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e-Business Readiness :
Andrew Grove, the chairman of Intel, recently stated, "In five years, there won’t be any Internet companies because they will all be Internet companies …..Otherwise they will die". Andy, known for his accurate predictions on technology advancements, is not alone this time. Most technology and management guru’s and Industry watchers agree with him.

Mankind has for long been using technological advances for business advantages. There have however been few technology breakthroughs in recent times that have had such a prolific impact on businesses and lives of people as the Internet and the Web. Perhaps the most significant invention after the computers, the rate of adoption for Internet has beaten wildest of the estimates. Only a small percentage of businesses (approximately 10% ) are at present undecided about getting on to the Internet bandwagon. For most others, either the adoption is initiated, or the question is of ‘when’ and not ‘whether’.

In this article we address several issues of e-Business readiness. We shall take a close look at what e-Business and e-Commerce are all about, and the impact of ‘e’ on businesses. We shall also look at the development stages for a business to become an e-Business, evaluate what it takes to ‘get there’, and what the risks involved are.

e-Business is the powerful business environment created when all the key business processes of a traditional corporate get re-engineered and transformed through the use of Internet technologies. The critical business systems of such an organization would be directly connected to the customers, employees, suppliers and business partners. Intranet, Extranet and e-Commerce form the backbone of systems at such an organization. Groupware, collaborative applications and workflow tie them all together.
e-Business helps organizations become the Interactive Enterprise.

e-Commerce is an important, but not a mandatory component of e-Business. It deals with the activities of buying and selling. While not all e-Businesses would be involved in E-Commerce, for organizations selling directly to consumers, E-Commerce is vital. It has changed the way many companies conduct businesses and has introduced a new category of virtual online businesses. The traditional procurement and fulfillment processes have undergone dramatic changes. The ‘access anytime’ and ‘finalize now’ concepts have also enhanced the customer expectations of response times from businesses.

Business-to-Business (B2B) and Business-to-Consumer (B2C) are the two models of e-Commerce. It is however the B2B scenerio that is going to dominate with over 80% of business coming from that segment within the next 2 years. Forrester estimates the B2B e-commerce generate over US $ 842 billion in revenue by 2002. While immense efforts have been going on in this direction, the ultimate success of e-Business for organizations is dependent on their state of readiness for this transformation.

Whatever be the corporate culture, having clearly stated policies and well thought out, meaningful processes are a pre-requisite to the success of an e-Business. These policies and processes help in the management of cultural issues. These policies need to address the issue of Intranet/ Extranet/ Internet ‘Usage’. It must define what constitutes a business related usgae, define the acceptable ‘non-business’ related usage and also what is prohibited.

‘Openness’ comes with its own set of issues. While an information might be known to a group of people, the organizational processes need to clearly define the primary and secondary responsibilities for people involved. ‘Collaboration’ and work flow also requires people to be more responsive to each other and to the organization. Well identified rules and escalation processes are necessary for the success of an e-Business.

The ‘anytime access’ that web provides to a customer, also keeps increasing the customer expectation levels in several dimensions. The Web Customer expects responses in web-time. This may require an organization to completely restructure in order to become customer care oriented. This means higher agility, reduced fulfillment times and dependable support systems. Organizations often require to re-engineer most of their processes on the way to becoming e-Businesses.

While the culture of e-Business is generally very open, business needs often dictate a high level of security. For an e-Business organization therefore, the open Internet culture must coexist with the corporate requirement for secure information. This calls for defining the security & user privilege policies and their technological implementation. A fundamental requirement of e-Commerce is the secure payment processing and the transaction security. Hackers and those indulging in industrial espionage abound on the net and sites need to be constantly protected against them. While all e-commerce transactions are encrypted, organizational processes and systems must be geared up to log all system accesses and transactions and also be able to track any unauthorized access or attempts to break through the security net. While technology plays a key role in ensuring e-Commerce security, the technical measures alone do not move all risks. The organizational usage and access policies and their enforcement, system security checks, technology penetration tests and keeping track of laws regulating international e-Commerce transactions are all key elements that an e-Business organization has to be geared up to handle.

Technology is of-course the e-Business enabler. It impacts and permeates through almost everything that needs to be done for ensuring a successful e-Business. While e-Business solution are strategy centric, they are technology intensive. Organizations do have now available a set of technologies to choose from. The choice of technology is important and needs to be done with care. Factors influencing this choice could be the existent infrastructure with the organization, business objectives, tools to be used and the skill set availability, amongst others. Technology impacts not just the choice of development platform, it also is key in matters of security, access & usage control and the overall enterprise wide system architecture design. Investments in to the training of IT staff in the chosen technologies pay high dividends.

E-Businesses require powerful and resilient infrastructure. Having powerful machines, with adequate redundancy and backup arrangements, high bandwidth network connections and a near 100% uptime for systems need to be guaranteed for the implementation of e-Business systems. Organizations might need to either host their systems with a third party (may be an ISP), or make investments to ensure this infrastructure and also in recruitment of skilled manpower to support these systems round the clock.

While e-Commerce in its simplest form does involve on-line catalog-based purchasing, the information and features provided by present day systems are very comprehensive and complex. Moreover, a sophisticated front-end e-Commerce system critically requires equally efficient backend systems for support. The web customer demands transparency, shortened response times and reliable fulfillment commitments. Efficient customer care requires robust bookkeeping and other enterprise wide systems available and integrated with the e-Commerce front-end applications. Absence of these would otherwise cause the customer loose trust and patience.

E-Businesses need to remain current and robust. The data and information placed on the web, which is open for access to all those authorized, needs to be accurate and current. E-Businesses need to define several new roles in the organization to do this. The web information framework encompasses four primary roles – Administrators, Authors, Publishers and Creative managers. Authors are responsible for creating the content that goes to the web. The self-service customer requires a ‘Creatives’ manager to work on the user interface and navigation aspects. The publisher is responsible for putting the author’s content on the web. They are responsible for managing, coordinating and communicating the information content. Administrators are responsible for the technical management of the web site and its different category of users.

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