Lessons from the boom

This is my last E-Business column - after almost 15 years in the industry, I have decided to return to graduate school part-time, so I am scaling back on my extracurricular activities.

When I began writing in this space more than a year ago, the world was a very different place. The industry was awash in e-business upstarts, and most corporations were struggling to transition their traditional business models to ones that revolved around e-business. The prevailing feeling was that e-business was a sure thing and that New Economy e-businesses were going to drive established stalwarts out of business.

We've all learned a lot since then. I hope I've been able to share some of the lessons I've learned along the way through this column. I have certainly learned from all of you who have taken the time to read and so thoughtfully respond to what I have written. Here then are some of the "take-aways" I will never forget from my experiences in the e-business world.

E-business isn't synonymous with online retailing. Although we were all enamored with online retailing in the early days, it's clear that e-business goes way beyond that. If we really want to reap the rewards of e-business, we have to drive it through the entire organization. Things such as online retailing and CRM are key, of course, because they represent our "e-business face" to our customers. But equally important are the behind-the-scenes efforts that allow us to deliver the right information to customers, check inventories online, and link up with trading partners. Those back-end links often come with a higher price tag, but we now know that they will prove to be the real key to e-business.

Cool technology will never overcome bad strategy (or bad execution). OK, so some of us got a bit carried away and thought that e-business could be used as an elixir for bad strategy or a lack of business strategy. It can't be. This lesson can also be summarized by saying that the most critical part of e-business is the business, not the "e." The recurring complaints we hear about the customer service offered by some otherwise highly regarded online merchants demonstrates that even the most savvy people in e-business have to focus on the service, financial, and operations parts of their businesses or risk extinction.

E-business really does have the capacity to transform businesses and industries. As e-business gains traction, I find myself saying, "Wow, when this stuff works, it really works." For instance, the other day I registered for a class online. The online registration system told me there were three open slots left in the class. After I went through the registration process, I had to link to a third-party site to pay the class fee. After I paid online, I popped back into the school's registration area to see how many open slots were left. Two! The school's registration system had been dynamically updated (even though the school is using a third party for the pay portion of the registration). Very cool.

Barb Gomolski is a research director at Gartner, a Stamford, Conn.-based research firm. Send her e-mail at BarbaraGomolski@earthlink.net.

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