E-business leaders must weather new challenges

We are probably only in the fifth year of a three-decade-long journey on which Internet technology and e-Business will ultimately take us, according to Robert LeBlanc.

“Just when we thought we were just starting to catch up, the pace is going to accelerate,” said LeBlanc, general manager of strategy and solutions with IBM’s software group in Somers, N.Y.

In a keynote address given at DataMirror Corp.’s Transcend 2000 user conference in Orlando, Fla., LeBlanc said that in the beginning days of the Internet, e-business meant just taking what was in IT systems and expanding it with a set of standards like TCP/IP and HTML.

“In the early days, we just kind of married those two technologies together and came up with a whole new set of capabilities that allowed us to publish information out to various people in our organization with suppliers and buyers and with other organizations – maybe even some of our competitors,” LeBlanc said.

“Most of the early Web sites, and still a lot of the Web sites today, are just about copying information. Let me put out my product brochure, marketing information on the Web and therefore people will know who I am, what I am about and what products or services I have.”

LeBlanc said most people are now starting to move in to what many consider to be real e-business, and that’s a lot of dynamic information.

“There was a big wave of people going on-line and starting to sell product between businesses and consumers. The next wave we’ve seen is business-to-business. There, the dynamics start to change dramatically.”

People are now finding they need to adapt their processes to suit e-business, he said. “Most of them are taking the word and answer process and the inventory process and they’re starting to stitch these things together in a very loose fashion. With the next generation of e-business, you’re going to have to not only integrate your processes, but you’re going to have to redefine them,” LeBlanc said.

LeBlanc noted that most people are in the middle phase, and some are now starting to push out into the phase of totally redefining their business.

“There are very few industries that will not be affected.”

the early days and now

Previously, according to LeBlanc, most companies started up an Internet group.

“All they did was put up their Web pages. They were very good at graphics and design. They were totally separate from the IT organizations in a lot of cases,” LeBlanc said. “Then we said ‘Wow! Look at the power, look at the changes that are going on.’ Now we’ve got to take these Web applications and we’ve got to start to stick them together with our inventory systems that are running the businesses today.”

This is what LeBlanc refers to as integration, which usually happens at three levels: data, applications and knowledge management.

“How do I get my order management system to talk to my inventory management system so that I can build an application that presents itself to an end user in real time and real data?”

looking to the future

According to LeBlanc, there are three “I words” that are going to define how one can play in the future: innovation, integration and infrastructure.

What is driving innovation is the explosion of transactions, he said.

“There are more users out there. There are more devices and there are more and more B2B marketplaces happening every day. The ability for you to do intelligent commerce is to understand your business, to understand your buyers and to customize products and services to them in almost real time.”

According to LeBlanc, if you don’t know how to integrate systems, a lot of the innovation is not going to happen.

“You can’t really be a true e-business if all you’re doing is putting up a Web site and taking orders on the Web. The real challenge is going to be one of integration. How do I use all of that information as it flows through my business to change products, to get new customers and to build loyalty?” he challenged.

“If we’re in year five of a 30-year journey, you’ve gotta make sure you’re making decisions today that you’re not going to revisit in a year from now or five years from now.”

LeBlanc said that of the top 50 businesses in 1945, there isn’t one that’s in the top 50 today.

“If you’re a leader in your industry today, chances are you will not be a leader in your industry tomorrow. If you stand still, somebody else will take business away from you.”