E-Commerce Programs: 'Get Net-Savvy in Two Days!'

Companies that want to move quickly into Internet business have a little problem. Once the e-consultants leave, there's nobody around in senior management who knows what's going on.

The traditional response is to bring in a management training company. Good move?

Let's have a look at a typical two-day workshop...

Module One (half day) is on the development of the Internet and the different ways it has come to be exploited by organizations to support their corporate services and back office (intranet), suppliers and business partners (extranet), and customers (Web site).

Module Two (half day) explores the specific kinds of e-commerce business models found on sites such as travelocity.com, amazon.com, buy.com and cisco.com. Halfway through this module they drag in your technology managers to tell you all about transaction engines, server closets and something called scalability.

Module Three (half day) explores some of the marketing challenges of Internet business. Marketing strategies, advertising options and visitor metrics are covered.

Module Four (half day) ends with a show-and-tell from four teams that worked late into the evening designing e-commerce models for the company's principal lines of business. Each team gets 15 minutes to present and discussion follows.

Sounds like a reasonable course, right? Wrong.

Let's look at three things managers need to be Net savvy that weren't provided in the course.

The course focused on the challenges your company will face putting existing product lines on the Web. That approach means your company is passing on a whole new set of marketing opportunities that arise when you rethink products and services you can move on to the Web.

An example. A Vermont company selling maple syrup adds maple sugar candies and pie mixes to its on-line product mix. It hires a well-known cookbook editor to write a cookbook featuring maple syrup-based recipes that it also sells on-line, along with a range of locally made crafts. It offers discounted rates for bed & breakfasts along with tickets to a pancake breakfast at nearby sugar camps.

An e-commerce initiative in a traditional company double-tasks the management team and staff. Did the course tell you how to cope with the strains and stresses this will cause? For example, what if one of your products takes off and tens of thousands of orders start coming in on your Web site. How will your company respond? Have you got your contingency plans for manufacturing and logistics ready for that one?

Revenue from e-commerce will initially represent less than five per cent of your gross income but unless you're already the proud owner of a national distribution system, your fulfilment costs may put you deep in the red zone. Make sure your bankers love you 'cause it's going to be a long ride. By the way, have you decided what you're going to do with those orders from Lagos, Bangalore and Quito?

The lessons of managing an e-commerce initiative are simple once you realize that you're not dealing with another business process. E-commerce is a business system that, to be successful, requires a whole new set of management smarts.

No two-day course can possibly cover in sufficient detail the many areas of management expertise that you need to get a good e-commerce initiative up and running. If you really want to go for a workshop format, approach it as a workout session to identify what you need to know as a management team to survive in e-commerce. This way, you'll have no illusions about what you're getting for your money.

A better way is to appoint a management steering committee to oversee the development and execution of the e-commerce initiative. Hire a Net-savvy consultant on retainer to support the committee through the development of the company's e-strategy and its execution. It'll cost you a fraction of what the workshop will cost if you were to run it across your company and you'll get advice that is specifically tailored to your company's challenges and management culture.

Chuck Belford is president of Management Smarts Inc., a Nepean, Ontario-based management consulting and training company. He can be reached via e-mail at cbelford@managementsmarts.com.

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