editorial: Customer is Job One on the Web

The Market believes the companies with the best e-business strategies and systems will be tomorrow’s leaders, and this belief is driving valuations for Web savvy companies ever higher. Over a short period of time Amazon.com has achieved greater market capitalization than Sears, and E-Trade is now worth more than Merrill Lynch. Obviously, the standard valuation measures do not apply at the moment, and traditionalists using standard PE measures warn of the bursting bubble. True, the valuation of some of these high flyers may be driven by “exuberance” and a correction or two may be in the wings, but the huge advantage Web savvy marketers have on their competitors cannot be denied. The Internet no longer simply promises to change the face of American commerce -- it has already changed it, and the revolution has just begun.

As the stock market rewards leading Web savvy marketers, IBM has thrown the full force of its advertising budget to branding e-business as IBM’s domain. The company has done a brilliant job. The ubiquitous e-business icon and the new IBM ads coming out of its New York agency, Ogilvy and Mather, blasts a clear message to today’s business executives that they must reevaluate their entire way of doing business. E-business has become synonymous with IBM. In the past, it had been good sport in the AS/400 community to poke fun at IBM’s lack of marketing and advertising prowess, but it is hard to deny them their due with the masterful job they have done in elbowing their way to the front of the e-business parade.

All the buzz around e-business has executives at nearly every company with an AS/400 and a customer list giving consideration to their own e-business strategies. Executives from marketing and sales are sitting down with IT strategists to come up with new, customer-focused strategies. In many cases e-business is forcing companies to reconsider their entire enterprise wide systems. Remember the early to mid 90’s, when reengineering streamlined internal business processes from the inside, making companies more efficient? You didn’t hear a great deal about the customer in those years. E-business reverses the focus from an inside-out orientation to an outside-in orientation, with all enterprise process designs beginning with the customers and focusing on how they interact with your company on the Web and otherwise.

Now that business executives and technologists are partners, galvanized around the common cause of the customer, the question is where do you start. The good men and women featured in the current ad campaign from IBM and the consultants from dozens of other firms can offer expert advice on the topic, and you may already be well underway with new customer-focused, Web-based e-business strategies. But if you're not, or if you want to get some new perspective on how to tackle this challenge, here are a few customer fundamentals to consider. They are offered up by Patricia Seybold in her new book, Customers.com, a worthwhile read for all those involved in the e-business revolution.

  • Make it easy for the customer to do business with you.
  • Focus on the end customer for your products and services.
  • Redesign your customer-facing business processes from the end customer’s point of view.
  • Design a comprehensive, evolving electronic business architecture.
  • Foster customer loyalty -- the key to profitability in electronic commerce.

Midrange Systems will continue to bring you regular coverage from the front lines of the e-business wars. In this issue we report on firewall security technology and advances in e-mail communication, just to name a few topics covered. In November, look for an in-depth, comprehensive report on e-business complete with case studies on the best AS/400 e-business solutions.