I don't know about you, but I'm beginning to get overwhelmed by all of this e-business stuff. Every time I read a newspaper, pick up a magazine, listen to the news on TV or radio, or eavesdrop on a conversation on a plane, I hear about another dot.com company that is going to be the "be-all and end-all" of the business world. I see business colleagues being bitten by the dot.com bug and jumping ship to join new e-business ventures. I'm not sure where it started, although I suspect that Al Gore was in there somewhere! Maybe it was Amazon.com that started the ball rolling. Now we have everything from eBay, to e-Chemicals, to Rooster.com, to Movers.com. The latter will help you to move your sponging adult children out of your house! Where will it all end? Or will it ever end?
The value proposition always sounds great. This new dot.com model is going to make it easier for everybody to find exactly what they want, at the best price available, and have it delivered just in time to use in whatever way is desired! It doesn't matter whether it is a business-to-consumer relationship or a business-to-busi-ness relationship. The objective and the promises are the same. But the results are often a far cry from the hype. Anybody buy anything on the Web last Christmas? What did you hear? "I'm sorry, your request has been back ordered, I'm sorry, you can't return it to the store if you bought it on our Web site, all returns are being handled by Send it back.com!" Lots of problems in delivering on the promise. Lots of opportunity to improve the model, to improve the process.
Now before you get the idea that I have not bought into the e-business concept and that I am a Neanderthal locked in the ice age, let me assure you that I am, indeed, part of the e-business age and, in fact, am probably one of its staunchest supporters. But I am also a realist and a seasoned veteran of this journey to e-business that started well before I was born, let alone Al Gore. When did it start? If you want to be philosophical or conceptual, maybe it was the Renaissance, or the Industrial Revolution. Maybe it started with Henry Ford, or TV, or the Atomic Age. I don't know when it started, and it probably isn't worth debating. What I do know is that in my lifetime the speed of the journey has increased almost beyond my comprehension, and I
don't see the speed decreasing anytime soon.
I've been talking about a journey. What do I mean by a journey, a journey to e-business? I use the term "journey" because it best describes my experience in living through the evolution of business processes and systems that has occurred over the past 30 to 40 years. The destination of my journey was no different than that of my predecessors of ages past, only the landmarks and stopovers were different. My destination was that place in the universe where I, where my company, would be able to accurately predict what my customers wanted and to have it available to them when they wanted it, where they wanted it, and, by the way, to make a reasonable return for my efforts. Is that any different than the destination, the objective, desired by merchants, manufacturers, or business leaders of days gone by? I think not. The tools, methods, and processes they used to determine their customers' needs and how to satisfy those needs were different (the landmarks and stopovers), but the objective was the same. To me the journey to e-business can best be described as the evolution of these methods, tools, and processes; or
put another way, the journey to e-business is the continuing evolution of technology to provide more timely, more accurate information to enable better business decisions.
In my life experiences, these landmarks and stopovers take such forms as material requirements planning ("little mrp," 1960s), manufacturing resource planning (MRP and MRP II, 1970-1980s), enterprise resource planning (ERP, 1990s), and now what I used to call collaborative ERP before joining IBM. I now use the term e-business, which I don't like as well, but I find it prudent to adopt! My technology journey was supported by tools such as the "slide rule," the mechanical calculator, the electronic calculator, the IBM 1130, Univac 1108, punch cards, Lotus 1,2,3 spreadsheets, bigger and faster computers, and PCs. All working with homegrown software programs and algorithms. Now we have even better and even faster computers working with sophisticated state-of-the-art software systems such as SAP, JDE, Baan, and others. We also have the Web and the ability to connect with anybody anywhere in the world.
To Be Continued
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