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Pathways to E-Business Leadership: Getting From Bricks to Clicks

As bricks-and-mortar companies battle Internet upstarts, some succeed in harnessing the Web to better serve consumers, generate profits and increase market share. Meanwhile others never get their e-business initiatives off the ground. What differentiates the "leaders" from the "laggards"?

Leslie Willcocks, who is professor of information management and e-business at the Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, United Kingdom, and Robert Plant, an associate professor of computer information systems at the University of Miami, conducted a year-long research project and interviewed more than 130 executives in 58 established business-to-consumer (B2C) corporations spanning three continents and a range of industries. They have created a new framework for e-business, which explains strategies that have worked for traditional companies.

The framework shows that "laggard" organizations typically lack a clear business model to govern their use of Web technologies, becoming mired in debates about the relevance of Web technology itself or spending vast sums on brand building without delivering on the promises their brand conveys.

"Leading" organizations tie e-business to their bottom lines by following a distinctive path. Although these companies may start with the idea of achieving technology leadership, they shift attention to brand building and/or customer service and concentrate on generating profitable market share and differentiating the company from competitors.

These e-business leaders share certain characteristics: They integrate Web technologies into the core business; they use information gathered via the Internet to gain insight into their customers; they augment their service; they focus on customers and marketing; and they adapt to the constantly changing Internet marketplace. All have identified ways of using Web technologies for competitive advantage and seek ways to sustain that advantage by focusing on brand, size and customer relationships as well as differentiation.

Increasingly, companies trying to enter the field of B2C e-business will discover what leading organizations already know: E-infrastructure is a boardroom investment and ownership issue that is central to executing sustainable, anticipatory performance.

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