Post-millennium, organisations are becoming increasingly reliant on technology and the Internet to advance and enhance many of their business processes, writes Ross Bentley.
Despite the dotcom downturn, e-business seems here to stay. Established, traditional organisations are beginning to realise the potential that this form of business offers.
Research by Roffey Park, a charity which aims to find new ways to help people get the most out of their work and life potential, suggests that while the human implications of e-business transformation are crucial, this is still the area that is most often neglected.
Featuring six organisational case studies, the report illustrates how the Employment Service, Sainsbury's on-line shopping channel, Sainsbury's To You, and an un-named financial organisation have created separate e-business initiatives, while BT, Cable & Wireless and IBM e-enabled and transformed their entire organisations.
Four key areas illustrate some innovative organisational responses to those challenges.
Recruitment and retention is a key issue for traditional organisations entering e-business. Although the loss of confidence and eventual demise of the dotcoms did much to enhance the attractiveness of returning to traditional, secure organisations, such organisations still need to think about how to attract employees who are able to adapt to working in a constantly-changing environment, an uncertain market where work roles often have blurred boundaries.
Sainsbury's To You purposely formed a team, blending people with new Web and marketing skills with those who had worked for Sainsbury's in retail and the supply chain who understood the logistics of the business. The un-named financial organisation created a defined set of behaviours for its new business emphasising innovation and fun, in addition to hard work. It also developed a set of attractive terms and conditions for e-business employees, of which a £3,000 development allowance was particularly welcomed.
Employee buy-in to the concept, values and key objectives of the new business is crucial in order to make it a success. The e-business organisation can only thrive with a motivated and loyal workforce who believe in the organisation and the quality of its products. Once on board, employees are potentially the most effective champions of new products, services and technology across the organisation.
At Cable & Wireless employees are motivated by being part of something new and exciting that has great potential. Employees benefit from working in this kind of environment by learning new skills, gaining experience and working in a setting where change is constant. At BT staff buy-in to new ideas is gained by involving employees in the adoption of new packages and services: at IBM it is sought through "champion users" or cross-representation from the user community.
Strong communication is another vital element of creating a successful e-business organisation. In a business environment that is characterised by uncertainty and constant change, effective communication has to be a constant.
The HR team within the financial e-business initiative assesses internal communications through an annual staff survey. At BT communication levels have also been developed - press announcements are simultaneously published for everyone to see and the online news channel BT Today Newsdesk is continuously updated. This effective communication system enables the leadership team to get clear messages across to staff.
Training and support poses another key challenge. Indeed all organisations need to create a comprehensive programme to support employees through the technological, and cultural changes that accompany the shift to e-business.
Several of the case study organisations have provided employees with crucially important technological support. BT has created a development and training portal (the BT Academy) to improve employee skills.
At IBM the collaborative computing team runs a series of events to illustrate how people can make the best use of technology in the business environment.
Culture change training is also vital to e-business transformation. Cable & Wireless is engaged in development and training around cultural difference, culture change, managing change and managing cross-global boundaries and has developed a comprehensive series of internal and external programmes to tackle such issues.
Sainsbury's To You has run courses for its staff about working in teams and across functions to bring its people up to speed on what is required to make a modern e-business successful.
Clearly, there are challenges in working in e-business. However, a recurring theme through all of the case studies is the challenge of getting the people bit right.
Human issues permeate all of the key issues and must be made a priority throughout and after the e-business implementation process.