Transition to the Net requires forethought

THE decade spanning the years from 1995 to 2005 is often described as the decade of transition to the online economy.

For reasons of cost, convenience, effectiveness, new markets and simple competitiveness, businesses in all sectors of industry are making decisions about how to go online.

The arrival of the world wide web in 1992 with cheap, highly visual and dynamic information sources created the environment for change.

By 1997 slightly more than half of the registered domain names on the Internet belonged to commercial organisations.

However, between 1995 and 1997, returns to commercial activity on the Internet were selective and modest.

In the few short years from 1997 to 2000 the real commercial potential of the Net was discovered.

This year in Australia alone the total level of Internet commerce will exceed $5 billion.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that by 2005 more than 20 per cent of all household expenditure will be channelled through the Net.

During this period of transition, our economy will feature an interesting mix of companies with differing levels of emergence into the online world.

There are those companies born in the past few years that are exclusively online in terms of customer interface.

There is the large proportion of existing traditional businesses where decisions to join the new environment have been made.

A small percentage of businesses will continue to believe that e-commerce is for others. This group will eventually disappear.

The primary challenge for the large percentage of existing traditional businesses is how to juggle the interests of their traditional offline customers with the competing demands of new online customers.

Confronting the list of decisions involved in how to join the online world most effectively is proving to be a confusing and frustrating task for managers and proprietors alike.

I have found it helps if some fairly basic questions are answered. For example:

• Has our business made a fundamental commitment to joining the online economy? This means that commitment from the top exists and executive and senior management intentions are aligned

• Have we created a strong online services team? The digital

champions in the organisation need to be encouraged and the team requires a marketing, technology and business mix

• Have we developed an online services plan? This plan needs to be both micro and macro. Above all, it must integrate planning for technology, information management, organisational development and online service delivery

• Have we identified a competitive online advantage for our business? Existing products and services need to be interpreted in the online environment

• Do we have a high-quality, robust Internet site? Is there a sound site strategy and scope? Is there a site management plan? Does the site allow for dynamic applications?

• How effectively are we connected to our online customers? Connecting in this sense means ease of use, trust and loyalty and appropriate customer profiling

• Have we we own our market space? The transfer from marketplace to marketspace involves appropriate branding, loyalty, value adding for online customers and establishing a unique online point of difference

• How do we intend to manage the site and monitor online services? This involves measuring the ease of customer connection, the level of interaction and the extent of visitor conversion.

Embarking upon this journey can be made more comfortable with a strategic partner in the online services industry.

Irrespective of who that partner may be, it is important to remember that all companies and industries are different.

Therefore responses, resources and priorities will be different.

• Mal Bryce is chairman of Celebrating Lives and a former WA Deputy Premier.

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