Don't marginalise e-ideas

While some companies are viewing e-business as a mysterious new technology, others, led by General Electric, are recognising it as simply a new medium for business success

David Bicknell


While some companies are viewing e-business as a mysterious new technology, others, led by General Electric, are recognising it as simply a new medium for business success

There are a handful of global corporations that understand that e-business has become the business.

Not for them the e-units, e-divisions and special projects adopted in other organisations. Instead, e-business pervades every pore of the organisation, every process, every employee, supplier and customer.

Some bricks and mortar companies, such as General Electric (GE) and Unilever, understand it and do it. Others, actually those less advanced, just talk about it.

GE is the role model that most should aspire to. Led by its chief executive, Jack Welch, who, at an advanced age, could be forgiven for shunning such a technological and business change, GE has fundamentally embraced it.

Welch even led the effort. He decreed that the country's top 600 managers should understand e-business, and put in a mentoring programme under which each of those 600 managers has to have a younger "buddy" to teach them about the Net. It is a two-way process. Those who are doing the Net teaching get to pick up what's happening in "the business".

In fact, according to GE insiders, if you were a fly on the wall at a GE meeting, you would be hard pushed to be able to pick out the marketeers from the ITers or the managers.

The GE philosophy towards e-business embraces ideas. Far from having an idea but not raising it because it might get laughed down, GE's culture actively embraces new thinking.

Welch says, "There is no time for lengthy evaluations of Internet opportunities. We have to pounce - every day."

To facilitate best practice, GE even has a European e-commerce committee that meets regularly to discuss developments in individual countries. It is led by Craig Arnold, head of GE's Lighting Division in the UK, who admits that he regularly goes to meetings wondering what new idea could possibly come out of them that hasn't already been done, and returns with 10 new ideas that need to be considered.

Another Welch-ism is the suggestion that anyone within GE who doesn't embrace the Net should probably move elsewhere. "Any company - old or new - that does not see this technology as important as breathing could be on its last breath."

When you have top-down executive support like that, coming up with new ideas - and seeing them implemented - becomes comparatively easy.

So, what are GE's success pointers? The following 10 steps emerged from GE Aircraft Engines' delivery of a business-to-business e-commerce site in three months to a clear corporate mandate, with aggressive leadership and customer input.

  • Have a powerful, committed business champion

  • Involve customers throughout the effort

  • Get top-down support

  • Create a neutral electronic environment

  • Don't wait until everything is perfect. Just begin

  • Establish "stretch" goals. Be ambitious

  • Get business user buy-in and participation

  • Find suppliers whose commitment matches your own

  • Cut the red tape. Stop at nothing

  • Follow up with customers after launch.

    The irony is that there is nothing here that is difficult to understand, or hard to implement. The maxim may just be that the best e-companies understand the simple things, and deliver them. GE is certainly one of the leaders that others should aspire to.

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