Strategy clinics: A positive attitude to e-business

Q: I am a board member of an SME and have been asked to review our e-business activities in the light of the current slowdown. I...

Q: I am a board member of an SME and have been asked to review our e-business activities in the light of the current slowdown. I am trying to take a positive attitude, but I have read that, to many, 'e-business' has simply become 'business' - though for us, I'm sure that is not yet the case. How can we rein in costs, but retain the enthusiasm of those within our company who have been pushing Internet-based business activities?

Peter Boggis, Concours Group
I'm not sure that there are many significant differences between what large companies and SMEs are going through. The context in which we are operating and executing e-business strategies has shifted - from the frenetic dash for IPOs to an internal productivity focus. All initiatives - not just e-business - must contribute to growth, productivity or connectivity. What is happening right now is that the focus is shifting more to productivity and therefore the balance of the e-business portfolio needs to be weighted towards productivity and bottom-line improvements. Here are a few guidelines:

  • Inventory your e-business portfolio and figure out where the weightings are between growth, connectivity and productivity.

  • Decide how the portfolio needs to be re-balanced or re-weighted in favour of productivity. Ruthlessly cull or re-orientate others.

  • Communicate the context shift and the corresponding re-balancing of the portfolio.

  • Ensure that your e-business - and change portfolio overall - is aligned with the changing business context and focused on the outcomes that need to be achieved.

Roger Till, E-Centre
Avoid consumer-oriented Internet activity, which almost always requires substantial development/marketing and promotional expenses. Concentrate on improving links with your business partners, incorporating international standards where available. This has the double benefit of improving co-operation and also offering potential cost reductions.

Observe what the bigger players in your industry are doing. This will give you a good idea of the likely e-business trends that will emerge in your sector, for example the global commerce initiative (which represents the world's largest FMCG manufacturers and retailers) recently announced its commitment to the EAN.UCC standards on XML.

Internally, work on your infrastructure so that any Internet activity fully integrates with your existing business processes.

Another way to score points over competitors is to demonstrate that you operate best practices in all your Web-based activities, particularly with regards to data protection and online security.

Don't invest in expensive proprietary solutions that could lock you into a system that none of your other trading partners use. If in doubt, consult with the relevant trade and standards bodies such as e.centre, UK Partners for E-business, Business Links and UK Online for Business.

Roland Hanbury, Rubus
"Now is a great time for SMEs to be getting involved with e-business. Internet uptake and usage continues to grow strongly, but competition among service providers has driven costs down. Everybody reading this magazine will presumably by now have at least a basic informational site with an enquiry form. (If not, find someone to spend a day or two with FrontPage to build a simple site and use any of the numerous Web hosting services.) The next thing is to get your staff connected - a shared ADSL line into the office from £40/month is by no means ruinous, and ASPs will now offer email management on your domain name at very reasonable rates.

Beyond that, consider what would add value to your business and shop around for a low-cost way of getting started. If you are a retailer, consider shopping portals like Indigo Square or shared services like NTL's shopbuilder. If you are a service provider, how about using Lotus Domino to create an extranet for your clients to check progress on their work?

Finally, consider co-operating with a small number of suppliers or competitors to create something that steals a march on your industry - the Fish4 series of sites created by a group of regional newspapers is a good example.

Mike Pomerance, IBM
In the current environment, organisations should rev-iew how their processes and systems work and how these can be enabled for e-business. Understand how your partners and customers work and what they need to make it easier to do business with you. Review your core business applications, processes and information needs and see which processes can be integrated into an e-business architecture that supports your business needs and those of your partners and customers.

Look for the leverage points where integrating processes, applications and information can provide return on investment. Reduce costs by being more effective in running your business, letting your processes support you rather than being an overhead. Gain competitive advantage by integrating the necessary processes and applications into a secure online environment, ensuring that it is easier for you and your partners and customers to do business. Leverage available information, internally and externally, actively managing and utilising your company knowledge assets in combination with access to and from your industry, partners and customers' assets where it is appropriate. Finally, move to an online position.

Our panel of experts
1. Roland Hanbury of e-business consultancy Rubus
2. Roger Till, e-business user group, eCentre UK
3. Nick Maxwell, e-business consultancy Quidnunc
4. David Grimshaw, Cranfield School of Management
5. Neil Barrett, IT security consultancy IRM
6. Peter Boggis, Concours Group
7. Kevin Malone, IBM
8. Charles Lowe, independent consultant
9. Mike Pomerance, IBM global services, northern region

How it works
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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