Lapping rivals in the e-race

Competitors on the first lap of the e-business steeplechase are looking to progress

Competitors on the first lap of the e-business steeplechase are looking to progress

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Following the demise of dotcoms, and the subsequent lessening of pressure on bricks-and-mortar companies to get their e-commerce houses in order, traditional companies can now start building on the success of 2000 and considering what they need to do to ensure they move from lap one to lap two of the e-business race, or from two to three.

Most organisations are on lap one, with the leaders on lap two or early lap three, but no-one is advanced enough to be on lap four.

So, how do you move on a lap, assuming you have had a Web site for a couple of years, you have an e-business strategy in place, and there is an implementation team?

One e-business manager for a top City of London firm said the concerns and challenges facing him were:

  • E-commerce integration with legacy systems. He has a perpetual fight for resources to develop and enhance legacy systems to develop e-commerce advantage. Priority is normally given to traditional business drivers and to legislative and regulatory driven changes

  • Getting the business to turn its attention to thinking beyond dotcom and Web considerations, ie driving out and widening to other platforms, interactive TV and mobile devices

  • The needs these impose on the content thinking. Legacy systems gather data for what was needed five to 10 years ago. Given the need for integration with legacy systems, how does he turn the thinking to the future?

    Gary Constable, research director for e-consultancy Headstrong, suggests the issues facing advanced e-business practitioners may be related to the way their data operations are organised.

    He warns that in many companies, including those in the financial services sector, data operations are farmed out to separate organisations with which the main company has a relationship. Ideally, the main company might want the external companies to share data with each other. But in many cases, those organisations do not want to work together, passing information around each other in a pattern that embraces the core business. It is advanced structural issues like this - business dependent issues - that those responsible for e-business are going to have to tackle in the future.

    The basics still apply, however. One issue Andrew Harber, chief information officer at Superdrug, and his integration partner Northgate say is top of their agenda is ensuring the site is always available, whatever the traffic volumes. Simply managing that is an issue which, even allowing for the need for advanced e-business thinking, will not go away.

    Although many UK companies are still on "lap one", ie revamping their Web site, according to recent research by E-Business Review ( - a sister publication to Computer Weekly - there is no reason to believe they cannot do well in the e-business steeplechase.

    This could be the year that application service provision takes off. But what questions should you ask if you're thinking of going down the application service provider (ASP) route?

    Charles Lowe, of BT Stepchange, suggests asking:

    Is it worth it?

    For a full picture of cost savings users must understand the full cost of ownership of their applications. This covers initial development, enhancement and ongoing maintenance.

    Once the current spend has been established it is important to understand the likely expenditure with an ASP. Users should understand how charges are built up and what is likely to happen at the end of a contract.

    Is it safe?

    Security is paramount. As part of an ASP service users want anti-virus innoculations; intrusion detection; access control and authentication services; digital signatures; firewalls; and encryption.

    Is the service provider able to quote guaranteed response times?

    What level of support is provided?

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