Become an e-business: a company that cleverly uses net data to serve customers better says Andy Boulton Think you're an e-business? Well think again. Becoming an e-business is about more than buying and selling on the web. The e-business phenomenon is boardroom rather than technologist driven. It's about corporate philosophy and strategy rather than technology. Simply put, e-business is business as usual. Companies design, manufacture, distribute, purchase, sell, market, hire and train as part of a normal business cycle. In an e-business the same happens but the close integration of business processes with net technologies drives time and cost out of the organisational process chains, changing the structure of an organisation along the way, and all at internet speed. For smaller organisations, using the internet as a key part of their go-to-market strategy is a great leveller ­ the playing field is the same regardless of the size of enterprise. Their opportunity is also a threat to the multinational that can look small on the internet if it gets it wrong. For both small operations and multinational conglomerates, becoming an e-business offers opportunities to change the nature of relationships between suppliers, customers and the company, with benefits not only in customer service but also in major cost and time savings in efficient and integrated supply chains. The main strategic drivers towards e-business are the desire to expand market presence; the need to retain existing customers and minimise churn; and the requirement to control costs and improve efficiency. These apply equally across the entire buy/make/sell spectrum. And that means you must look around you. For too long organisations have been inwardly focused, concerning themselves with inward processes, structures and perspectives. The cornerstone to becoming an e-business is to shift the focus to the outside world. To make it easy for customers to do business with you, your company must have a consistent view of the customer across its many customer facing organisations ­ telemarketing, customer service, sales force ­ and provide consistent mechanisms to satisfy customer needs across many communication channels. You must radically simplify the processes customers use to buy products and services. Corporate amnesia sets in when at every interaction with your business a customer has to explain from the beginning what the purpose of the contact is and how far they have progressed.Failure has caused very major UK corporations some serious headaches and negative PR generated as a result. To get it right, you must re-engineer customer facing business processes to deliver the right products and services to customers fast and at the lowest cost. You must streamline your customer facing business processes linking your store front and customer relationship management systems with your enterprise resource planning systems. You must also streamline your supply chain procurement and manufacturing systems to deliver products and services to customers as quickly and cost effectively as possible. And you must seamlessly integrate your suppliers and service providers sharing information and collaborating with them to reduce time to market. As you expand your company's operations into different geographies, new markets and across different channels, you must also consolidate your financial management systems to manage your company globally. You must also streamline your internal administrative processes to lower costs by moving your employees to self-service ­ shifting the point of service delivery from company to person rather than through an administrative third party. Foster customer loyalty so customers keep coming back. Use the customer's purchasing behaviour and other business intelligence to refine how you target them. And use the business intelligence you gather about your company's operations ­ your supply chain, finances and marketing campaigns ­ to further streamline your customer facing processes. Finally you must offer customers distinctive service providing them with the right information they need to make decisions and helping them to do business with you. An e-business integrates all of these elements and uses its information systems as a key competitive weapon. It is the use of information which is a key differentiator of an e-business. So it's time for you to become an e-business, regardless of size. Sometimes good example and market trends in themselves are not enough to stimulate boardroom change. But one motivator should provide all the impetus needed: fear of being left behind. Andy Boulton is director, consumer sector, Oracle UK {{FEATURES }}