Guest column: An e-commerce e-primer for the e-perplexed

Busy? Short-handed? Eighteen months behind on Y2K? Doesn't matter. Because if your business hasn't rushed to the Web, you're toast.

But the sad truth is that a whole bunch of you solid, since-the-70s CIOs still don't understand this cyberstuff. E-biz is new, different from anything you've tried before, and it's breathing down the back of your neck. You know you want it. You know you need it. But if you ever got it, you'd have no idea what to do with it -- which is kind of like most of my dates back in high school.

Let me make it easy for you. Here's a simple primer explaining the key terms and travails of e-business, so the next time some e-smooth-talking e-salesman comes e-calling, you'll know what he's e-talking about:

Intranet: a private, confidential, internal network with the look and feel of the internet.

Internet: where most of your most private, confidential stuff will wind up, even though you could have sworn you had an intranet.

E-coerce: being forced by your CFO to "get something on the Web" ASAP, then blowing a bundle on a system that would have worked if you'd had more time.

E-sourcing: outsourcing your project to an experienced e-commerce provider, then blowing a bundle on a system that would have worked if you'd had more money. popular term for this whole Web thing, but not as popular as gee-this-sure-cost-a-lot-com and now-I-wish-we-had-not-com.

Knee-commerce: the jerking reaction to get online, usually made by some $US8 billion-per-year retailer that just realised that a whole mess of market share is heading out the door to the e-commerce site of two housewives from the sticks.

E-hits: the number of times potential shoppers visit your Web page.

E-purchases: about 0.0001 per cent of e-hits.

End-to-end Web-based business: a leading-edge, competition-crushing combination of ERP, world-class logistics and e-commerce -- or what you get in a $4.5 million system.

Online investing: how most of your people will use that $4.5 million system.

Hardware: low markup servers, routers and desktops (on which no one makes any money).

Webware: browsers, explorers and other Net tools (on which no one makes any money).

Middleware: randomly selected bundles of confusing and incomprehensible products (that ensure salesmen a tonne of commission money).

Global access: (1) enables your customers to reach you worldwide, 24 hours a day. (2) Enables ability for your boss to reach you, worldwide 24 hours a day, to tell you your Web site just went down.

E-lation: discovering your new Web site has just brought in $2 million.

E-limination: discovering your new Web site has just been hacked for $20 million.

Transaction security: when your salesman is sure that your megachque for your new e-commerce system isn't going to bounce; after that, you're on your own.

E-commerce consultants: expensive, vendor-supplied personnel who just finished a Y2K project.

Senior e-commerce consultants: even more expensive vendor-supplied personnel who recently finished a Y2K project and then screwed up their first e-commerce project.

Business-to-business: where you'll be sending your resume if you screw up this e-commerce thing.

Michael Cohn is an e-commerce consultant in Atlanta ... and, unfortunately, so is everyone else. Contact him at

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