Net effect Featured

9:46am EDT July 22, 2002

With nearly every business laying out their e-commerce strategy, Yesterday Corp. President Tom Sincharge says too many business owners look at the Internet as a cure to whatever ails their companies.

“I remember how many rushed to the Internet to sell products before realizing it was best used as a way to keep your own clients rather than generate new ones,” he says.

When he first looked at the Internet as his company’s main communication tool, he wondered if his workers would buy into abandoning their telephones and fax machines to embrace the company’s intranet. He wondered if it would be too impersonal, if it would really improve efficiency and productivity, and if it would indeed save the company money.

“I could just imagine myself investing in all this new technology, and then finding out it really isn’t that big of an advantage,” recalls Sincharge. “But after talking to a few people about it, I began thinking it might be a viable concept. I decided it was worth a look.”

One of the first people he contacted was Mark Geyman, the marketing director for Beachwood-based Netforce Development. A year earlier, Geyman helped Yesterday research how to take customer orders over the Web.

Geyman understood Sincharge’s concern. Although computer companies and related industries had known the power of a connected work force for many years, it has taken other industries a little longer to warm to the idea.

“Now you hear more and more it from the manufacturing type companies,” he says. “They are finally starting to make that curve.”

Access to information

One of the biggest advantages of linking remote employees using the Internet is the incredible flexibility and access to information the format allows.

“Although sales reps may be distributed all over the country, even all over the world, if they have Internet access, they can (view) inventory and things of that nature,” says Geyman.

If a salesman in the field needs to see whether his company can meet a customer’s special order, he quickly logs onto the intranet and checks inventory, whether he is in a conference room or the middle of a cornfield. All he really needs is a dependable Internet connection.

Reduced costs

Once remote employees buy into the intranet, Geyman says long distance and fax machine use usually drops off substantially. Although companies must first absorb the cost of making a sales force Internet-ready, Geyman says many business owners are realizing the long-term cost savings associated with an Internet-savvy work force.

“People are taking a look now and seeing where they can save money out there vs. making a phone call or other means of communication that are a little more costly,” he says. “So, internally, there is definitely a cost reduction.”

Administrative time savings

Once an employee intranet is in place, it is no longer necessary to copy employee memos and send them to satellite offices via the fax machine. Instead, Geyman says once employees become comfortable with the intranet, it often becomes a main communication tool between all employees, whether across the hall or on the other side of the country.

“Maybe you need to send out a general bulletin to all employees,” says Geyman. “You can easily send that out over the Internet rather than faxing it out or other methods of getting communication out.”

One-stop employee resource

On the other hand, if an employee in San Francisco is hoping to get a simple question about her insurance plan answered by an HR manager in Cleveland, she will likely either call or send an e-mail. Although either choice would take just a few minutes for the HR manager to answer, a string of routine questions can quickly take its toll on her productivity.

Geyman says many companies use their corporate intranet as a one-stop resource for employees looking for information about topics ranging from the company’s stock performance to vacations to insurance benefits. It sets the HR manager free to focus on other tasks and weeds out the number of calls and e-mails from employees.

“Being able to access that information whenever they want and the turnaround time as far as getting access to information, it speeds up the whole process,” says Geyman. “It makes everything more efficient that way.”

How to reach: Netforce Development, (216) 378-0600

Jim Vickers (jvickers@sbnnet.com) is an associate editor at SBN.