The secret of e-business success

The business world is flooded with everything e-business. In plentiful supply are buzzwords, strategies, products, services and my personal favourite, veteran e-business practitioners. I am constantly amazed by what I hear from e-business experts who promise to solve nearly any business problem with an e-solution. The e-business gold rush is on, and everyone is scrambling for position. And although the utopian claims of creating an e-Shangri-la are mostly marketing fluff, e-business and its precepts have the potential to benefit practically every area of a company's operations.

In the momentum of the e-rush, one important area is routinely overlooked: company culture. Anyone who has worked for a company with a great culture knows the positive impact it has on that company's success. Likewise, companies with poor culture experience effects such as low morale, high turnover, low performance and weak bottom line. In order to make the shifts necessary to embrace e-business, companies must tend to their culture and ensure that it, too, is ready for major change. With any e-business initiative comes technology; however, technology is only an enabler. The people and the environment have more to do with the adoption and success of e-business than technology does. So what steps can you take to evolve your company culture toward (pardon the new buzzword) an e-culture? n #Eliminate silos. To be successful, e-business requires that information flow freely within an organisation. Designate business experts in each major functional area to facilitate the free flow of information and connect people and processes throughout the enterprise. Encourage your people to share information, ask for what they need and collaborate with co-workers outside their immediate surroundings. n #Recognise that e-business is an inside-out proposition. If your core processes are not predominantly real-time, online, integrated and interactive, then you cannot operate as a true e-business. Make sure your people understand this key point and are empowered and accountable for making it happen. n #Remember that education and training are critical. Everyone in the organisation must be introduced to basic e-business concepts. Attitudes are influenced by what people know, so arm employees with as much knowledge as you can. For those who are accountable in areas that interact directly with customers, more detailed training is needed. n #Instil a sense of urgency in your people. Customers now expect immediate quality service, whether it is in person, on the phone or on the Web. The sense of urgency required to deliver that level of service should help drive business decisions. n #Recognise that the Internet and the realities of e-business have permanently changed the barriers to competition. Viable competitors, unencumbered by legacy systems and outdated processes, can spring up almost overnight. Be proactive in adopting technology. Outsource if necessary.

Do these ideas sound familiar? Many of these suggestions are similar to those you might consider when implementing any major improvement initiative. And that is what e-business really represents: an opportunity to substantially improve your service models and, in turn, streamline your operations.

In recent years there has been a proliferation of enterprise resource planning systems. Yet for all the promise these systems hold, many organisations have struggled with or abandoned their efforts to implement them. Why? In many cases the company culture wasn't geared to support the effort. Don't let that same thing hinder your e-business initiatives. Capitalise on them by looking past the technology and recognising that culture and people are critical to unlocking the opportunities of e-business.

Rod Travers is senior vice president of technology at the Robert E Noelene Company, a US management consulting company that serves the banking, health-care and insurance industries.

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