Positive thinking...

E-business success may have been thwarted by the market's recent downturn, but the E-business Expo survey reveals that firms are...

E-business success may have been thwarted by the market's recent downturn, but the E-business Expo survey reveals that firms are confident they will overcome the barriers. Karl Cushing reports

As part of the E-Business Expo, which took place at Earls Court, London, this week, we asked to hear from companies that had made e-business work for them and exploited best practice to boost return on investment. Ninety-five companies of various sizes and industry sectors responded.

Overall, the mood of the respondents is upbeat and optimistic. Even bearing in mind that the appeal asked for e-success stories, the response was heartening. Nearly half of the companies which took part feel their attitude towards e-business is "pioneering" and they lead rather than follow the herd.

Looking to the future, most companies are confident their e-business projects will survive the trials and tribulations of the coming year. Just five of the 95 companies feel their projects will be cancelled. In contrast, two-thirds of respondents are either definite (100% certain) or pretty confident (75% sure) their projects will survive the year.

The spirit of the time, however, is perhaps best summed up when the companies are asked to describe their experience of working in e-business. While the most popular choice is "exciting", the second most popular response is "frustrating". But with "rewarding" and "inspiring" as third and fifth respectively, the overall feeling is positive.

The range of applications that companies have either implemented or plan to implement in the next 12 months is also encouraging. Although online marketing, customer relationship management (CRM) software and corporate intranets are the predictable frontrunners, this is only part of the story. A third of the respondents have initiated e-procurement projects and more than 20% have experience of using Web stores, collaborative working, mobile commerce or supply chain management.

But it is not all good news. The survey looks at the barriers companies have had to overcome to make e-business projects work. First for the majority of companies taking part are financial concerns. Lack of money is cited as the major obstacle to companies' e-business plans, closely followed by the difficulty in proving a return on investment. Coming up next is a problem that has faced many e-business pioneers - lack of demand from suppliers and customers.

It would appear that a lot of companies still aren't on-board the e-business bus and there is a lot of work to do before the medium is universally accepted and used. Having an all-singing, all-dancing e-commerce enterprise is not going to help your business if no-one is using it and all of your suppliers want to communicate with you using phone and fax.

But despite all the hype that surrounds the issue of security in e-business, security concerns only rank sixth on the list. Another trend in IT that is not felt to be much of a problem is a lack of appropriate skills.

Some trends are highlighted in the report's findings, such as the increasing problem of companies being befuddled and bewildered by the mystifying effects of IT jargon and neologisms. Although most respondents are familiar with the ubiquitous CRM, ADSL (asynchronous digital subscriber line) and IP (Internet protocol), relative newcomers like EAI (enterprise application integration) were less well known. And other TLAs (three-letter acronyms) like WAI (Web accessibility initiative), SCM (supply chain management) and EJB (enterprise Java Beans) were even less well known than the e-envoy.

The elusive Andrew Pinder is recognised by fewer than half of the respondents as the man in the Government's e-business hot-seat. But a third of respondents admit they don't know who the e-envoy is, 11% plump for former Oftel head Don Cruickshank, 4% select omnipresent Virgin boss Richard Branson and 5% opt for World-Wide Web pioneer, Tim Berners-Lee. A bit of wish fulfilment here, perhaps?

So, it's not all doom and gloom. Despite the subdued environment and the need for companies to justify investment on the bottom line, the pioneering spirit is alive and well and e-business looks set to play an important role in the year ahead.

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