It was only a couple of years ago that Diane Sawyer of Good Morning America was interviewing a hand-puppet dog fashioned from an old sock. While this might rightly be construed as a cynical comment on the state of today's news coverage, one can also make the case that mainstream acceptance of the dot-com phenomenon marked the beginning of the end of the IPO-based, get-rich-quick business model. After all, when Lawrence Welk's singers started covering Bee Gees' tunes, disco's days were numbered.
And so, it was with a morbid curiosity that the public watched the dot-coms flounder and drop off. Companies like Pets.com and Kozmo.com can now be mentioned in the same breath as KC And The Sunshine Band and the Bay City Rollers. They all held the public's attention for quite some time, but in the end, none had staying power. That is not to say, however, that these headline grabbers didn't influence what came next. And for business, that meant leveraging the power of the Internet for B2B processes.
Some Online Apps Have Legs
In talking with Ulrich Seif, senior VP and CIO at National Semiconductor, he described how his company is serving up applications to users through a portal developed by iPlanet. His company turned to this IP (Internet Protocol)-based architecture just over a year ago, and now supply chain, finance, and human resource applications are all accessed via National's portal. Administration of the portal is much easier than handling fat clients on thousands of users' desktops. Also, the company can explore ASP (application service provider) models with relative ease - after all, the portal can practically be considered an in-house ASP.
Beyond the business portal and ASP model, companies are using the Internet to transform customer service. Person-to-person customer service is still the most popular and expensive form of vendor-customer communication. However, Web chat and e-mail technology are now both standard offerings in many contact centers. What's the impact of the Internet in this application? Well, it can reduce the cost of a normal customer service call from dollars to pennies. Every time customers track their own shipments online for FedEx or UPS, that is one less call that the carriers have to pay a real person to handle. And the instant gratification of Web results is a customer service plus.
Forget The Puppets, Focus On The Bottom Line
It's safe to say that Diane Sawyer won't be speaking to your company's contact center manager or the director of some online project - even if they don sock puppets. But, that shouldn't be the barometer by which we measure the success of the Internet. Online B2C purchases still represent tens of billions of dollars annually, and that number is growing. As impressive as that sounds, however, it represents about 1% of all B2C retail sales. The Internet's real contribution to the bottom line is happening in a much more quiet way. Web-based EDI (electronic data interchange) and online reverse auctions aren't nearly as glamorous as the hoopla surrounding the launch of the next Yahoo! or Amazon.com. Unlike many dot-coms, these Internet applications are solving real business problems and generating real revenue through efficiency gains. And, it's for these reasons - unlike Gloria Gaynor - the Internet survives and should be a vital part of your business.