Magazine Article | August 1, 2001

Taking On The Hype

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Web-based applications were supposed to change business forever. But, now that the dust has settled, what's really different about the landscape?

Integrated Solutions, August 2001

It doesn't matter whether you're talking about the New York draft riot of 1863 or the Los Angeles riot of 1992, you always hear the same thing once the dust settles. People more erudite than those participating in the riots rationalize exactly what happened. Inevitably, the term "mob mentality" enters the discourse. "Rational people do irrational things as they get swept up into the mob," they echo from the safe distance of at least one city removed from the riot site.

We're now hearing similar rationalizing from pundits as the tumultuous race to add the "e" prefix to all processes related to business begins to wind down. A recent New York Times article called into question the practices and guidance of some "e-consultants" over the past 24 to 36 months. For their part, the consultants played the role of Pontius Pilate - essentially saying that they only offered ideas, and it was the businesses themselves that actually believed the ideas and carried out the resulting objectives. (If I remember correctly, however, it was the consultants who actually cashed the checks.)

It's safe to say that the Internet riot is over. Looking back on it, what was gained? Was it just a case of mob mentality - rational businesses making irrational decisions? Or, did some businesses manage to keep their collective heads and capitalize on Internet-based technology and applications?

What Applications Did The Web Replace?
At Information Builders Summit 2001 in Orlando, FL, iWay Software (New York) President John Senor stated that less than 20% of e-commerce Web sites are integrated with back end systems. Assuming this number is correct, then most e-tailing and e-business is still done the old-fashioned way - with manual processes. Having a high-tech front end while pushing paper on the back end really defeats the purpose. It makes an e-commerce site little more than an unattended call center that takes orders.

Back in the dot-com heydays, there were plenty of predictions about how Internet-based applications would eventually overtake and replace EDI (electronic data interchange) systems. But, companies that invested in their EDI infrastructures have not been quick to surrender them in favor of Web-based solutions. Smaller suppliers, who could really benefit from more affordable Web-based solutions, are not all lining up to implement these new supply chain technologies. Of those smaller suppliers that are using the Web for forecasting and planning, how many have integrated front end and back end systems?

Tell Me The Secret Of Your Success
A colleague of mine, who reluctantly admits to once being enamored by the thought of all-things Internet, now has a different spin on the Web. He's currently proposing the argument that the Internet brought about a communications revolution much more than a business revolution. While e-mail is the Internet's killer app, how many companies are actually using the Internet to truly do the heavy lifting when it comes to business-critical applications? Many vendors say this is the case, but not many customer success stories are being produced.

So, as the riot is quelled, I have a plea to vendors and end user customers. I want to hear from the companies that have had success with Web-based applications that handle critical business processes. I don't want to hear five-year plans or future projections. Tell me how these new applications have already changed the way your company does business and eliminated the manual processes that once existed. I just can't bear the thought that companies from the Fortune 500 to the midmarket simply got swept up in the mob mentality.

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