E-Commerce Score Card

Opinion: If you can't provide customers with a seamless transition to the e-commerce world, you're going to be left behind.

This week, Ill be taking part in the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium "eBusiness 2.0: What works, what didnt and whats next." I look forward to this annual summit since it is one of the few forums where academics, CIOs, analysts, prognosticators and journalists mix well together. Ill let you know how the forum went next week, but I thought this week Id take a crack at "eBusiness 2005: Whats working, whats not and whats next."

Whats working well this year are companies that use e-business to helpfully entwine themselves with their customers operations. Recently, I interviewed United Parcel Service CIO David Barnes in Atlanta. Very small companies can now use UPS not only to track packages but also to provide customers with detailed UPS tracking statistics. The new DIAD IV handheld device, which UPS drivers are being issued, incorporates GPS technology to pinpoint a packages location. In a truly virtuous business cycle, UPS and its customers can develop the most efficient shipping methods while achieving the maximum financial benefit and allowing UPS to further leverage its formidable IT expertise.

Another example of a company leveraging technology to further entwine itself with suppliers and customers is Audible.com, with its ability to provide audio players and audio versions of high-profile books just as they reach bookstores. And at my local library, youll soon be able to download Audible books for two-week periods, similar to borrowing a print book for two weeks.

The Keyhole maps from Google prove that there really is something new in the business of giving directions via the Web. Keyhole provides an image of that highway exit you are about to miss, as well as detailed directions. And recently, at Interop in Las Vegas, I listened to Steve Wynn explain how Avaya was instrumental in providing a VOIP phone system that didnt simply replace existing systems but aligned with the "exceptional service" philosophy of the new $2.7 billion Wynn Las Vegas casino.

What isnt working well this year? At the risk of offending all bloggers, Id say bloggers who talk about, rumor about or rant about someones place of employment are destined for a big crash. The corporate blogs that do survive will end up being propaganda filters supporting their company.

While e-business security continues to be mostly acknowledged in the breach, I do see signs of improvement.

The big issue in security has been to get ahead of virus, phishing and sundry attacks, rather than just reacting to outbreaks. Security breaches proliferate too fast for even the most alert company to recognize, react to and create an anti-virus solution for. Companies such as Internet Security Systems and IronPort are finally getting ahead of the virus game.

As a whole, the U.S. e-business industry is falling behind counterparts in Asia and Europe. Outside the United States, mobile devices with phone, commerce and music capabilities are becoming a safe, secure and readily accessible way to transact business. In the United States, phones and e-commerce capabilities are still far apart.

Whats ahead for the rest of this year? Investment. The growth of companies such as Google, eBay, Amazon, Overstock and other pure-play Internet companies continues to attract the attention of Wall Street, consumers and companies that see their markets eroded by competitors wise to the uses of e-commerce.

If you cant provide customers with a seamless transition from the physical world of your stores to the e-commerce world, you are going to be left behind. If you are a health care provider and are not far along in your plans to unearth yourself from paper-based forms and processes, you will soon find yourself at an economic and marketplace disadvantage. If your service is not appearing regularly in the advertising area of Googles keyword searches, you will see your sales erode.

All those activities take money, skills and a coherent e-business strategy. Youd better have all three.

Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at eric_lundquist@ziffdavis.com.

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