Roland Hanbury, Rubus
With revenues falling in almost every sector it is vital to hold on to your customers, and to minimise the costs of servicing them. There is no more sure way of losing a customer than failing to deliver what you have promised, so blind headcount cuts are generally a bad idea. Fortunately, e-business is a useful tool for cutting costs and improving back-office efficiency.
Where to focus depends on your industry. For example, manufacturing businesses could look to e-procurement, media companies to content management, service companies to adopting e-collaboration systems. Equally, almost every organisation can benefit from moving customer support to online self-service, simply because Web sites are cheaper than call centres.
Focus on which processes have the biggest impact on the customer, and/or the highest costs. As an example, the highest impact process for telecoms companies is probably provisioning. This requires a complex information flow across multiple departments and subcontracting companies, and is usually handled by a mixture of incompatible legacy systems and a vast overhead of phone calls, faxes and emails. Although not trivial, installing a common, flexible "workspace" where everyone shares information about each job over an Extranet can result in startling cost savings and improvements in customer satisfaction/retention.
E-business is just business as usual - more valuable, but less visible.
Peter Boggis, Concours Group
One of the greatest challenges in the current economic env-ironment - particularly as analysts have stopped asking about e-business initiatives - is for the CEO to maintain a healthy perspective on their organisation's e-business investment priorities.
While the potential for economic downturn can't be ignored, a short-term focus to improve efficiency and reduce cost may position the organisation such that it cannot compete effectively in the longer term.
Certainly, the changing economic climate provides an imperative to ensure that e-business is focused not only on efficiency improvement, but also on opportunities to secure new sources of value. In the longer term, e-business initiatives must be targeted at achieving innovation in corporate business processes.
Seasoned organisations will be used to viewing e-business investment as a portfolio of initiatives, where the priorities change depending on prevailing economic circumstances.
The risk is for the CEO to believe that e-business is now someone else's problem and doesn't require the attention of the executive team. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Roger Till, E-Centre
Intra-company e-business projects are likely to be more difficult to justify given the gloom currently associated with technology. Internal cost-control programmes are likely to be a stronger focus in the immediate future. However the benefits of intra-company process improvements are real and collaborative applications will make increasing demands on internal systems in the future. So when planning projects to control internal costs, keep in mind that these systems are increasingly likely to impact the rest of your supply chain. Anything that makes it easier to integrate these systems with your business partners is likely to save time and money. Where possible plug into open international standards, build an ongoing relationship with your peers and business partners and where possible keep your general strategies aligned. Then when e-business, netmarkets and collaborative systems are again high on your CEO's priorty you will be ready to move.
Charles Lowe, BT Stepchange
The new communications technologies that make e-business possible are channels. And there are two key features of a new channel that always apply: it increases costs and it only provides benefit if you change the way you work.
In the rush to embrace the e-everything craze, many organisations forgot these facts and simply added one or more e-business channels to their existing sets and then they were surprised when costs went up. Now that reality has reasserted itself, the rush is on to achieve maximum benefit from e-business - examples include:
- Reduce the total channel set - it takes time to switch a significant number of customers to the Internet; it is often much easier to move your organisation to use your intranet for internal communication and process operation.
- Use new technology to join up internal departments - or external partners. That can save money in cost, and create extra revenue through faster response and new product possibilities.
- Integrate the channels - turn your call centre into a 'contact centre' that can handle email and web enquiries as well as phone calls.
- Use the catalyst - plan implementation well and you will find that the planning process itself identifies all sorts of things you are doing inefficiently at present.
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Each month E-Business Review prints a problem submitted by readers. Our panel of experts draws on their specialist knowledge to explain how best to solve it.
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Our panel of experts
This month's replies were drawn from:
- Roland Hanbury of e-business consultancy Rubus
- Martin Butler of analyst Butler Group
- Simon Brooks of consultancy AMS
- Ken Olisa, venture marketing firm, Interregnum
- Roger Till, e-business user group, eCentre UK
- Nick Maxwell from e-business consultancy Quidnunc
- David Grimshaw, Cranfield School of Management
- Peter De Groot, Accenture
- Neil Barrett from IT security consultancy IRM
- Charles Lowe, BT Stepchange
- Peter Boggis, Concours Group