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    Viewpoint: How Do Executives View the Internet Today?


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 1/1999

    Executive vision is key to a succesful Internet strategy.

    ITC interviews Joel Maloff, an international Internet consultant who writes frequently on executive issues.

    Q. How do senior executives around the world view the Internet?

    A. Most non-technical executives worldwide continue to view the Internet as a tactical tool and expense item, similar to a telephone system, copy machine, or advertising budget.

    They think they know what it can do, but would rather have their technicians handle it. Some executives are rapidly becoming aware that the Internet goes well beyond a digitized billboard or brochure and that there are very important strategic implications beneath the surface.

    Q. What are the most common myths? Mistakes?

    A. The most important are:

    • Looking at the Internet tactically rather than strategically. Most companies find that they can reduce expenses substantially-even into the millions of US dollar equivalents per year-by streamlining their businesses via the Internet. One major area is customer service and support, whereby on-line product customization or reduced personnel time can be substantially beneficial.

    Organizations are also finding that the use of collaboration tools via the Net can spur enhanced development and production. Some examples include merely generating one or two more products per year, resulting in millions of dollars in new revenue. Stop thinking of the Internet as an expense and start looking at how it can enhance the business.

    • Lack of security. Few organizations have a well-articulated network security plan or the ability to implement one. Imagine leaving your shop floor or building unlocked. Now imagine that every nefarious person in the world is a few keystrokes away from your corporate jewels. Organizations must understand their risks and address them properly.

    • Using the Inter-net without a clear plan is like buying a warehouse full of equipment without knowing what it will do for the enterprise. Someone must be responsible for coordinating strategies and tactics regarding the Internet.

    • Using the Internet properly is not cheap, but it can be exceedingly lucrative. Understand the payback by preparing a business case rather than simply picking up the first or most flashy alternative.

    Q. What are the most important messages to keep in mind when developing an Internet strategy?

    A. The most important message is understanding what specific quantifiable business issues are to be addressed. Once these are known, the time invested to build an appropriate business case is well worth the effort.

    Q. Is the Internet really changing business?

    A. Unquestionably. Look at the travel industry. A rapidly growing number of people now bypass traditional travel agents and book their travel directly on-line. Other industries like insurance and finance are now rapidly incorporating Internet into their daily messages.

    The key is planning properly and effectively.

    Q. Is it important for executives to encour-age a "culture of the Internet"? Are there drawbacks? What steps should they take?

    A. This is an interesting question. There is an underlying Internet culture among those who have been involved with it for a long time. This includes Internet etiquette, such as not sending e-mail or news group postings using capital letters (YOU ARE SHOUTING!) or using emoticons (smiley faces). There also is education required regarding spamming or potential hacking.

    Most importantly, however, businesses should have a clear policy on what uses are and are not permitted. This may include not opening unknown files and avoiding entertainment sites that are unrelated to any business purpose. In short, Internet is a tool. People should be instructed how to use it properly.

    Joel Maloff, an Internet author and consultant, writes frequently on the Internet's executive management issues for on-line and printed magazines. He has conducted Internet consultancies in several countries, including India, Malaysia, the Philippines and the United States. He can be reached by e-mail at joel.maloff@iocenter.net