How to Embrace E-business and Make It Succeed
The Internet has dramatically changed the way companies globally conduct business. Through e-business companies can connect directly with their customers and partners online and automate all external-facing processes with a range of self-service applications. Many companies are building e-business offerings to explore new ways to conduct business and open new revenue channels. Others employ e-business to orchestrate product, selling, and order management processes across multiple enterprise systems, business organizations, and sales channels. With e-business, companies have the potential to increase customer loyalty, grow sales volumes, reduce risks, decrease order errors, and lower administrative overhead. To realize these benefits and meet growing customer and partner expectations to engage online, corporations must have a strategy to drive e-business throughout their extended enterprise.
To determine readiness for e-business adoption, an organization should conduct a three-stage internal audit. The first stage is to assess corporatewide attitude, since the influence of individual attitudes impacts the adoption of all business decisions, including e-business. In the second stage, a company must assess aptitude, which is the ability to synchronize all parties in the extended enterprise in order to create an optimized customer experience. The last stage in the evaluation process is access, which means all customers and partners must have access to offerings relevant to them presented by e-business.
If the audit indicates corporate readiness for e-business, the next step is to develop an overall corporate e-business adoption strategy that takes into consideration the impact on all stakeholders--executives, customers, partners and anyone else affected by e-business and the company's total e-economy. The e-economy includes IT readiness, expertise, openness to use, and impact on the company's business model, sales, and revenue.
A successful e-business adoption strategy starts with a top-down vision that has the full commitment of the chief executive and senior management. This vision must be communicated to all stakeholders and the organization at large through special meetings and training/education programs. Goals and regularly scheduled reviews must be set, and progress communicated throughout the organization and to customers and partners. Furthermore, the vision and goals should be regularly reviewed and revised, as necessary, against the evolving competitive landscape.
An e-business adoption strategy is not static. Organizations should constantly evaluate new ideas and innovations to enhance their e-business strategy. Equally important, while one individual should be assigned ownership to drive execution, all business units must have the proper funding, training, measurements and infrastructure to meet e-business initiative needs.
It is imperative that information systems and technology infrastructure adequately support current and future business management requirements and initiatives. As an example, a company may experience a peak period of orders due to a new branded promotional offering and suppliers have to be alerted about the pending high order volume. With an e-business offering in place, organizations are able to adequately respond to the peak demand period, including relaying information about the promotion, handling orders and working with suppliers.
To encourage customers and partners to do business via an e-business offering, companies should develop customer incentive plans and/or a plan to inhibit other ways of doing business. An e-business offering might first enable customers or partners to order items from the Web sitesite and give them an option to call a customer service representative (CSR) to inquire about order status. Ideally, the CSR has details about the order, as well other items that customer browsed on the site, so they can up-sell and expand the opportunity. Incentive programs should be in place to help CSRs walk customers through the online ordering process. The long-term goal is for CSRs to continue to engage the customer in higher value operations, including servicing and up selling, and encourage them to make lower value purchases on their own, as they get more comfortable with the site.
Partners should be involved and included in the e-business offering and their customer processes adopted. Furthermore, organizations should support whatever compensation and incentive programs their partners use to drive customer adoption to e-business. Many companies employ training and change management tools to help partners accept the new e-business offering.
Marketing and/or sales representatives must be tasked with driving a range of marketing activities to promote purchasing. Incentives to purchase via the e-business site can include free stuff, such as free shipping or buy one/get one free, affinity programs or time-based discounts. Advertising--both Web and print--is essential. Other marketing tools include newsletters and e-brochures.
Special offers can help drive traffic, including white papers and case studies, premiums, trials, sweepstakes and drawings, or quick response cards with the chance to win a prize. Education is imperative, and can include webinars, online demos, CD mailers, certification programs, FAQs, or training within the organization and at customer and partner facilities.
Some companies even apply penalties for non-adoption. Limited product availability or surcharges for orders placed offline versus priority shipment for online orders are ways to make the online purchase a more attractive option.
In the end, successful e-business adoption requires a comprehensive corporate strategy that requires a vision and commitment from the top down. It is a process that requires transformation within the company and extends to changing relationships and interaction with customers and partners.
About the Author
Jean Kovacs is president and CEO of Comergent Technologies. Ms. Kovacs has more than 25 years of experience directing technology companies and a track record of using her strategic business skills and background to deliver exceptional results with growing enterprises, including Frame Technology, Sun Microsystems, and Compugraphic Corporation. Ms. Kovacs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please visit www.comergent.com