Using Technology To Enhance Your Business

Our second annual summit asks experts to focus on the issues and innovations that can help small companies be more productive and efficient

their larger foes, but they’re not doing it.
BE: We’ve mentioned EDI and going online and the Internet. Can we lay down the framework of who should and should not be on the Internet and why? What criteria should they use when deciding whether they should be on the Internet or have a Web presence?

WHITTLE: The Internet lets you get lots more information about your customers, which is probably one of the biggest advantages. You can do some unique data base marketing based on having customers go through a series of questions, watching their habits, seeing where they usually go, and noting what sites they are attracted to. That is a huge advantage because the more you can know about your customer, the more you can make in your long-term customer.

FOSTER: I think the Internet can do one of three things: it can either put you out of business, help you create a new business or it can help you expand in some way. You really need to assess all of these options in addition to other considerations relative to a business Web strategy. A fundamental concept in today’s society is that you have to be “somebody@somewhere.com.” It’s powerful in that it says that you at least need to have an e-mail address to get started [on the Net] and play around.

SALTER: Anybody in business, almost by nature, should be looking to get on the Internet or intranet. The other is if the kind of product that you sell is not local in nature and has appeal for a wide–even global–audience, then you should look at the potential for getting on the Internet.

WHITTLE: When we talked to small businesses in general, they’re basically doing three things on the Internet: browsing, sending mail and having a Web presence. The evolution of a Web presence doesn’t mean they have to have their own page, but pretty much everyone should be doing the first two things. So I would say every business should be on the Internet just to browse, which is largely information-gathering and research. It’s staying abreast of trends in your part of the world.
Then you phase your use of the Internet to the next two stages as it makes sense to you.

FOSTER: We believe that the Internet and the Web are really phases within a business’s development. So we’re not telling our entrepreneurs that tomorrow you should be on E-Commerce. If you think about the foundation being the content, then what you are putting but–what your home page looks like–and getting that right and starting to play around with it, getting comfortable with it, can then move you on to the business extension phase of this Web development. That’s where you may be looking at databases and some information that’s being provided. Then, you get into what’s called `business transformation’ within the Web page, where you are really changing the way you’re going to market. You’re looking at who’s buying and where they’re buying.

HOWLETTE: I think that’s the most exciting

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