Project Management

Exploring E-commerce, Global E-business and E-societies

Author: Ron Wood, and Craig Fellenstein

ISBN: 0130848468

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The Big-Picture View of E-Commerce
By Alan Zeichick 

E-commerce means shopping carts. E-commerce means extranets linking trading partners. E-commerce means procurement over the Internet. E-commerce means open-standards-based EDI. E-commerce means the disintermediation of traditional distribution channels, but then reintermediation with new distributors and resellers. E-commerce means improved interaction between original manufacturer and final customer.

E-commerce means anything and everything-and makes it difficult for software development managers struggling with carrying out a CEO directive, "Find an e-commerce solution." Before you can do that, it's helpful to understand the full spectrum of what e-commerce means, and what it can mean for your business.

In "Exploring E-commerce, Global E-business, and E-societies," Craig Fellenstein and Ron Wood take the big picture view of the world of electronic commerce.

In a dry and humorless presentation style more suitable for a PriceWaterhouseCoopers or McKinsey executive report than a trade paperback, the authors embark on a higher-level voyage, first defining the different types of e-commerce, discussing how e-commerce can help improve a business's bottom line, and finally how e-commerce can (or will) restructure businesses, society and even government. Mixed in with their charts and graphs are solid suggestions, of the sort that only senior consultants could make with authority.

But then, Fellenstein and Wood are senior consultants, of a sort. Fellenstein is global chief deployment architect at IBM's Global Services division. Wood is an IBM executive consultant involved in the company's own e-commerce strategies.

Despite the fact that both authors work for Big Blue, their book is nicely evenhanded.

The first quarter of the book explores the question "What is e-commerce?" The chapters wander disjointedly, discussing definitions of both e-commerce and e-business proposed by different organizations. It's interesting to see the various and sometimes conflicting definitions-and it's helpful to realize that there is such disparity.

Anyone searching for hard data might be tempted to jump over these first few chapters. Don't skip pages 30 to 34: "E-business Design Quality Aspects." Here, the authors define 10 "best practices" for designing a quality e-commerce system, which they refer to repeatedly throughout the rest of the book. Without knowing that "design quality" means correctness, efficiency, flexibility, integrity, interoperability, maintainability, portability, reliability, reusability and testability, the constant references to that concept become meaningless.

A small, 30-page section on distribution channels makes up the second portion of "Exploring E-commerce." Don't skip it. It's focused on how e-commerce activities will affect banking, the channel and the role of new content aggregators. Since nearly every business uses a bank, or is a bank itself, the author's observations on how the financial infrastructure is changing and how new players are emerging to perform activities formerly reserved for banks, are vitally important for planning an e-commerce system.

Nearly half the book is consumed by the third section, which focuses on how to re-engineer a business to exploit e-commerce-or at least, to survive it.

An exploration of how e-commerce can affect spare-parts manufacturers, in conjunction with a mini-case study of Boeing Co.'s spares business, defends the assertion that this business sector not only will make a rapid move toward e-commerce, but in the process it will eliminate its resellers. The authors' arguments, of course, may lend themselves to portions of other businesses.

But if you're going to disintermediate your channel partners and deal with your customers directly, the authors caution, be sure to learn how to deal with end customers. Many Web sites are hard to use, and without metrics it's difficult to know where the problems lie. Remember that on the Web, as the book repeats often, your competitors are only a click away. The book stresses good design principles, and includes a list of 20 tests for evaluating site usability. Good stuff.

Finally, "Exploring E-commerce" takes on what the authors term "unique management and organizational challenges" using the insurance and travel vertical markets as examples. Even if you're not in one of those markets, there may be common factors that apply to your business.

Overall, "Exploring E-commerce" offers an unusual viewpoint, of how IBM (by implication) views the world of e-commerce. Considering that IBM has been one of the most successful vendors in this area, it's worth a few dollars to spend some virtual time with two of its experts.

Reprinted with permission of SDTimes.  Originally appeared in Issue 3, April 1, 2000.




"A mind once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimensions."

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