Debunking the “wait-and-see” myth Featured

9:40am EDT July 22, 2002

If you’re still waiting to see how the Internet will truly affect your industry before buying into the promised e-revolution, there is a good chance you’re quickly falling behind the pack.

Even as you read these words, there are companies trying to figure out how to do what you do, only better, and plan to use the rapidly evolving connected economy to chip away at your customer base.

That should be a chilling prospect for business owners still holding onto a wait-and-see attitude toward the Internet. Neil Goldman, a Senior Manager of High Growth Consulting for Ernst & Young, spends much of his time convincing business owners, especially old-line manufacturers, that the Internet isn’t just for multimillion dot-coms anymore.

In fact, striking early could be the engine that drives even the most traditional companies to new levels of growth.

“Unless you’re gearing up to conduct at least some of your business this way, you’re going to be left in the dust,” says Goldman, who promises that the true business Internet revolution has yet to hit its stride. “When it happens, you’re not going to have the luxury of six months to a year to figure it out.”

Reluctance to embrace the Net is likely fueled by the fact that doing so means going much deeper than simply placing a product catalog on the Web. The bottom line is that the Internet can revolutionize every aspect of your business, from supply chain management to customer service. That can be an intimidating, if not frightening, prospect for the uninitiated.

“So many people I talk to are overwhelmed by the clutter,” Goldman says. “They get hit by so many assertions and so many frameworks from so many directions. It’s difficult to continue to run a business, run it profitably and also get your arms around what’s really going on here.”

It is that mindset that makes people reluctant to integrate the Web into their everyday business process, but as Goldman says, this is no time to flinch. For wary business owners still hashing out what role their companies will play in the inevitable digital future, Goldman offers a few pieces of advice.

Realize that the rules have changed

The question is no longer whether the Internet will change business. It’s already happened. Once you embrace that fact, it becomes a little easier to think about how you can start using the Net to improve your business.

“Executives must adopt the paradigm that the Internet economy has changed, not is changing or will change, but has already changed, the operating rules,” says Goldman.

Reshape your business model

Merging the Internet with your business doesn’t mean simply dumping money into technology upgrades. It means looking at how the connectivity can improve existing relationships with your customers, suppliers and employees.

“Any time you undertake a transformation like this for a business, it’s not just about what the MIS department does,” says Goldman. “It impacts how top management communicates their vision and sets direction and negotiates their needs with customers and suppliers.”

The key is to make sure that your business strategy and your Internet strategy are wound tightly around each other. That may mean restructuring your business model to some degree.

“You need to make sure that your e-strategy is part and parcel of your overall business strategy and vice versa, and that you are proactively building the capabilities both technically as well as operationally,” explains Goldman. “You need to connect up in a way that is much less a way to create a competitive advantage than it is simple survival.”

Map your competitors, your trading partners and yourself

While you’re busy adapting your business to this new economy, don’t forget that your competitors and suppliers are doing the same. Before investing lots of time or money in your company’s Internet strategy, look to see where other players in your industry, especially the people you deal with on a regular basis, are placing their bets.

“Map yourself, your competitors and your trading partners,” says Goldman. “When I say trading partners, I mean both historical and new threats. Map them across how they are approaching new marketplaces, connecting with their customers, rebuilding their supply chain into a Web and supporting their employees.”

Decide what role your business will play

Even after spending a great deal of time drafting an Internet strategy, Goldman says many business owners still suffer from “analysis paralysis.” All the research in the world isn’t going to do you much good if you fail to act.

Think waiting another six months would be a better plan? Goldman advises starting now and modifying your Internet initiatives as you go.

“If you wait six months to make your first decision in this space, you won’t be as smart as if you had made several decisions over the same six months, made some mistakes, but made some right moves as well,” he says.

Goldman suggests investing in several Internet initiatives and moving forward with them after securing the help of some sort of business adviser.

“Part of your strategy need to be developing a small portfolio of initiatives,” he says. “No different than (the fact that) anyone who’s investing in dot-coms is not going to buy just one they think is going to be a high flyer, they’re going to buy several.

“Some of their stock prices may go down, but there are going to be one or two that do really well, and you’re going to succeed.”

How to reach: Ernst & Young LLP, www.ey.com

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