People-Centered Enterprises

Success has always been based on a company’s ability to build strong relationships with customers, suppliers, partners, and, most important, employees. For a moment, let’s forget about e-business strategy and technology and focus on what really matters – your ability to improve business relationships managed by people.

That’s right, it’s all about people. And the most successful companies get this concept.

Take Cisco as an example. Its growth can be directly attributed to its ability to maintain strong relationships with all constituencies of its business. Through Cisco Connection, customers, partners, employees, and suppliers all interact in a tightly designed community that provides sales channels, configuration help, partner assistance, and customer support. The brilliance of its site also lets customers sell used products back to Cisco through this channel. It’s a powerful tool within the networking industry that helps maintain Cisco’s dominance.

A lesser-known example, but equally as effective, is a company called Celestica. This high-tech manufacturer has built an elegant solution that helps its workforce and customers plan the most effective production plan for high-tech equipment orders. Through its site, Celestica communicates across its global network of manufacturing facilities to determine capacity constraints and resource availability. This enables Celestica’s production planners (real people) to collaborate and map the optimal production and distribution schedule for Celestica’s customers.

These examples capture what I believe is the essence of B2B e-commerce – using technology to improve the human relationships of business.

So what can you do to achieve people-centered solutions?

For starters, listen to the people you work with. Your customers, employees, suppliers, and partners are often your best source for crafting e-business strategies. Instead of building an e-procurement system in a vacuum, leverage the experience your company has working with its most important suppliers and vendors. Collaborate to develop solutions that will help purchasing agents and order-management personnel do their jobs more effectively.

Next, achieve consensus with your employees. B2B system users are front-line employees – real people with day-to-day insight as to what works and what needs improvement. Co-opting the knowledge of your workforce will ensure faster adoption of any B2B solutions and long-term success.

Think customer retention. Challenge your company to develop solutions that will maintain and maximize the value of existing customer relationships. This should be your most important driver in any B2B endeavor.

Work with your existing customers to develop solutions that benefit both parties. Ask the very basic question: Is this effort going to improve how we work together? Or, what can we develop using Internet technology to improve our business relationship? How can we increase our effectiveness? Or, more tactically, how can we lower the cost of doing business together?

As you enter the technical implementation phase of your B2B project, leverage legacy systems and your trading partners’ systems to support your business objectives. It’s often a less risky proposition to take advantage of existing infrastructure to support new relationship models or channels.

Internet-based relationships are a continual work in progress that requires constant iteration and improvement based on user (human) feedback. Simply stated, e-business is not a solution; it’s a way of life.

This humanist approach to solving e-business challenges offers the most effective means of achieving clarity around how your company can leverage the Internet.

Instead of trying to follow the mass appeal of the “New New Thing,” step back and ask: Will this help improve the human interactions that are most important to my business?

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