The e-business REVOLUTION
Businesses are being transformed, learning how to operate and compete effectively in a "connected" world. Welcome to the world of e-Business.
By Jodie Brown, Tom Hushen, & Tim Pope, Web Force International, Inc.
What is e-Business?
E-Business is the integration of Internet technology with optimized business processes, leveraging existing computer systems to achieve improved business results. To compete effectively in this new environment requires the transformation of fundamental business processes:
• E-Commerce — offering goods and services over the Web.
• Customer relationship management — providing world-class customer service, assisted by Internet technology.
• Supply chain management — streamline transactions with vendors, suppliers, and business partners.
So, what is all the hype about? In a world that never sleeps, the Internet enables you to conduct business around the clock. It opens global markets that would otherwise be impossible to reach. Used effectively, the Internet is a valuable tool to provide world-class customer service. Your staff can collaborate, share knowledge, and make informed decisions by using the Internet. It can help improve top and bottom line results. Keep your finger on the pulse of the business from any place on the planet — literally. And, here's the best part: technology that was unavailable a few short years ago has become an affordable commodity.
Where are you now?
What is your Web presence today? Most aviation businesses and airports already have a Web site. But most firms can only boast of a marketing Web site — an electronic brochure. Most sites are static, not capable of supporting online commerce. Some air charter services provide quotes, but they are highly qualified, subject to plane and crew availability. Even fewer firms provide any form of online, interactive electronic commerce for customers. How many use the Internet to manage internal operations — maintenance, scheduling, billing, purchasing, accounting, and personnel? How many are connected electronically to suppliers and business partners?
An e-Commerce presence can be established in a step-by-step fashion, according to your budget. Several companies such as IBM and Great Plains Software provide catalog-hosting services. You could begin by listing your most popular parts. As your Internet business grows, you may progress to other hosting techniques. The next step is to connect the catalog to existing order entry, inventory, and accounting systems for more seamless transactions, or to connect to primary suppliers to check parts availability and to order directly from them.
Provide superb communications with customers at each step of the transaction. Send an e-mail thanking them for their business. Track the shipping process and advise them when the part leaves the shop, or keep them advised of backorder status. Link to shippers (FedEx, UPS, etc.) for tracking once the product departs.
Define what will be useful. Don't even think about investing in e-Commerce unless you are confident about how it will work for and against your target market. Make the site easy to use. Customers new to a site take an average of 20 to 30 minutes to learn how to navigate and purchase. Work out "squawks" early on. Create a beta market first, query the customers, and refine any bugs.
Coordinate all technologies that touch the customer. The challenge is to integrate the site with already personalized communication and service capabilities. Prepare for a variety of responses. When developing ordering options, allow for varied preferences: phone-in, mail-in, and online.
Deliver appropriate follow-up services. This creates continual customer interaction.
e-Business puts all the pieces together. It's the transformation of key business processes by employing Internet technologies. e-Business is a strategic combination of Internet, intranet, extranet, and legacy technologies — made effective by use of enhanced business processes designed around the benefits of the Internet.
Today, companies of all sizes and in all sectors are using the Web to transact commerce, to communicate with their partners, to gather business intelligence, and to connect with their back-end data systems.
e-Business isn't about re-inventing business. It's about streamlining current business processes to improve operating efficiencies, in turn strengthening the value provided to customers. If the new technologies don't live up to what was intended, closely look at the human system within the organization. Has new thinking taken hold in the organization to leverage human potential with technology?
Organizational systems (people) are equally if not more complex. As technology is integrated with other business processes, e-business disciplines must be developed and shared throughout the organization. Will people be prisoners of the new technologies, or even prisoners of their own thinking? Integrate the human system with e-Business technologies. The new e-Business disciplines address how people make decisions and rules, reach goals, and communicate as virtual teams. e-Business is a complex environment, with many moving parts.
To develop, implement, and run a world-class e-Business site often requires professional help.
It's best to have the fastest Internet connections possible. Professionals should have experience interfacing a Web site with enterprise, back office systems. Be certain they have experience interfacing Web sites with suppliers. Experts at designing and optimizing databases are needed — experts at tuning systems to achieve maximum performance, or throughput. They need to know how to run the system and train the staff, and to plan redundant systems to ensure continuous availability of the system. And, there's security: Be sure customer and corporate information is secure.
Your developers, whether internal or external, should adhere to a software development process or the results of your project will be unpredictable, in terms of cost, quality, and time Effective project management is essential. You should expect weekly status reports and should receive completed work, or deliverables, every 90 days. Frequent deliverables provide early payback on your investment and assure that the project remains on track.
Build it ... maybe they'll come
Promoting the site is critical. The Internet is so vast (over 18 million .com sites) that customers are not likely to simply stumble across your site. In the end, the quality of the site determines its success or failure. But the online world can't judge the site if it can't be found. To get a fighting chance, engage in some Web P.R. Some things you can do:
•Get the site in the search engines and directories.
• Try ad banners (digital billboards) on other, popular sites.
•Promote the Web site using traditional media
• Put the address on business cards.
• Be sure the address is in the Yellow Pages.
• Put the address on all brochures, letterheads, flyers.
• Get some press — articles or press releases.
• Talk about it at cocktail parties.
How sticky is your site? It's hard enough to get customers to the site the first time. Once they are there you want them to stay a while, and to come back. To do that, keep the site interesting, make navigation easy, keep pages short, add new content on a regular basis, differentiate yourself from the competition, and provide valuable information. Have some fun; do something unique. (If you have parts sitting on the shelf and can't seem to get rid of them, try an auction. Call it a hangar sale and invite others on the field to participate.)
The site must be compelling; keep it lean and mean. Navigation should be simple and intuitive, copy crisp and to the point. Consider using a professional copywriter to tighten the text. Be sure to keep graphics to a minimum, using them to enhance the site. Large graphics take a long time to load. Remember, you have only a few seconds to display a page before people move on.
You'll want to measure your success. A page counter, though overused, is a simple way of tracking traffic. Some Internet service providers have software such as WebTrends to track site hits. Detail helps to determine what parts of the site are being visited.
After submitting the site to the search engines, check that it's registered and how it ranks in keyword queries. Improve the page with more keywords.
If you have a "contact us" or "feedback form" on the site, add a field asking visitors how they found the page. Direct visitor feedback is often the only way to find out if the site has been mentioned offline.
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An e-Business is a company that adapts effectively and quickly to the challenge of constant change. To manage the Internet revolution ...
• Build on what you have.
• Grow incrementally; aim for 90-day deliverables.
• Establish an ROI and measure it.
• Integrate and fully develop human systems with new technology.
• Move quickly — Internet speed is a competitive reality.