If Europe makes the right choices in the near future, it has the power to lead in electronic commerce, but in the struggle for control it must not ignore the "digital divide", according to Michael Capellas, president and chief executive officer of Compaq Computer.
"Europe will surpass the US in terms of internet users in 2001," Capellas said here at the Wall Street Journal Europe's CEO Summit on Converging Technologies. "However, on e-commerce, Europe is still lacking."
Wireless access devices, such as WAP (wireless application protocol) phones, are what will give Europe the edge, he said. When the use of e-commerce technology converges with those devices, it will be Europe's big chance.
"When those two come together in Europe, we will see a huge pattern shift," he said. "Wireless mobile devices will be the main devices, with PCs becoming secondary devices."
Even before the e-commerce revolution begins in Europe, companies must stay on top of the internet and find a strategy to stick with, he added.
"If you do nothing more than use the internet for knowledge sharing, you'll do fine," he said. "If you can put the minds of your marketing people and the minds of your sales people online, you'll do fine; unfortunately, none of us do that."
Even if a company doesn't sell its products online, it can still use the internet as part of a successful business model, Capellas said.
"In the US last year, 60 per cent of people who bought luxury cars already had a general idea of what they wanted from surfing the web," he said.
Even as companies work to capture a piece of the lucrative e-commerce market, it is essential for them to keep in mind the divide between those with access to technology and those without access.
"We are still by far underestimating the impact of this," Capellas said. "The government clearly has a role to play in this, but so do we in the industry."
The problem is growing wider now, he added, with "e-zones" popping up around the world. Countries that adopt technology will be able to more quickly trade with others that have done the same, he said.