If your company is like most, its e-business strategy has been fueled by fear and loathing.

Your executives fear being Ama-zoned or blindsided by a dot-com start-up with technical savvy, entrepreneurial spunk and an absence of legacy systems and processes to slow it down. On the other hand, they also envy those nimble start-ups with their multibillion dollar market caps that give them license to concoct bold strategies and carry them out through daring acquisitions and unconventional advertising campaigns.

In this environment, it's guaranteed that your company is rushing headlong into e-business without adequate planning or focus. Your executive's chief goal is to put up a Web site as fast as possible to thwart a first-mover advantage held by a nimble dot-com or a newly converted click-and-mortar competitor. To accelerate the process, your executives have probably created an independent unit or fast-tracked a skunkworks group to deliver a Web remedy in "Internet time."

Design

With this emphasis on speed, your company has probably not spent sufficient time analyzing how to design the Web site from a customer's perspective. The site probably doesn't address the customer's ultimate motive in visiting the site. For example, a customer may come to your site to book an airline reservation, but what they're really trying to do is figure out how to take their family of four on an educationally oriented vacation for under $2000. The best Web sites are designed to support a customer's end-to-end process.

Metrics

In addition, your company probably hasn't defined a set of metrics to judge whether the site is achieving its stated goals, if it has any. It also probably hasn't built an analytic infrastructure to collect the data needed to populate these metrics. Without performance metrics, the company is driving its e- business blind and headed for a crash.

Integration

Finally, in its haste, your company also probably deployed an e-commerce application that resides on a stand- alone server. Integration with other corporate systems and third-party applications is minimal. This makes it difficult to provide customers with the information they need to make a purchase or commitment online. For instance, Web site visitors often need to know whether a product is in stock and how long delivery will take before they make a purchase.

360º View

The reverse is also true. Without integrated systems, companies can't tell who's visiting their site and how to treat them. An effective B2C or B2B strategy requires the companies maintain a 360-degree view of the customer. This allows anyone in an organization to answer a customer's question regardless of the functional nature of the question (i.e., accounting, returns, general troubleshooting, etc.) or the channel the customer used to contact the company (i.e.,Web, phone, branch office, e-mail).

For example, today's best e-tailers display that an item is out of stock as soon as inventory for the item hits a predefined threshold. To not disappoint the customer, the e-tailer offers another product which has been dynamically selected by a rules- or statistical- based engine that has a high probability of appealing to the customer. It carefully tailors content, shipping information and other data into dynamically rendered pages that always resonate with the user.

E- Intelligence

Building an intelligent e-business is not easy. It requires careful planning and a commitment to integrating applications, both internally and with external partners and suppliers.

It also requires companies to establish well-defined goals and metrics to guide the development and continual refinement of their e-business strategy. Underlying these plans must be an analytic infrastructure that collects and integrates data from online and offline activities. This infrastructure enables the company to evaluate the effectiveness of its e-business initiatives on an ongoing basis. It also creates a 360-degree view of the customer and the means to leverage this information proactively to enhance customer loyalty and profitability.

In 1999, e-business became big business. Companies generated more than $180 billion in Web revenues, according to ActivResearch, Inc. In 2000, e- business will become a requirement for doing business, not a potential competitive advantage. Web revenues this year are expected to more than double to $377 billion.

Successful companies will carefully plan and execute their e-business strategies within a comprehensive business and technical framework. They will develop an analytical infrastructure that allows them to continually measure and refine their progress against well-defined business goals and metrics. They will leverage a 360-degree view of the customer to provide exquisite service and proactive marketing that locks in profitable customers and locks out the competition.

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