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The Journey to E-Business

Published
  • March 02 2000, 1:00am EST

A recent quote from Richard Currier, the CEO of the Park City Consulting Group, puts the quest for e-business into perspective. Currier says, "E- business is not a question of destination, every astute business person realizes it’s necessary to do business on the Internet. It’s a question of journey. How are they going to get there?" Well, he’s hit the nail on the head. I’d like to share two stories about companies that have taken the wrong road in their journeys into e-business.

My first story is about a large West Coast bank that does business with one of our telemarketers. This bank recently launched Internet banking. One of our telemarketers, let’s call her Liz, has been a customer of the bank for a few years. In short, Liz is just the type of Generation Y customer that every financial institution is spending millions to attract – young, early twenties, computer savvy and at the beginning of a very promising career. Her income will rise substantially over the next few years. Liz’s paychecks are automatically deposited into her checking account and, like most people just starting a career, she’s on a fairly tight budget. The day after payday Liz logged on to her bank’s Web site to check the balance in her account and, to her shock, her paycheck wasn’t there. Liz panicked. Our payroll department quickly investigated and assured her the deposit was made. Liz then called the bank’s customer service center. After waiting the obligatory 10 minutes on hold, she finally got to tell her story to a customer service representative. By this time her patience was wearing a little thin. The customer service rep looked up her account and told her, "The money was deposited right on time and is indeed in the account." When Liz asked why it didn’t show up on the Web site, the reply was, "The Web site is updated every 24 hours. You must have just missed an update." When Liz hung up the phone her response was "That’s stupid! Then what good is the Web site?"

I’m certain the bank spent a substantial amount of money putting their Internet strategy in place. I know they’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars advertising their online banking. I’ll let you guess how long they keep Liz as a customer, not a very good ROI.

The second story of a mistaken journey involves a senior technology manager in our office. Let’s call him Duane. Duane knows technology. The METAs and the Gartners of the world have frequently tried to recruit him. He’s been in this business for a long time, is very successful and is influential on technology issues. Not unlike some of us, Duane was slightly overwhelmed by the Q4 and procrastinated buying Christmas presents. A few weeks before Christmas I found him in his office late at night searching the Web for gifts. He settled on a site that sold all sorts of gourmet popcorn in decorative baskets. Duane placed a large order and was making fun of me for doing things the old-fashioned way – running from store to store buying gifts and carrying them across the country for the holidays. Why didn’t I take advantage of the Web? For a short time I thought I hadn’t been very smart, but as I was passing Duane’s office a couple weeks later I heard a loud curse and scream. He had just received an e-mail from the popcorn company informing him that the items he ordered were out of stock and would not be shipped until well after Christmas! The worst part, from Duane’s perspective, was that it was now too late to reorder replacement gifts elsewhere on the Web and have them shipped in time for Christmas. Duane had two choices, either explain to friends and family that their presents would arrive in January or run from store to store finding new gifts and then lug them across the country – the old- fashioned way. Needless to say, Duane was shopping on Christmas Eve.

The popcorn company is actually part of the well-known site of an established brick- and-mortar chain. They had recently spent millions of dollars advertising their new dot-com capabilities. Duane is just the type of customer their marketing department targets – high income, little time, buys lots of expensive items and is a Web shopping pioneer. I won’t repeat what Duane said about the site, but it was worse than "stupid." One thing is certain, his mouse will never click on their URL again, and I doubt if the 50 people he has personally recounted the story to will give the site a try.

Why did this happen? Where did they make the wrong turn? If I was to give these companies a few words of advice, they would be, "It’s the data!" It’s obvious that both of these companies were using replicated data to power their Web applications. It’s not unusual that replicated data older than 30 seconds won’t meet customer demands anymore. Liz needed a real-time look at her balance, not one that was 24-hours old. When Duane placed his order, the application should have been able to check against the real-time inventory level, not a copy that probably had thousands of orders placed against it that day. I bet that the real-time data was locked in legacy databases. Instead of taking the easy route and connecting the Web applications directly to the existing legacy data, these companies incurred huge costs in hardware, databases, programming and maintenance to replicate the data. They will probably spend hundreds of thousands of dollars more in trying to synchronize the databases so Liz can get a near real-time view of her account. It’s clear these businesses took the wrong path to e-business – the wrong journey.

The journey they should have taken is a much simpler one. There are new tools that easily make legacy data available to Web applications, allowing existing data to be leveraged. A few years ago virtual databases were all the hype, but this technology didn’t live up to the promise. The technology has changed. The promise today is e-data – a sound promise. E-data is data that any application can access, regardless of format or platform and is accessible at transactional speeds. If the bank and the popcorn company had taken the e- data journey, Liz and Duane would still be customers. The e-data journey is the fastest and most efficient way to get to your e-business destination, saving time and money for implementing additional customer needs. The bank and the popcorn company are still working to get around roadblocks, and their final destinations are still not in sight.

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