E-Business on a Shoestring Budget

One promise of e-business is to improve productivity through information sharing and data exchange between enterprises. Unfortunately, many companies are discovering a significant price to realizing any gains from e-business — both in terms of information-technology (IT) investment and organizational change.

This week, I’ll present examples of effective e-business solutions that improve productivity without draining the corporate IT budget.

Project Collaboration

If you have managed complex projects involving numerous departments, business units, or companies, you probably have lived the nightmare of having to maintain communication among all parties. The typical solution is to set up a private extranet that stores documents, project plans, contact lists, and so on. Although this type of solution is effective, it also is costly. Plus, reproducing an extranet for every engagement requires significant overhead.

At my company, NOVO, we discovered a service from a company called eRoom. For a truly nominal fee, this company provides an online document-management application. It looks and feels like many costly enterprise collaboration tools but is a fraction of their price. We use it to enable our clients to access project plans, documentation, and change orders. Our clients like the visibility, and our project teams are in better sync because there is version control of all project-related documentation.

Web Conferencing

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then voices with pictures are worth ten thousand. Web-conferencing services from companies such as PlaceWare and WebEx are low-cost alternatives to conducting face-to-face presentations. While nothing can replace meeting a client or prospect in person, these services enable you to reach many parties from distant locations simultaneously.

These services are great. Presentations are delivered via the Web and typically enable viewers to conduct chat discussions, submit questions, and electronically score their interest in the subject matter. For the presenter, the experience is unique. Immediate feedback is delivered to you, and audience chat threads are visible. Currently, most Web-conferencing services require access to a phone for the audio portion of a meeting, but I anticipate fully integrated capability for voice over Internet protocol (VOIP) in the near future.

If your company wants to reduce costs associated with business travel, I would recommend looking into these solutions as an alternate form of communication.

Sales Force Automation

In the world of customer relationship management (CRM), Siebel Systems is the king of sales force automation (SFA) tools. SFA is the primary enterprise tool for managing customer prospects, contact information, and deal status. However, these systems are often complicated to implement, manage, and maintain.

For organizations needing to provide immediate solutions to support a sales department, I recommend reviewing services from salesforce.com. This company hosts a pretty solid SFA solution for a nominal monthly fee. In fact, your first five users are free. It is a good solution for small-to-midsize organizations or those completely new to the capabilities of SFA.

Bottom Line

Great e-business technology does not always require significant financial investment. A number of simple, yet elegant, low-cost solutions are available to address the needs of your organization.

I’ve listed only a few examples. If you know of any other companies that provide low-cost, high-impact e-business technologies, I’d be interested in hearing about them.

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