The carnage of dot-coms across the Internet landscape, combined with the gloomy economic forecast, has many corporate executives scrambling to quantify what the true payoff is for e-commerce initiatives. Its a fair question thats long overdue. But finding the e-payoff only in the sound of a cash register may have been the most misleading expectation of the Internet phenomenon—especially when you realize how much was being given away for free. In truth, the appeal of the Web for many organizations goes well beyond the opportunity to sell new products or services. The appeal lies in the same things that have always motivated businesses to turn to alternative methods to survive: fear via competitive threats, fame via brand recognition, convenience via back-office operations and improved customer relationships via support services.
The first factor—competitive threats—has long motivated innovation. Innovation can be viewed as producing a payoff if it results in features that keep customers from leaving the fold. Think of the Webs self-service features as equivalent to banks drive-through windows or department store charge cards: two programs that ignited highly competitive activity and created new levels of customer expectation. And since when did business shy away from spending money to make money via advertising?
And lets not forget how much expense is saved using automation via online tools to replace costly services that require human intervention. The Web brings benefits similar to self-service techniques that have been in use for more than 50 years: automated car washes and self-service laundries and gas stations, for example.
Businesses have always been able to assess the cost of fear, fame, convenience and relationships. So whats different now? The Web was always about extending business, not replacing it.
As such, I feel obligated as a CIO to ensure that my corporate peers realistically understand how the e-payoff benefits our organization. Although there may be slight differences in each environment, the fundamentals are similar. In the end, e-commerce may not be a direct cash cow, but its other benefits are worth as much, or even more, in real dollars.