Take a look around today.
The e-business initiatives that your friends and fellow businesses are engaging in today aren’t your
dad’s e-business deals. No, today’s online strategies have grown complex, deeply imbedded in
business logic and increasingly more expensive.
What happened to the idea of a simple Web site? What happened to that fancy online brochure? Why is
everything so hard these days, and why on Earth is it so dang expensive?
The easy answer to this question is, “If it doesn’t pay, it doesn’t stay.”
But for the purposes of this article I want to briefly explore how we’ve come full circle in our search for
the ever-elusive Internet ROI.
Evolution of e-business strategy
In the early days of the Web companies were scrambling to stake a claim online. Any claim! Most were
doing this by way of online brochures — fancy marketing gimmicks that acted as billboards,
placeholders or trashy roadside ads along the illustrious “Information Superhighway.”
From 1996 to 1999 this claim staking activity dominated much of e-business thinking. Kevin Costner’s
classic line had gotten into too many people’s brains during these days. The old “build it and they will
come” mentality was far from the truth.
Don’t get me wrong, these were heady days. It was fun being online during these times, you had
nothing to lose, except enormous marketing budgets. Companies were spending between $5,000 and
$500,000 building online brochureware. ROI was virtually non-existent.
These dollars were all sacrificed in the name of innovation — “We’re now online” rang proudly down
the halls of major corporations worldwide.
But, the American business machine is smarter than we often think. By early 1998 there was a new vein
of e-business thought emerging from the trenches. These new trends were evolving behind the scenes in
corporate IT departments, in small, aggressive upstart companies and in basements and garages of
programming shops everywhere.
The movement represented the first breed of Web initiatives we call “interaction.” This was the first
attempt to take the Web past its early glitz and into a true business dynamic.
During the period from 1997-2000, we see the emergence of the Intranet, advanced hyper-linking and
document sharing online, personalization features and hyper-search functionality. The Web suddenly
began taking on serious business traits, and the American workforce began to visualize and ponder the
Web in a whole new way.
If the early business mantra was “We’re now online,” it was quickly being supplanted by a new battle
cry, “How can we work the Web for business profit?”
ROI was now squarely in the equation again.
Birth of the T-apps
So, where are we now? The period that started as early as 1998 and extends through 2005 will be
marked by a new breed of e-business strategy. I like to refer to this period as the birth of the T-apps.
In this case “T” stands for “transactional” and “transformational” business applications. And while
things like e-commerce, ERP integration, customer self-service applications, CRM and sales channel
optimization are all uniquely part of this period, the bottom line to this is about business re-engineering
for faster ROI.
Now, there are several important aspects to this new period that are worth examination. Two things
stand out. First, this new breed of e-business applications has taken on a new level of complexity.
Let’s face it, “it ain’t easy” getting 12 different business systems to sing and dance in a corporate
extranet so your vendors can push inventory demands down your sales channel faster.
But, it pays! That’s the second part of all this.
While these applications have grown more complex in nature, and while they are more expensive to
deploy and maintain, they are also paying for themselves. Companies are able to track and realize both
soft and hard dollar savings and efficiencies through the deployment of T-apps.
Measuring real impact:
Where’s the ROI?
So where does that leave us? Where is the elusive Internet ROI?
As a builder of e-business applications, I can tell you for certain that Internet ROI is alive and well
today. It’s in every single client meeting we attend. It’s in every quarterly application review we write.
It’s in the forefront of every decision to enhance or extend an existing application for a business.
So, while Internet ROI was lost in the early fog and hype of online marketing, today it is alive and
kicking in a familiar place — the metrics of increasing business value.
John Spivey is the founder and CEO of Vention, a provider of advanced technology solutions for
business, based in Jackson.