Agenda 2002

Can you believe that we are about to enter the last quarter of the year? My, how time flies when you are having fun in the world of e-business. For many, 2001 has been a bit of a washout, with cost-saving measures and staff reductions having been the focal point for the past six to eight months. But all things, even down cycles, must come to an end.

This week, I’m going to venture up into the e-business crow’s nest and give you my perspective of where companies are starting to put their dollars in terms of technology and business improvement. Perhaps it will spark some thinking about how your company will approach 2002.

Channel Strategies

In my conversations with manufacturing companies and retailers, I’ve noticed a consistent theme: They are all looking for tactical opportunities to improve their existing sales channels. The discussion these days has a tenor completely different from that of a year ago.

The fear of channel cannibalization has leveled off as many companies realize that their customers expect some form of online sales. As an example, bookseller Borders Group has abandoned its online retail channel in exchange for a site that helps customers search available inventory at each store. I expect more companies to invest in other unique strategies that create synergies between channels.

Reporting and Data Analysis

Reporting and data analysis is experiencing a rebirth. All the companies that I’ve encountered are aggressively exploring new approaches to distribute critical business information to the employee desktop. Advances in data aggregation and Web technologies have aligned to offer businesses tremendous value in exchange for a reasonable investment.

If you are in the food services industry, a company such as Instill offers robust purchasing and procurement analysis tools via a hosted services model. Instill customers have found incredible value in accessing purchasing information that once was very difficult to mine.

Wireless

Interest in wireless technologies is churning up because lower prices and boosted usability have improved the opportunity for companies to start wireless enterprise projects. The productivity gains for sales, customer service, and other mobile employees have been obvious for many years. Today, data-synchronization technology, available bandwidth, and protocol standardization have lowered the cost of implementation and maintenance. One example is the city of Louisville, KY, where mobile maintenance teams of the sewer department have improved productivity 65 percent.

Usability and Design Renovation

Increasingly, I’m finding more companies cognizant of design flaws or usability issues that plague their current Web channels. Once the bastion of information architects and design experts, usability has become a central issue to marketers, salespeople, and corporate executives. The economic impact of poor design is obvious to many companies today. I expect more companies to make investments that improve customer usability or lower the maintenance costs of existing Web assets.

What Is Your Game Plan for 2002?

Today is a great time to plan for next year. Competition remains a constant in good times and bad; therefore, companies should never stop thinking about how to improve any aspect of their businesses. Part of the planning process involves setting a strategic agenda. In my experience, good strategies are coherent with obvious support of overall company goals. Momentum and support are typically easier to generate if your strategic planning process is sound.

Hiring outside help for the strategic planning process is always a good idea. There are a number of reasons to make this investment. First, an external player helps bring a degree of objectivity to the decision-making process. Second, good strategists help validate business assumptions and technical decisions. Finding a trustworthy advisor is a difficult task; however, I recommend taking the time to find one.

Budgeting and resource allocation processes for new projects can be a protracted process for many companies. That’s why I recommended starting this process well before your anticipated start date. You may feel that a return on investment (ROI) analysis is a cumbersome, low value-add task. If so, I recommend outsourcing this step of the process.

So, where is your company planning to place its e-business investments? I’d be interested to read about them or start a discussion on approach and planning.

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