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Maximising benefits from IT and e-Business
By Professor Colin Coulson-Thomas

IT and e-business should support how people would prefer to work and learn, and enable them to operate in new and better ways. But too often it constricts and constrains rather than liberates. Individuals and teams have to compromise and change in order to fit in with the requirements of technology. The successful operation of IT becomes an end in itself.

Poor investments in IT set existing ways of operating in concrete rather than creating additional options, value and choices for customers. IT should support more intimate relationships with customers, suppliers and business partners; facilitate learning, adaptation and change; enable entrepreneurship and integrate learning and working. It should make it easy for people to share information, knowledge and expertise. Smart users employ it to secure operating efficiencies and create new electronic markets.

So what do the winners do differently to make IT and e-Business an enabler rather than a barrier? To answer these questions a research programme led by the author has examined the corporate experience of over 2,000 companies. The results are summarized in: ‘Transforming the Company, Manage Change, Compete and Win’*.

Losers tend to adopt cautious, tentative and half-hearted approaches. They dabble and test rather than fully commit. For example, they may create a static website featuring background information about themselves and then use the lack of visitors that is likely to result as a vindication of the modest nature of their investment. The consequences of inaction are used to justify further lethargy and inertia.

When losers do act they are often naive and give little thought to the likely reactions of others. They decide they too would like a web presence and its establishment becomes an end in itself irrespective of whether it has a purpose or would help achieve certain objectives. Not surprisingly, the sites that result attract few visitors.

Winners are more positive, considered and open-minded. They use e-business to expand their customer base and provide additional support services to existing consumers. Some replace physical market places with new electronic market spaces.

People in winning companies get to know website visitors and their interests, and endeavour to provide a complete, personalised and regularly updated service or experience. They start with a problem or opportunity from a user perspective.

Winners think about how new e-business channels might make it easier for customers to access the information and opportunities that they need. They examine ways in which selection and purchasing might be made simpler for suppliers, for example by providing on-line search, configuration, pricing and cost-justification tools.

Every effort is made to build iterative relationships with each individual and provide additional value to that which might be obtained from any alternatives. Wherever possible visitors are enabled to help themselves. Electronic templates allow visitors to present their requirements, or any problems they might have, in a way that makes it easier to provide a relevant response. On-line services could range from simple ordering and tracking systems to complex self-design facilities.

Winners invite feedback from users and their people are encouraged to actively consider how they can make more extensive use of e-business applications. Reactions, comments and suggestions are sought, obtained and acted upon. The financial costs involved represent a minor element of the total investment of time and commitment in creating services and facilities that meet user needs and lock them in.

Winners create and actively participate in virtual communities. They encourage mutual sharing and support. By enabling interaction and introducing dynamic elements they encourage repeat visits. Regular reviews occur and findings are acted upon to help ensure that whatever is offered continues to be of interest, relevant and vital. Their involvement enables them to monitor trends, identify evolving concerns and spot emerging aspirations and requirements before they crystallise.

E-business technologies and principles are being used to create new markets and change how business is done. For example, procurement is undertaken electronically. Intelligent agents search for suitable suppliers. Opportunities are put out to electronic auction.

A company’s web presence can be used in many ways to build closer and interactive relationships with customers. Many IT companies allow their software products to be purchased and downloaded via the Internet. Guinness produced a screen saver version of its Guinness.com website that can be downloaded.

Electronic links can encourage intimacy and enable 24-hour trading and access to information, knowledge and opportunities. Responses can be made within seconds. On-line visitors can be helped to diagnose problems, assess requirements and assemble or develop solutions. E-Business and mobile technologies are profoundly changing relationships between businesses and their customers, suppliers and business partners.

There are so many opportunities to challenge and improve on current practices that all members of staff should be encouraged to consider the possibilities. Ford in the US and Powergen in the UK have provided all their employees with a home computer. Senior managers believe the skills and experience they acquire will benefit their contributions during office hours.

Success can depend upon the extent to which a web presence is accessible, distinctive and memorable. Follow-up fulfilment processes and offerings need to be in place to ensure that after an initial contact interested visitors are converted into buyers and continuing relationships are forged.

Federal Express has redesigned its core business processes to allow the great bulk of its parcel shipments to be ordered, arranged and managed via the Internet. At any time during the day or night customers can log on and see exactly where each item is. The company’s most valuable assets used to be its trucks and aeroplanes. Its value now primarily derives from its processes and supporting software.

The trick is to apply technology to the critical success factors for business success. Too many investments are in areas that do not make the difference between winning and losing. Standard packages may be fine for non-critical activities but bespoke development in crucial areas for competitive advantage can differentiate and result in the creation of new intellectual capital.

Intimate and mutually beneficial relationships are the key to bespoke responses and sustained knowledge and value creation. The effective use of IT has become very dependent upon attitudes towards such relationships, especially ‘external’ parties and customers in particular. The key question is the extent to which they are perceived and treated as full members or citizens of the network.

© Colin Coulson-Thomas, 2005


Professor Colin Coulson-Thomas
Professor Colin Coulson-Thomas
About the Author:

Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas, an experienced company chairman, has advised over 90 boards and management teams on director, board and corporate development. Formerly the world’s first Professor of Corporate Transformation and Process Vision Holder of major transformation projects, he is the UK’s first Professor of Competitiveness and can be contacted:

Tel: 01733 361 149
Fax: 01733 361 459
Email: colinct@tiscali.co.uk
Web: www.ntwkfirm.com/colin.coulson-thomas

*‘Transforming the Company, Manage Change, Compete and Win’ by Colin Coulson-Thomas and published by Kogan Page can be ordered by Tel. 01903 828800; Fax. 020 7837 6348; E-mail: orders@lbsltd.co.uk or on-line at www.kogan-page.co.uk or www.ntwkfirm.com/bookshop

Transforming the Company: Manage Change, Compete & Win
Colin Coulson-Thomas shows that to bridge the gap between rhetoric and reality, business people must make far-reaching decisions about the value to them and their companies of particular theories, past assumptions and traditional approaches. Based on original research, the first edition of this was ahead of its time and predicted many of the current management trends. The author now brings the text bang up-to-date for the 21st century. This second edition of Transforming The Company shows how to turn theory into practice by highlighting the obstacles and barriers that confront companies when trying to bring about change. For management at all levels faced with this task, this thought-provoking book will inspire and enlighten.

The Knowledge Entrepreneur: How Your Business Can Create, Manage and Profit from Intellectual Capital  by Colin Coulson-Thomas

Buy UK   Buy US

The Knowledge Entrepreneur: How Your Business Can Create, Manage and Profit from Intellectual Capital
In many companies knowledge management has focused almost exclusively upon the packaging of existing knowledge. This book is designed to help readers boost revenues and profit by significantly improving the performance of existing activities and also creating new offerings that generate additional income. It shows how practical knowledge-based job-support tools can transform work group productivity, and reveals the enormous scope for addressing contemporary problems such as "information overload" with imaginative responses. Additional information includes: a list of possible commercial ventures; detailed checklists that can be used for identifying and analysing opportunities for knowledge entrepreneurship; and exercises for assessing entrepreneurial potential and "scoping" possible products and services. The free CD-ROM packaged with the book gives examples of particular knowledge-based job support tools that have dramatically improved desired results in crucial areas such as winning more business.



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