Kids are the key to e-business

Attention business owners and managers – the key to success in e-business may be a lot closer to home than you think, according to an IBM executive.

John Patrick, vice-president of Internet technology at IBM Corp., told an audience of about 1,000 business people attending an IBM-sponsored seminar in Toronto on Thursday that it may be time to quit looking far and wide for e-business strategy advice and start looking to their own kids.

Patrick said today’s youth are a good gauge in judging a business’ e-success. Even more important is the fact that just under 90 per cent of surveyed youth use e-mail as their primary communications tool, meaning that what kids think of a company’s e-strategy will matter even more when they grow up.

“Our children are the ones who decide what technology comes into the home,” Patrick explained. “We could learn a lot by what they do when they get off the bus from school.”

Patrick, whose presentation was titled Be Ready Today for Tomorrow, discussed the potential of the Internet, its opportunities and limitations, and what happens to businesses that refuse to get onboard.

“E-business is becoming effective now,” he said after his presentation. “We just have a long way to go. Kids hold a lot of the clues for what people can expect, because they grew up in an interactive environment. Computers to them are just natural, so a lot of things that some of us may feel is a bit different, well they don’t think it’s different at all and they expect it.”

Ed Kilroy, president of Markham, Ont.-based IBM Canada Ltd., agreed with Patrick and added that it is promising that most businesses are at least in some stage of developing a strategy for the Internet.

“One of the questions we still get asked is if the e-business revolution is over, and we say absolutely not and, in fact, it’s just in its early infancy stages,” he said.

Kilroy added that IBM has recently asked 33,000 firms around the world where they were from an e-business standpoint. “What they told us was that 85 per cent of the firms we talked to, large, medium or small, in Asia, Europe or North America, are in the first three stages.”

Kilroy said that when IBM first deployed the Web site for the Sydney Olympics, he expected about three billion hits. Moving closer to the actual event, IBM upped the prediction to about four and a half billion hits. During the event, people found the Web site more than 11 billion times over a two-week period. That, said Kilroy, is the perfect example of the “new landscape” of the Internet.

“That is infrastructure and that is connecting the pieces together to have scalability and availability,” he said. “You need to sit down as one of the leaders in your organization and look inside the company and find out if you have a strategy that makes sense in the market that you are playing in today.”

After integrating, businesses must rise to the new challenge to make their e-business more than just “click here to buy,” Patrick said.

But Alex Ferworn, a computer science professor at Ryerson Polytechnic University in Toronto, said he thinks many businesses are doing just fine with their e-business strategies.

“The idea is to have as much access as possible. The wrong idea would be to become completely Web-based. If you go to some teen sites, you will find that it is graphically heavy. That’s fine if you are in the visual world, but I am trying to complete a transaction and I don’t care what the site looks like if you are a bank.”

What’s more, Ferworn said that it is best if businesses are honest about their business hours and when, realistically, the business is likely to respond to queries. After all, he concluded, it is all about finding when and where you are going to get service.

“I don’t go to Web sites for their colour,” Ferworn said. “I’m not a monkey.”

IBM Canada in Markham is at

Ryerson University in Toronto is at