The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same
It's time to get past the dot bombs and technology stocks adjustment. The Internet is here to stay, and we should change the way we think of it.
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Last year around this time, Internet-based technologies spurring a furious outbreak of dot com startups created a tidal wave of economic change in the business world. One year later, the dot carnage is fair game for daily newspaper cartoons and television sitcoms. Anyone in the business world who doesn't smirk at the merest mention of Internet companies is immediately considered out of the loop.

This knowing ennui is precisely the kind of jaded dismissal that may leave a whole new batch of fish beached after the next Internet tsunami--the next wave of Web-based technology usage that will make the first one look like a ripple.

It's all a matter of perspective.

When oil was discovered in the nineteenth century, it was at first considered a nuisance to the dominant economic staple it intruded upon--cattle ranching. Oil seeped into water supplies and poisoned the cattle that consumed it. Ranchers tried to burn it off. Initially, no one realized that it would become an important fuel in the burgeoning industrial age. It turned out that the crude oil needed to be refined to become a potent source of energy. As its value was recognized, an oil boom created a rush to procure the black gold. Entire cities sprang up almost overnight as people scrambled to find and get rich from oil reserves. Entire cities became ghost towns almost overnight when the search for oil was unsuccessful. Today, there are still some ghost towns standing, and there are also some very rich and powerful petroleum companies.

The Internet has inspired a similar boom-town mentality, and the people who don't think beyond that may become historical relics themselves, dusted off and displayed by docents in some museum of musty technological miscues. It turns out that Web-based technologies are nothing in the business world by themselves. Dot coms that offered themselves up as wonders just because they had a new communication mode failed quickly as their novelty wore off, and they became just another technological tchotchke. There may be, even now, a lot of worthless stock certificates repurposed as origami TV set ornaments.

But this massive failure doesn't negate the actual value of the Internet and of Web-based technologies. We simply need to view them with a new perspective. The Internet is just a channel--a very important channel, to be sure. Internet technologies are just tools, perhaps the most important business tools of the information age. Think of the Internet as a new-era fuel, one that when properly refined can power business at an unprecedented speed.

Speed is precisely what the Internet brings to business. As oil-fueled combustion engines sped automobiles past horse-drawn carriages and jet airplanes outdistanced cars and trains, the Internet powers business to evolve with lightning speed. Businesses will need to refit themselves to handle and profit by this new possibility of speed. They will need to exploit this new channel. They won't have a choice, because their customers have themselves experienced the ease and convenience of digitally generated speed and will demand it in their business interactions and transactions. This new capacity for speed will revolutionize our world.

Savvy businesses are on course with the new technologies, implementing them as crucial tools, rebuilding their enterprises to adapt to the new potential of presenting a consistent and personalized view to their customers. Brick-and-mortar companies are realizing that an important element of their growth strategy depends upon adding an online component to their existing business models. The rest will fade away as the dust settles.

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