Extolling the virtues of e-commerce

When Paul Donovan met IT directors from different industries he found that getting the message of e-commerce across to the board...

When Paul Donovan met IT directors from different industries he found that getting the message of e-commerce across to the board was on everyone's mind

How do we convince the board of the value of e-commerce as a channel to market and for making savings within the business? This was the question everybody was asking at last week's Harvey Nash Business Breakfast Meeting in London.

The 11 IT directors present - representing construction, the oil industry, publishing, retail, waste management and the aid sector - regarded the advent of e-business as a massive opportunity for IT to increase its status within the business.

"IT has been regarded simply as an overhead cost in the past, but that attitude is now changing with the possibility of it becoming a profit centre," said one participant.

But the difficulty of getting this message across to resistant board members was keenly felt.

A number of participants felt that the culture of the boardroom often creates reluctance on the part of individuals to admit their ignorance of the new economy. Presentations and personal initiation about how e-business works were cited as worthwhile ways to try and fill this vacuum.

But, the direct approach was seen as best, with practical introductions to e-business achieving results with resistant board members.

One participant recounted the example of a company director introduced to William Hill online betting. "The betting option was a real winner given the convenience and lack of tax attached to gambling online," said the participant.

Getting to company directors through their wives was another method. One company targeted their wives for Internet training as a way of nudging board members up the learning curve (the majority of breakfast participants were men).

Beyond the participants' own companies there was a need felt to spread the virtues of e-commerce to the wider marketplace.

One participant underlined the need to create markets and make others aware of the options that e-business offers especially in sectors such as construction.

"We need to create the market and spread the culture that this is a good way to do business," he said.

Retaining a smaller number of key staff was another major challenge felt by the IT directors present at the breakfast.

To help overcome the problem one participant ran his own incentive scheme involving holidays and bonuses run distinctly from the human resources department of the company.

Maintaining a combination of constant training and incentives was also seen as a successful way of retaining valuable staff.

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