Fiscal fitness Featured

9:35am EDT July 22, 2002

By now, e-commerce has integrated itself into nearly every business.

Those that haven't taken the cyberplunge are quickly finding themselves left behind. But as with any new part of a business, e-commerce has not only increased efficiency for business owners, it's also created a new line item in the budget.

So what does this mean for your company's ability to adapt financially? When going Webwide, consider the costs, many of which aren't so obvious, says Peter Constantino, a partner in Ciuni & Panici's management advisory services division.

Watch the trends

Constantino says that he's seen two trends among businesses going on the Webwide, the first involving the basic business Web site.

"Probably almost all of our clients are either in the process or have set up Web sites," says Constantino. "There's an initial cost to do it and there's a cost to keep it current."

When business owners launch their Web sites, that second part -- ongoing costs -- often isn't considered, taxing the coffers of many businesses beyond what was initially budgeted.

The second trend involves e-commerce.

"A lot of our clients will deal with larger publicly held companies who deal with many suppliers," says Constantino. "More and more, there's a push that they don't really want to do things in terms of just paperwork."

Businesses, he says, have found that one of the main benefits of going cyber is the ability to handle transactions electronically.

"That means businesses get set up so they can communicate with that computer's system," says Constantino.

And, buyers create a profile and billing info and the Web site stores it. Because of this, the paper-based purchase orders and invoices of many companies have become a thing of the past.

Invest in the basics

Although Constantino says that it's rare not have the basic equipment, he explains that the bare minimum needed to connect your business to the Internet is one high-speed computer with modem, Internet service, a printer and Web development software.

However, most businesses today are on a network, so the added cost of maintaining a Web site is minimal because when a business already has a network, the only costs are in developing a site and putting it on the Web.

Maintaining the site involves minimal costs -- paying a technician to update prices and other pertinent information -- and the added cost isn't a challenge to a company's budget. Investments for keeping the site updated with the latest technology are a bit more costly, though not much.

"We haven't seen any incidents where the cost had too much of an impact on a company," Constantino says.

Reap the benefits

While simply opening shop on the Net won't generate sales, using your company's site to complement existing bricks-and-mortar operations will. Considering that the costs are minimal, the added business a Web site can generate makes the prospect a virtual no-brainer.

Constantino says some of his customers are quick to point to specific sales they have garnered through their sites that they wouldn't have garnered otherwise.

"One manufacturing customer told me recently that he got a large order through their Web site from Canada," he says.

This introduces the obvious implication of expanding beyond one's physical location. By putting itself on the Web, a business plugs itself into an infinite community of potential customers, not to mention potential employees and suppliers.

The other main benefits are customer satisfaction and ease of use. Customers like the convenience of ordering and keeping track of purchases online because they can do it on their time from the privacy of their offices or homes.

And, in this day and age, when business has become a 24/7 venture, being able to satisfy a customer at 4 a.m. certainly has its merits. How to reach: Ciuni & Panichi, (216) 831-7171

Courie Weston (cweston@sbnnet.com) is a reporter at SBN.