The road ahead

IN many ways the first phase of the Internet revolution, and its adopted brother, the New Economy, has come and gone. The stock market crash of April 2000 gave us a new business jargon term – tech wreck - and has breathed fresh life into bubble-economy studies.

Clearly we have reached a major turning point in e-commerce strategy, but the rumours of the death of online business are untrue.

It is safe to say that the conventional wisdom of 1999 that spawned the dotcom fad has been consigned to the dustbin.

For that, most businesses should be thankful as they can focus on harvesting the product-ivity gains of their substantial investment in information tech-nology and preparing their online business to be a profitable part of their overall strategy.

Money wasted on online brochures, empty Internet shopping malls and massive advertising campaigns are a function of poorly thought-out business plans, not an indictment of the Internet in general.

The Internet still lets companies get closer than ever to their customers, with feedback an almost instantaneous process.

The personalisation inherent in customer relationship management means today’s business-es can address their primary task – satisfying their customers’ needs, wants and expectations.

These expectations now often include 24x7 accessibility to customised information, service and value.

With e-commerce no longer being driven by over-hyped dotcoms, bricks-and-mortar companies are designing more sensible e-commerce strategies in order to make their business more efficient, not just play catch-up to perceived threats.

Internet procurement functionality, productivity and efficiency gains from company intranets, lower processing costs for billing and payments and website-database integration will be the admittedly less catchy buzzwords for 2001.

Even in Western Australia, Internet e-commerce is now moving from a learning stage based on curiosity into an implementation stage based on tangible benefits.

Companies will begin to see real savings through their use of online purchasing strategies and systems integration. Sensible growth, perhaps, but built on reasonable expectations.

In their quest for even greater profits, Australian banks were quick to see the efficiency gains from Internet banking.

However, they have failed to grasp fully what the Internet is really about – more efficient processes while building deeper and stronger relationships on a one-to-one basis.

With the forecast of tougher business times ahead, the companies that meet that challenge will be the ones that prosper.

l Richard Keeves is managing director of Internet Business Corporation Ltd (IBC)

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