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Net Prophet - by Dylan Tweney

August 8, 1997

I-commerce opportunity means more than just online transactions

If you haven't started thinking how the Internet could affect your company's bottom line -- for better or for worse -- you better start now.

I know -- you've heard this before. A couple of years ago, pundits were warning businesses of every description, from florists to automakers, to get on the Web bandwagon before it rolled over them. It sounded like a revolution in the making -- and for some companies it was.

But the truth is, for most businesses outside high tech and the media, the Web has had a pretty limited impact. For the vast majority of companies who have ventured onto the Web, a home page has been little more than an expensive new way to do marketing and advertising -- one that hasn't exactly translated into huge profits.

That's all about to change. You see, so far the Web has been primarily a tool for one-way communication: I publish my home page, and, if I'm lucky, you come look at it. If I'm really eager to capitalize on the Web's potential to revolutionize my business, I might even post a catalog of my products. But one-way communication and product catalogs -- while important -- are only part of what the Web has to offer to businesses.

What good is the Web?

Where the Web really shines is in facilitating two-way, interactive communication with your customers and business partners. That means the Web is no longer just a platform for advertisements and catalogs -- it's also a space in which you can actually do business. I'm not just talking online transactions, which is what most people think "electronic commerce" is all about. The fact is, you can use the Web to streamline almost every aspect of your business, from customer service to market research to your interactions with other businesses. The Web is so easy to use, and is on the verge of being so ubiquitous, that it will soon represent the single most efficient way to solve a host of business problems.

Tired of staffing and maintaining a huge call center to field routine requests for information that any monkey could answer? Direct your customers to an online self-service information center, and let your call center employees concentrate on handling the 20 percent of customer requests that can't be answered by computer.

Faxing too many purchase orders and invoices back and forth with suppliers and distributors? Use Web-based forms and save on fax paper -- while increasing the speed of your business. The tools now exist to let you easily create interactive Web applications that will help you run your business better. The technology is here to facilitate secure commercial transactions over the Internet. And there are enough people on the Internet now (customers as well as businesses) that the Web is starting to look like a real marketplace, not just a hangout for computer geeks and university students. All that adds up to a gigantic opportunity for business.

Making sense of I-commerce

So it should come as no surprise that the Internet commerce (I-commerce) market is heating up. Just how big is it? It all depends on who you ask. According to Web research firm ActivMedia, the Web will generate over $24 billion in revenues in 1997. Analysts at Forrester Research are less optimistic by a factor of 3: They only expect $8 billion in Internet trade this year.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. The latest figures from IDC project $220 billion in Internet commerce in the year 2001. Forrester claims that it will reach $327 billion by 2002. In other words, big business will be happening on the Internet.

Every day, software vendors announce new I-commerce tools, strategies, and solutions to help companies take advantage of this burgeoning market. Keeping track of them is the hard part. That's where InfoWorld's new I-Commerce section comes in. We'll keep you apprised of the latest I-commerce news, as it appears. We'll give you strategic information to help you make sense of the market. And we'll review I-commerce products that can help you solve problems and open up new possibilities.

So welcome to our I-Commerce section. Bookmark our I-Commerce page and return to it often to check the latest news, features, and reviews. And visit our online forum, where you can post your ideas, questions, and predictions about Internet commerce, and join in conversation with InfoWorld editors and other readers.

Because if you don't start thinking about how you can use the Internet to pump up your business, you can be sure your competitors will.

Dylan Tweney is a senior editor at InfoWorld. He welcomes your comments at dylan@infoworld.com.

Please direct your comments to InfoWorld Electric.

Copyright © 1999 InfoWorld Media Group Inc.

IBM is the proud sponsor of the I-Commerce section on InfoWorld Electric.

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