Thinking About e-Bus

Recognizing that there is a hard/soft balance and maintaining that balance will be key to e-business success.

E-business causes dislocating changes

I’ve been thinking about e-business a lot lately, which makes sense as I’m in the middle of designing the post-graduate program to be offered by Seneca College’s Internet Commerce & Technology Institute, where I am director.

It should be clear that e-business is about more than just the new technologies that will be used in the pursuit of business. Yes, a number of new technologies will be required. Yes, these new technologies will demand new approaches to how electronic business services are developed, operated and maintained.

But the deeper reality is that e-business is changing markets and changing what is valued by market participants. The fundamentals for businesses of all types are being forced to undergo wrenching change. The comfortable old patterns are being overturned. Protected markets are disappearing and new markets are opening.

This line of thinking leads me to view e-business from four different perspectives. Each perspective reveals a different facet or aspect of the complex reality. Together, they provide a coverage that brings into view most of the important features that will make, or break, our future e-businesses.

The Web: The Web server has become the 7 x 24 portal between the business and all of its internal and external stakeholders. The Web browser is the chosen window that everyone will use to connect with the business.

Infrastructure: Many things are changed when the network goes public and when cost is (almost) distance-independent. All of the old pricing models are overturned. And the old control view of network management becomes irrelevant.

Organizations: Organizations will be forced to re-examine how they are put together. Internal processes will be connected, and the connections will happen in real-time. Global expectations will define local operating standards.

Markets: None of the old market patterns can be assumed to apply in the future. The right of intermediaries to be paid a comfortable fixed fee disappears. New on-line competitors can skim off the cream from any business.

There are several interesting aspects of e-business revealed by this way of thinking about the subject. Each of these perspectives has both “hard” and “soft” features that will be important to business success in the future. Recognizing that there is a hard/soft balance and maintaining that balance will be key.

The Infrastructure would seem to be largely about the “plumbing” used to connect stakeholders and to connect browsers to servers. Understanding the new technology will be important to understanding the Infrastructure, but there are critical “soft” features of this emerging Infrastructure.

Some degree of trust is essential in the e-business world. In the old bricks-and-mortar world, it is relatively easy for the participants to intelligently gauge the degree of trust that is warranted. When the physical store is substantial, I can have a degree of trust in the merchant. At least I know where to go with a problem.

How is trust to be established and maintained in cyberspace? Technically, dual-key encryption may be an effective way to express trust. But central to dual-key encryption is a certification authority that the participants trust as a reliable source of public keys. The social mechanisms required for that kind of trust are still unclear.

In future columns I plan to add details to this picture of e-business reality, and to explore aspect of e-business that I find interesting. I hope you will join me in that e-xploration.

Fabian is director of the Internet Commerce and Technology Institute at Seneca College ( in Toronto.