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Is Your E-Business Plan Radical Enough?

During the dot-com frenzy of the late 1990s, most large, traditional companies had trouble finding successful e-business strategies to fight off aggressive new challengers. Many turned over their Internet efforts to the CIO and the information-technology organization. But that was not always a good idea, say management thinkers Glenn Rifkin and Joel Kurtzman. Enlightened corporations, they say, have made the Internet work for them by assigning e-business efforts to senior-level executives who know the business side intimately — and by getting the most out of technology-focused CIOs in the role of partner. They contend that someday all business will be e-business, so even in an economic downturn it’s important for companies to keep moving forward by integrating e-channels with their other business channels.

The authors maintain that a downturn offers laggards a chance to get back into the game. Thus large companies with ineffective Web presences should take advantage of the current window of opportunity to make improvements. That means resisting the temptation to fob off e-business onto the IT department and instead treating it as a long-term, strategic, integral part of the enterprise.

The authors report on the rare traditional companies that offer these valuable lessons: Integrate the new channel with other channels, build on your strengths, don’t let technical considerations be the tail that wags the dog, find a CIO who thinks like a business leader, and have a business expert head the operation. As Meg Whitman, the president and CEO of Internet star eBay, has said, “You can teach the dot-com stuff quickly, but you can’t teach the business quickly, so hire someone who knows the business.”

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