E-commerce? E-business? Who E-cares?

Anyone who has finished implementing electronic commerce on the Internet, please step forward. You can now move on to electronic business.

Not so fast, please.

In a nasty little intramural squabble, some analysts and online businesspeople have decided that E-business is infinitely superior as a moniker to E-commerce.

That's misleading and distracts us from the business goals at hand. The effort to separate the E-commerce and E-business concepts appears to have been driven by marketing motives and is dreadfully thin in substance.

Yes, E-commerce already was misused, abused and confused when E-business emerged in 1996 as the new buzzword. But the genesis of that confusion rests with the particular scope and vision one has for E-commerce.

People have been saying "business-to-business electronic commerce" since 1994 - the year the Internet turned upside down the old meaning of E-commerce. And when you look at those early broad definitions, it's very difficult indeed to see how they differ from the ones given today for E-business.

Here's the important thing: E-commerce, E-business or whatever else you may want to call it is a means to an end. The objectives, as with IT, are to improve or exploit unique business propositions - with the focus now being the online world. Worrying about the definitions of those words, or about which is superior to the other, or about which is a subset of the other, is a silly little inside-the-beltway argument.

Consider the following fundamental reexaminations: customer satisfaction becomes online customer satisfaction; competitiveness is now online competitiveness; customer loyalty turns into electronic loyalty; revenue translates into online revenue; cost of business is influenced by running the online business; gaining new customers evolves into acquiring new electronic customers; and developing new products changes to information-based products.

That list isn't dependent on how we define E-commerce or E-business - but it's guaranteed to keep any organization busy for the next two to three years.

We are witnessing increased E-commerce or E-business activity inside our companies, and it's manifested by substantial changes to the buying/selling process, relentless efforts to create digital value services and an obsession with intermediary-like business functionality. Those activities are leading to the creation of new types of electronic marketplaces.

So guess what? We need another "E" word. That's right, electronic markets.

E-markets are becoming not only the new battlegrounds for market-share dominance, but also the new locus for business activity. The opening of and participation and competition in various forms of open E-markets ultimately are the primary goal of E-commerce or E-business, and that goes beyond trying to define either one of them.

The next generation of E-markets will be open, global and based on E-business rules of engagement and interoperation. They include private E-business communities, open digital cooperatives, powerful market makers, electronic trading exchanges and agent-based marketplaces.

Now do you see E-business or E-commerce? Or, rather, do you see several different choices for participation in E-markets?

Attempting to define E-commerce or E-business is guaranteed to generate byzantine debates with meaningless origins. It reminds me of trying to answer the following question: "If one synchronized swimmer drowns, would the others follow?"

Instead, let the question be: "What E-markets are we participating in?"

Mougayar (walid@cyberm.com) is a management consultant, a lecturer on E-market strategies and author of Opening Digital Markets.

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