The E-Business Fast Lane

Bob Lewis

We've all been involved with computer consultants in the past and I'm sure there are as many good war stories as there are bad. I've personally had experience reviewing consultant's proposals that addressed e-commerce systems design, programming, installation and training and was sure they were written by someone with little or no experience in the e-commerce world.

IBM has developed a new offering it's calling the e-business Accelerator that may help the average shop do a better job, both time wise and money wise. IBM bills its Accelerator as a "complete online subscription consultancy that provides the facts you need to get the best from your e-business investment."

Offerings fall into three groups: E-commerce related reading materials prepared by IBM; business analysis applications; and online access to IBM e-business consultants. All three of these services are offered individually and are separately priced.

The first group, entitled Explore (priced at a reasonable $300), consists of e-commerce reports, articles, case studies, checklists, interviews, recommendations and the Trend Spotter, a tool that assists the user in defining the current status of their e-commerce venture and matches their position to over 1,000 organizations in similar industries. The articles and reports are real-world and go a long way in helping the reader avoid some common pitfalls encountered in the e-commerce development process.

Offering number two, the Investigate option priced at $3,000, provides all services offered in the first group, as well as four additional services: Competitive Watch; Security Analyzer; Web Marketing Evaluator; and Competitive Snapshot.

The Web Marketing Evaluator digests 31 pieces of user-supplied site information and returns a detailed evaluation report covering such subjects as target market, marketing environment, product service and promotion, pricing, etc.

The most interesting of these four, in my opinion, is the Competitive Snapshot, which allows the subscriber to have their e-commerce site evaluated against any three of their competitors' sites.

The last service, Engage, includes all services offered in Explore and Investigate, as well as: Competitive Assessment; Web site Assessment; Interactive Discussion; E-business checkup; and Q&As. This portion of IBM's program is priced at $15,000, and also includes all services mentioned in offerings one and two.

I've reviewed samples of the reports generated by several of the Engage options and was impressed with the level of detail presented. In the Competitive Assessment portion, Accelerator will match your e-commerce site to competitors' sites and prepare a detailed assessment of the selected sites, as well as a competitive research report and ideas relative to potential strategies to be better than the competition.

Having a live conversation with one of IBM's e-commerce consultants is no more difficult than completing an online form, noting the dates/times that are best for the phone call, and describing the areas of interest you wish to discuss.

Questions may be submitted to IBM, also through an online form, including a section that permits the submitter to include parameters for answers. Once the questions are electronically submitted, a detailed response is returned, usually within two working days.

All registration is done online, with options for Invoice Billing, or Credit card charge. Most services are available seven days a week and the Accelerator contracts cover a 12-month service period.

If you're evaluating the need for getting some outside help in the area of e-commerce, you may want to consider using IBM's online approach in place of a real live consultant. At today's consultant billing rates, it doesn't take long to eat up $300, $3,000, or even $15,000.