Do E-Commerce Quick But Get It Right

While achieving speed to market is crucial in a highly competitive and fast-paced industry, businesses can go down the drain if they rush blindly into electronic commerce.

E-commerce contributed at least 20 percent of Singapore's gross domestic product last year, said Na Boon Chong, Asia-Pacific content leader for corporate restructuring and change, at management consulting firm Hewitt Associates LLC.

And demand for infocomm workers here will see a growth rate of between 10 and 20 percent a year until 2002, Na said, and noted that the Ministry of Manpower predicts that 35 percent of the local workforce will be Internet-savvy by 2003. This number is projected to increase to 75 percent in 2010, he added.

Driven by the need to compete in a fast-paced e-enabled industry, companies need to be quick on their feet, said Ross Zimmerman, head of e-commerce consulting at Hewitt Associates.

However, they should not bulldoze their way into e-commerce without first establishing a clear view on their future plans, Zimmerman said. There is little room for mistakes and "there's no trial period", he noted.

"It's about speed and about doing it right. If you're just going for speed, speed is going to kill you," he warned. "It's about being quick, first and right."

The situation is further worsened by the current lack of skilled workforce, where "the talent war has never been this intense", and organizations are scurrying to grab the best employees, he said.

Companies need to take a step back from all the "warfare", and ask themselves if they have lost sight of their strategy, and whether "they're doing it right", Zimmerman said. "And e-commerce is not a synonym for IPO (Initial Public Offering)," he stressed. "So many companies are rushing for the goldmine when the rules of the market are not defined yet."

"Only 5 in 100 make it to IPO and those that make it to IPO -- many trade below the offering price a year later, where roughly 50 percent of last year's IPOs are now underwater," he noted. "However, it is true that the opportunities are there."

Last year, Asia registered an IPO volume amounting to US$9.5 billion, and the first half of 2000 saw a figure of $6.8 billion, he said.

Companies with a sound gameplan and are willing to evolve will be the ones to succeed, Zimmerman said.

"The Asian investment community requires a compelling story to generate IPO enthusiasm, where first movers with clear business case will reap greatest reward," he said.

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