Dot-com becomes dot-calm

The year 2000 started off with the Y2K panic along with the forecasts of aircraft falling out of the sky, the lights around the world switching off and the world generally ending. It seems that a lot of the general media were looking for trouble that didn’t happen and they obviously didn’t listen to the IT industry’s patient explanations of preparation and risk mitigation.

Well, since that was a major non-event, onward to the next major IT issue – the dot-com phenomenon. Old systems were dead, despite having been significantly upgraded to survive Y2K. Old businesses became suspect because they were about to be overtaken by the dot-com companies led by 20-year-old whiz kids who had better ideas, better technology and better business acumen. As a result of the hype, investors who normally would be rather conservative about investing in a better mousetrap rushed to the bank and then to the brokers with armloads of money, all for just the idea of a better mousetrap.

One is tempted to say this was all a virtual mousetrap for the imaginary mouse. By the time sanity showed through, the IT industry suffered the equivalent of the South Sea Bubble scandal many times over.

So here we are in 2001 with the technical world dragged down to its lowest level in years. The virtual-mousetrap companies have reached their appropriate values based on simple business principles such as sales, income, expenses, profit and loss. The companies that had something to offer and a viable business proposition are hanging on and going through the same evolution as other start-up companies not of the technical persuasion.

Issues concerning business and technical infrastructure, product distribution and customer service are being addressed and there is no doubt that we have truly moved into the new millennium with high speed communications, the integration of telephone, data and television lines and the actual use of wireless applications against ERPs. The unfortunate side effect of the dot-com downturn is that it dragged everyone down. Companies that delivered solidly in e-commerce and Web enablement were tarred with the same brush as the high flyers. Hopefully the market analysts will start looking more closely at the business capabilities and potential rather than the amount of money raised in the IPO.

On the career front, a lot of bright young people were seduced by visions of quick wealth, high pay, stock options and early retirement. Now that reality has set in, the need for hard work, better knowledge of the business and more painstaking research has caused many of these people to boomerang back to the more traditional companies they left – presuming of course that the original companies will take them back.

If people thought carefully about the situation, there are still opportunities for everyone. Not the same opportunities as those in the heady days of ERP development, nor the same opportunities as starting into the e-commerce world a couple of years ago, but opportunities nonetheless.

System integration offers interesting and creative challenges for both companies and individuals. At least 70 per cent of all ERP implementations have not made full use of the package capabilities. Web enablement for internal business operations within most companies is still limited to a public Web site and a few employee services such as benefit enrolment and changing names and addresses on-line. Technical infrastructures continue to be a mixture of old hardware and software that everyone is afraid to drop and new hardware and software that is much more efficient, but many people are afraid to use. Or worse, don’t know how to maintain and exploit fully.

These are areas that companies can and should address within the context of the business, the marketplace and technical advances. Examples such as filing time-sheets using wireless technology for direct entry, or automatic project update in the construction industry as events take place, again by wireless, are happening now. How many other applications are out there that stretch the technology boundaries but provide efficiencies and return on investment for the business? A lot of these things don’t have much sex appeal to investors and that’s a pity.

It seems to me that if you make your administration and internal operations more efficient, your cost of sales goes down. If that’s the case, then profit margins can increase without raising prices. If the prices stay the same, the consumer is happy, or at least can’t complain too much. If the profit margin goes up, the shareholders can’t complain too much either (but no doubt they will). The message for us delivery folks in the industry is to keep delivering, but do it with a bit of creativity and with a view to making our businesses, whatever they are, more efficient.

Dare I say it? Why don’t we each take one minor project that pushes the Web, wireless or integration envelope and make our businesses sexy again? Who knows? A bright young market analyst may notice.

Now if we take this virtual mouse and make it wireless…

Horner is a partner at Sierra Systems Group Inc. He can be reached at [email protected].

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