Enterprise Toolbox - Mapping out your e-commerce plan

There are people who find their way to a physical location by means of a map and there are people who prefer to rely on hunches to get them to the right place. Finding the right road to go down with your e-business strategy is much the same. You might have a pretty good hunch about the direction your company should take; however, a detailed map will help you home in on the best route.

In the recent past, most of the e-business emphasis has been around the business-to-consumer space. This year, I believe you'll see a marked increase in the number of products and services in the business-to-business arena. Business-to-business strategies add complexity since they directly affect core business processes.

Chalk it up to my upbringing, but I think companies that want to jump on the business-to-business bandwagon need to take a common-sense look at existing and evolving business processes before taking the e-business leap. With a well-crafted business analysis in hand, the direction of your e-business strategy as it pertains to customers, partners, and other companies will come into clear focus.

You might start by mapping out existing business processes in a graphical manner. You can use process modelling tools, such as Popkin Software's System Architect, or you might create a custom map using any graphical tool you feel comfortable with. Depict those processes that are already Web-infused. How are these existing Web-related business processes affecting the bottom line?

As you go about mapping your processes, be sure to perform some competitive intelligence. How are your rivals using the Web? Do their activities threaten to affect your market share or reshape your industry? Your competitors may have already implemented business-to-business strategies for some or all of their business processes. Which of your business processes now need a Web infusion to help you remain competitive?

Next, think of your business processes with long-term value in mind. Prioritise the business processes you might Web-infuse by examining how transforming each process might affect profitability, increase growth, reduce time to market, enhance customer experiences, or improve the overall quality of your product and services.

So far, so good. Now think about your management team and your business and technical personnel. Do you have represented among them all the skills needed to run an e-business? If not, how will you obtain the needed skills, and which processes will you outsource?

Now, look at your business process map again. Are there certain processes that have been carried out in the same manner for some time? How will e-business change these processes? You might try to locate an existing e-business model within your industry that fits one or more of your business processes in order to update your corporate workflow.

By this time you should be able to identify the business processes that are worthy candidates for e-business conversion or addition. However, you will need to decide whether your e-business will work with existing business processes or if it will replace them.

Then there is the all-important bottom line. Are there weaknesses in your existing infrastructure, systems, and applications that will require investment to prevent an e-business failure? How will the movement of business processes to the Web save you money? How long will it take to achieve a return on your investment in e-business?

Completing a business process mapping and analysis exercise has some definite benefits.

You can prioritise business processes and phase in your e-business strategy over time. This will allow you to make the biggest gains up front while managing the costs.

Finally, the map and analysis will help you avoid overspending on e-business technology. It may not be necessary to invest in e-business for all of your business processes.

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