Beating the E-Biz Odds - Page 3

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Customer Is King

What are fasttrack companies trying to achieve with all this investment in Internet technologies? Besides continuing to reduce operational costs, FastTrack companies most want to improve online customer service and support to develop closer ties with customers and, ultimately, increase revenues. By far, the highest percentage of FastTrack companies (63 percent) said improving online customer service and support is important or very important to their enterprises this year.

Not all FastTrack companies equate improving online customer service and support with deploying packaged CRM applications, however. Asked to rate technologies according to their expected enterprise impact over the next 12 months, FastTrack companies placed CRM software well down on the list.

So what are FastTrack companies doing to make customers happier if theyre not all deploying CRM packages? In many cases, theyre focusing instead on deploying collaborative Web-based applications that allow them to streamline business processes that currently cost customers too much time and money. Take automotive parts maker ArvinMeritor Inc., for example. The Troy, Mich., Tier 1 OEM has deployed LiveLink, an online collaboration and workflow application from Open Text Corp., of Waterloo, Ontario, to allow customers to more easily collaborate with ArvinMeritors engineers on parts specifications. The next step, said Senior Vice President and CIO Perry Lipe, is to extend LiveLink to enable collaboration between ArvinMeritor—No. 117 on the FastTrack list—and customers in the upfront conceptual parts of the design phase. That should happen in four months, Lipe said.

While FastTrack companies such as ArvinMeritor still see B2B exchanges as another promising way to reach out to customers and suppliers, they havent yet bought in to either consortia-led exchanges or independent e-marketplaces. Half, for example, said theyre either launching their own private exchange or using a combination of their own exchange and either an independent or a consortia-led exchange.

While FastTrack companies are somewhat torn over what B2B exchange path to take, theyre unequivocal about the issue that concerns them most: security. FastTrack companies rated security the most challenging aspect of deploying both B2B and B2C e-commerce systems, even though the vast majority—79.6 percent—said their e-business architecture is more secure today than it was a year ago.

In the wake of the recent terror attacks and ongoing virus proliferation, IT managers—perhaps for the first time—have a receptive audience in top management when it comes to the importance of security. Ninety-eight percent of FastTrack companies reported that top management now considers security an important business issue.

For the most part, the tools that FastTrack companies are using to shore up security are not surprising: Firewalls and virus scans were the security technologies scored highest by FastTrack companies. A close third, however, was not a technology. Eighty-four percent of FastTrack companies said they now consider user training a critical tool in securing the enterprise.

Besides security software, other technologies expected to have a high impact on FastTrack companies over the next 12 months included Windows 2000, Extensible Markup Language, virtual private networks, and both storage area networks and network- attached storage.

While the vast majority of FastTrack companies said they remain committed to investing pragmatically in e-business, most clearly see their efforts as works in progress. In fact, many FastTrack companies report theyre less than satisfied with the return on investment theyve seen so far from many e-business initiatives. More companies—32 percent—said theyve been dissatisfied or strongly dissatisfied with the return on their investments in B2B e-commerce than have been satisfied or strongly satisfied (25 percent). FastTrack companies were even harsher in their opinions about returns from B2C e-commerce (69 percent dissatisfied or strongly dissatisfied vs. 21 percent satisfied or strongly satisfied) and wireless (51 percent vs. 11 percent). Only investments in CRM seem to be living up to expectations. Thirty-three percent of FastTrack companies said they have been satisfied or strongly satisfied in CRM ROI vs. 27 percent reporting dissatisfaction or strong dissatisfaction.

Those judgments may, however, reflect FastTrack companies high expectations of e-business as much as technology deployment problems. Leading innovators like Kaiser expect nothing less than that e-business will produce for them tangible advantages over competitors. So, even in a down economy, theyre forging ahead.

"Were not re-examining or backing away from anything," Kaisers Eagle said. "Well be careful about our investments, but in the long run, we intend to outpace what our competitors are able to do."