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Monday, September 23, 2002
Book Review

Business has to go beyond Website
Review by Kuljit Bains
Get a (Digital) Life: An Internet Reality Check by Jim Carroll and Rick Broadhead. Macmillan. Pages X + 221. Rs 198

EVEN referring to the dotcom bust brings out a yawn. The postmortem has been performed so thoroughly that the body is almost unrecognisable. So here we have an attempt at looking for possibilities that exist in real business and learning from the mistakes of the past while retaining feasible ideas that were thrown up during the hype period.

One positive remain of the Internet hype era is the gain to the financial industry like stocks and banking from online trading. Here the authors of this book, themselves experienced industry analysts for long, want to point out that the Internet in itself is not the business. It can, however, work wonderfully when used to assist real businesses. But that, too, only when online systems are thoroughly integrated into a companyís internal systems.

To quickly go thorough the pitfalls that companies hoping to go online might face, the authors have listed 10 myths about e-business: for example, people believe starting e-business is easy, cheap, people will adapt to new ways or that there are plenty of customers out there. It is not so.

We are told that setting up e-business is just as serious and difficult as setting up any conventional business ever was. A company, Canadian Tire, invested some $20 million in an e-commerce initiative. How could someone spend so much on a Website? critics asked. The Internet was supposed to make things cheaper, not costlier. Well, thatís exactly what this books wants to counter with examples like this. Canadian Tireís explanation: "We didnít spend $ 20 million on a Website. We spent $ 20 million to start a businessÖ Our investment can be broken down into Ö 4 categories: site development, infrastructure implementation, business process design and content."

Thatís the way to run e-businesses, the book tells us. Thorough implementation of electronic systems that encompass all aspects of the organisation, including production, procurement, employees, communication, finance, et al, is essential for any e-initiative. Setting up a "shopping cart" is not enough. It has to be backed by the store.

The writers have adopted a journalistic approach to investigating and bringing out the issues. They have interviewed a number of people at the top in e-business and quoted them appropriately to illustrate the mechanisms.

The gloom apart, the scope for e-business exists; in fact, there is no escape from it. Itís just that conventional businesses now have to take to it. Once the above suggestions are taken care of, though not easy and cheap, the gains for any organisation can be many, the bottom line being profits. So far the expectations had been too high, in terms of speed of change. Things are changing, but they need time.

People may not yet be buying products online, but they are sure researching them online before buying offline. So it only becomes imperative on businesses to have a proper presence online that should give thorough information to prospective customers on all aspects of their business. The FAQ pages have to be dynamic and provide answers to all the new questions that may arise at different times. This brings us to customer-centred orientation. E-business has made the customer supreme and he expects full online support that is intelligent and responsive, and this book looks at the nuts and bolts on how to do that.

The work explains in detail the benefits that will ensue from using the Internet and computer systems for regular enterprise and how to go about implementing these new systemsóthe essence being: "While the Internet merely helps us talk, expert systems will change the very nature of human work." Stock software options wonít do. You will need systems specifically designed for your business.

So what we have is a book that offers us no quick-fix solutions, tells that e-business is business first and "e" second, needs more money, hard work and realistic expectations. There is no e-magic wand. Probably what we always new, only closed our eyes to for a few years!