Customer connection: Networks will define relationships

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Published: August 30,1999

“The companies that are not looking to do business through the Internet are probably not going to make it beyond the year 2001, 2002.” Todd Gooden, president of Integrated Network Solutions, believes that networks — whether they are Internet-type networks, or intranets, networks within a company — will define the way businesses communicate.

“People are really starting to use the Internet for business purposes. It’s not just ‘Let’s go find out what chat rooms there are’ and that type stuff. It’s becoming more and more of a business tool,” he said. “I think we’re going to see more happen along the lines of Internet-type applications. I think we’re going to see businesses that are adapting their business practices to accept the Internet as a way of doing business. Those businesses are going to be successful,” Gooden said.

Nancy Carrington, director of marketing for Ridgeland-based Business Communications Inc., agreed, but Carrington added that the time for such technology is not years from now. “The technology question with the Internet is not ‘when’ and ‘if’ anymore, it is now. It’s only going to move forward. Traditionally, people think of e-commerce as business to consumer. But the power of the Internet is going to be utilized for business-to-business solutions.”

Carrington describes Business Communications Inc. as an enterprise systems integrator with business partner affiliations strongly tied to Sun Microsystems and Netscape Communications.

Integrated Network Solutions is headquartered in Jackson. Gooden said of his company, “We are a computer network and services company. We can sell hardware, but our focus is on the service side of the business. We service customers that call into our office, and if they’re down, and they have an immediate emergency, we can service them within four hours. Non-emergency customers we can service within 24 hours. We maintain a ratio of three technical engineers to one sales person. We have more technical staff than we have salespeople. Although we can sell hardware, and we can sell software, our focus is on customer service, and that’s the reason we’ve been so successful. We’re right at three years old and we’ll probably do more than $2 million of business this year. We’re looking at 60% of that in services revenue.”

Both firms provide goods and services that are feeding into the e-commerce revolution. For instance, Business Communications Inc. can take advantage of their partnerships to provide customers with software and support for their e-commerce ventures.

Carrington said that although many people associate Netscape with the Internet browser, the company is much more than that. “Netscape not only provides a Web browser, but enterprise software application programs that deal with intranets and extranets, utilizing the Internet or Web performance,” she said. “They did over $600 million last year in software development. Netscape Communications merged with AOL (America Online) in the last few months, and they have formed a strategic business alliance with Sun Microsystems, which currently provides 70% of the hardware platform for e-commerce applications in the world today. Our partner preference gives us the greatest opportunity.”

E-commerce has three chief advantages, according to Carrington: cost, convenience and speed. “Costs are so exorbitant for statement processing, accounting processing, mailing costs, collection costs. All of this is going to be done via the Web. Not just reasonable in cost, but it’s real-time. There’s no delay. You’re going to have the ability to check accounts. Electronic banking — you’re not going to need a check. Everything is encrypted. The opportunity to do business over the Internet is real-time, it’s immediate, there are no shipping costs, there are no traditional manpower costs.”

Gooden sees the same trend among his customers. “It decreases the turnaround time on orders, on shipping, on receiving and increases their bottom line, because they may not have to have as many personnel to do twice the amount of work. They don’t have to always increase personnel to do that same volume of work.”

Carrington admitted that it’s not necessarily cheap to get into e-commerce. “The initial investment is somewhat pricey; however, your standard ROI (return on investment) is recouped within a year’s time.”

She said that she believed that the initial costs will also go down as the technology becomes more prevalent — which is just around the corner, Gooden said.

Very soon, he believes, the Internet will become an indispensable business tool. “As more and more companies adapt to computer networks and Internet access, it becomes so critical to their company, once they get used to using them, it’s like having dial tone on their phone, they’ve got to have it. If you’re doing business, using e-mail, and they can’t get their e-mail, it’s kind of like not having a dial tone when they pick up the phone. It actually cripples their business. It’s that scenario, when they give us a call, that’s the reason we feel the need to have more than enough technical staff that we can respond quickly. In some cases, it may be costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars for every hour that they’re out of business.”

Carrington believes that because of the speed and the ease at which the technology for doing business over the Internet can be disseminated, e-commerce will be spread faster than other technological advances to commerce.

A good example of this, she said, is the pervasiveness with which smaller businesses have had to become Y2K compliant. “There’s been a lot of media pressure on Y2K. The smaller businesses are being forced into opportunities where they might not have been, initially. There is a segment in the Albertson’s grocery store Web site, that if their suppliers are not Y2K compliant, they will pay a penalty. It’s not going to be a matter of choice. It’s not going to be a matter of ‘when the technology catches on.’ The technology has already caught on. It is now.”

To Gooden, the improved communication between businesses means a faster, more accurate order for the e-consumer. “More and more companies are starting to interface using the Internet with their customers and vendors. We work with several companies today that sell parts, anything from heavy equipment parts to tractor-trailer type parts. In their industry, customers can log onto the Web and compare prices among their distributors. Maybe they’re a wholesaler and the companies they’re selling to can buy and draw that ordering through the Web.”

Just as a few years ago such a phenomenal change in business practices could not have been predicted, it is difficult to prophesy what conducting business will be like beyond a few years from now. However, it is likely that e-commerce will be the standard for the next few years at least.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Kim M. Campbell at kim@datasync.com or mbj@msbusiness.com.

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