Stories by Sari Kalin

Nice Guys Finish First

Once upon a time, not so very long ago or far away, a kind-hearted customer service czar found himself in a bit of a pickle. His company had been pitching a special Christmas gift across the land: a chunky, gold NFL ring, custom-embossed with a favorite football team, guaranteed to arrive by Dec. 25. The ring was a hit-too much of a hit. Four days before Christmas, the czar learned that 250 orders were going to run late. Rather than see 250 customers have a very unmerry Christmas (and think very unmerry thoughts about the company that let them down), the czar sent each one a $100 NFL team jacket for free, shipped overnight to arrive by Christmas Eve.

The Price Is Right - or Is It?

Anyone hunting for a health club would be surprised to find a membership deal that includes a free massage after every workout; they would also be surprised to find one that charges five bucks for a hot shower. That's because health clubs offer a fairly standard set of services; customers know which ones are typically covered by a monthly fee and which ones are luxurious extras. Unfortunately, customers of application service providers (ASPs) can't be quite so certain about what they should get for their money. And if they aren't careful when they shop around for an ASP, they could wind up with the equivalent of a cold-water spigot and a Bic lighter when they're expecting a steamy-hot, relaxing spray.

Mini Web Guide: ERP

You may know that ERP isn't just the rude noise you make after downing your fourth taco. You may know that the acronym stands for enterprise resource planning, and that it is pronounced as three individual letters, E-R-P, not as a single word. If you've cruised through the ERP Learning Center section on our website (www.darwinmag.com/learn/erp), you may even know that an ERP software package integrates a company's varied business functions and departments, collecting all of their data in a single database. But you may not be aware that there are websites to help technophobic business executives gain a deeper understanding of this rather gnarly topic.

Transformers: Eastman Chemical Co.

For an outfit born around the time your grandfather was snapping action shots with his Brownie camera, Eastman Chemical Co. has developed a notably forward-thinking e-business strategy. The $4.6 billion, 80-year-old chemical maker began experimenting with its first e-business effort-a humble intranet-in 1994, the same year Eastman Kodak spun it off as an independent company. Since then, Eastman has opened a customer center on the Web, begun buying raw materials online, unveiled a supply-chain integration initiative, and invested millions in dotcom startups and new e-commerce technology vendors (it aims to invest $25 million to $50 million by the end of this year). It has also hatched two independent e-business ventures, virtual logistics provider ShipChem.com (a joint venture with Global Logistics Technologies) and a B2B marketplace called PaintandCoatings.com (a joint venture with trading exchange VerticalNet Inc.).

E-Legal Tangles

Starting a new business always involves a bit of legal risk. But that risk is multiplied when starting an e-business, according to Allan Weeks, a partner with the ventures and intellectual practice group of Shipman & Goodwin.

Book Excerpt: The Future of Wealth

Browse through eBay Inc.'s bidding wars and you'll learn more than just the asking price for a Birthday Party Barbie or a Babe Ruth baseball card. The site's 2-million-plus auctions a day offer a quick lesson in one way the internet is reshaping our economy--namely, by making it possible to set up an efficient market for just about anything. In a new book, Future Wealth (Harvard Business School Press, April 2000), authors Stan Davis and Christopher Meyer take a far-reaching look at how the internet is fundamentally changing the nature of wealth. Davis is a well-known business futurist and author of 10 books, including another book with Meyer, Blur: The Speed of Change in the Connected Economy (Perseus Press, 1998); Meyer is director of the forward-looking Ernst & Young Center for Business Innovation in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As one might expect, this future-oriented duo foresees changes that have ramifications far beyond plastic dolls and baseball cards.

Predictions: Storage for Rent

Why buy when you can rent? CIOs will find themselves facing this question from a new breed of outsourcers offering rentable storage. These companies, sometimes called storage utility providers or storage service providers (SSPs), let customers rent the storage capacity they need. Customers are billed every month or every quarter, "sort of like a phone bill," says Doug Chandler, a senior analyst at Framingham, Massachusetts-based International Data Corp. (IDC) (a sister company to CIO Communications). Storage utility providers typically own the storage devices and maintain them on their premises; customers access their stored data via a network connection. In the traditional storage outsourcing model customers buy the storage devices, house them onsite and hire outsourcers to manage them onsite or remotely. The new storage utility model's appeal lies in its flexibility and in the fact that companies don't need to make an up-front investment in storage devices.

Trading Places

Ray Rawson hardly seems like the type to get caught up in the dotcom revolution. He's a plain-talking, blue-jeans-clad farmer, fitter than one might expect for his 56 years, busy working a 10,000-acre spread that spans two rural counties in Michigan. Yet early in the morning, before his crews show up, Rawson's farm business meets e-business at a Web site called DirectAg.com.

3-D Finally Gets Serious

As e-tailers go for higher doses of reality, they're turning to previously overlooked 3-D technology

Web Business: Trading Places

Ray Rawson hardly seems like the type to get caught up in the dotcom revolution. He's a plain-talking, blue-jeans-clad farmer, fitter than one might expect for his 56 years, busy working a 10,000-acre spread that spans two rural counties in Michigan. Yet early in the morning, before his crews show up, Rawson's farm business meets e-business at a website called DirectAg.com.

Emerging Technology

GETTING TO KNOW YOU Automatic e-mail profiles help connect the dots for knowledge management By John Webster

Stormy Weather

Personal computing pioneer Alan Kay once said, "The best way to predict the future is to invent it." But CIOs face a distinctly different challenge: They scan the inventions of the day and decide which have the potential to shape their businesses' future and which will never meet the inventors' expectations.