Dave Duffield, president, chief executive officer and chairman of enterprise resource planning software maker PeopleSoft.

"It all has to do with understanding the new paradigm," he said.

Companies 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 chief executive officer 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."

Despite the changes that the Net will bring about, however, several panellists agreed some old ways of doing business will be carried forward into the future.

"A lot of companies are going to learn how to combine the physical with the electronic," said Arthur Andersen's Frederick. As an example, Frederick said: "You can order your book online, but go to a store to pick it up."

Large items, such as refrigerators, which need to get fixed now and then, will require bricks-and-mortar stores for support, though people may still want to do research to compare different types of refrigerators before they actually pick a store to buy one from, said Open Market's Eichhorn.

The IT industry is filled with examples of companies that have and have not successfully combined the electronic and physical worlds, panellists said. Compaq was held up as an example of a company 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.

PeopleSoft's Duffield held up IBM as a company that has been able to meld the electronic and physical worlds.

"IBM has various product lines and we don't hear about battles between various salespeople," Duffield noted.

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