E-business awards: SME award



The live wires of the Internet

The three companies that have made it to the shortlist in the SME E-Business Award are shining examples of...



The live wires of the Internet

The three companies that have made it to the shortlist in the SME E-Business Award are shining examples of innovation in an established organisation with less than 500 employees. We put them under the spotlight.

TimberWeb

Since 1996, KDM International, a UK-based timber trading company, has been exploring the possibilities of the Internet. It was then that it set up its first Web site. It quickly became clear to the company that the Internet was the tool that would open up genuinely global markets in this sector but, unless it was embraced, it would also threaten organisations that acted as intermediaries. To thwart the threat, and steal a march on the competition, Timber-Web was launched in 1997 as the world's first business-to-business marketplace for the industry.

The innovative part of the marketplace is the trading platform, eTrader, launched February 2000. It creates a user-friendly, secure business environment that provides transparency and independence for buyers and sellers, offering businesses a single-point, flexible and cost-effect means of trading. Innovative features include the use of fuzzy logic in the timber trading knowledge database to ease use for customers.

The site has more than 1.2 million hits a month, growing at 30% since January this year. This volume of traffic is reflected in the investment the site has absorbed, which is more than £1m, and the number of partners that work to guarantee everything from security to fulfilment.

The site is now in touch with more than 200,000 organisations trading in timber. It has secured KDM's global presence with customers in 50 countries. But more significantly, it has moved what was traditionally a fragmented industry forward as a whole by introducing the disciplines and benefits of an online supply chain. Initial Public Offering funding for TimberWeb is not far off, which is a good indication of success.

Sponsor comment

This is a very interesting use of the Internet, and is one that highlights how a traditional industry can transform itself through applying modern technology. The rate of growth of TimberWeb is incredible, which demonstrates how this particular industry was waiting for an innovation such as the Internet. The site itself is attractive and easy to navigate. Just a few clicks can translate the content to one of 14 languages - a function that is essential in this truly international marketplace. The added extras such as the currency converter and industry news section are informative devices, and provide users with an additional excuse to go to this site.

Lewis Live

Conference and live event management is a business that thrives on communication. Lewis Live is learning fast to capitalise on the potential of the Internet for new ways of speaking to customers. Its service, Communicating-Live, is used to broadcast conferences and events live over the Internet, on demand.

Various organisations from the private and public sectors, including the DTI and the Medical Research Council, are using the service to reach wider audiences. Delegates no longer need to miss out on an event simply because they cannot be physically present. 'Wizards' guide even the most Web-phobic individual through the set-up procedure. Once online, the conference experience can be accurately relayed, with users able to see the graphics from presentations and news from the conference as a whole, as well as the video and sound that would be expected.

The service, which has been live since March 2000, has stimulated a great deal of interest among clients and has also opened up many new sales opportunities. It provides the company with a competitive edge, demonstrating that Lewis Live is at the cutting edge of e-business with a service that is practical, relevant and accessible.

Set-up costs were around £100,000 and security is provided by the ISP and system development partners. The site has been designed with an eye to the future, keeping it flexible and ready for growth. The firm believes that Communicating-Live demonstrates that even a small business with a good idea can make an impact in a competitive market.

Sponsor comment

We have been told that the Internet will revolutionise communication and this is an innovative example of how it is happening. For many people the loss of work hours through travelling to, and spending a whole day at a conference outweighs the benefits the day's presentations might deliver. Through Lewis Live, business people can get all the information they need in real-time with minimal disruption to their day. The additional design and development services they offer to companies mean they can present this information in as entertaining way as possible, making full use of the latest animations and graphics. LewisLive's own Web site is also a superb introduction to the company - it is sharp, simple and straightforward to use.

Orion Holidays

If a weekend in a self-catering lodge by a lake in the Cotswolds sounds good, Orion Holidays' Web site would be worth a visit. There, since March 2000, this small business can tell you more.

The company's traditional means of marketing holidays is via a costly, printed brochure. Time also has to be spent answering queries and completing bookings over the telephone. Though they are necessary for the time being, these older processes look increasing inefficient when they are compared to the online operation. What is more, the Web site has not cannibalised existing business, but has increased it by 15%, notably in overseas markets.

The costs of setting up the site were incredibly small. Origin Holidays uses the Virginbiz service to secure the site itself and, in due course, will use this service to receive payments. Simple navigation was the imperative behind the design of the site, in the belief that customers want information fast, not fancy.

The Web site is advertised in the national press and there is a direct correlation between the appearance of an advertisement and the number of hits on the site, typically about 300 per week. This compares with an expected 70 calls a week that the company received before developing the e-commerce facility. However, there is some concern that conversion rates from Web site leads are low because customers are not spoken with directly.

Orion Holidays believes that the success of its site demonstrates that e-commerce represents a source of growth that many 'ordinary' businesses can tap, and at minimal cost.

Sponsor comment

What a good, solid example of the Internet enabling a company to reach out to a wider market while at the same time cutting down on its overheads. This easily navigable site cuts out the wastage involved in sending out glossy brochures to even the most casual of enquiries. Its uncluttered design ensures that visitors can find the information they require at speed and, for those who find the holiday of their dreams, provision has been made for booking without ever having called the company phoneline. Once online payment capabilities are added, this will be a true one-stop-shop.

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