It has become a truth universally acknowledged that every organisation must have an ebusiness strategy to propel itself into the dot com economy. But accepting this reality, and putting it into practice, are two entirely different things.
For most of us, the leap from theory to practice is too great to make on our own, so we turn to systems integrators and consulting groups for assistance with both strategy and implementation.
Finding partners which claim to be ebusiness experts is not difficult. No one loves a good bandwagon like the IT industry, and vendors are falling over themselves to secure a seat on the one marked 'ebusiness'.
Not all their claims stand up to close scrutiny, however. For IT users, the big question is how to choose the correct outside firm to meet their particular dot com needs.
Knowing the score
Forrester Research has devised a scorecard to allow end users to benchmark 14 of the leading ebusiness service providers and systems integrators. Companies score between one (poor) and five (excellent) across a range of categories. The results have just been published in a report, Scoring Europe's Ebusiness Help.
To complete the study, Forrester interviewed IT leaders at 40 FT 500 companies, all involved in ebusiness initiatives. Forrester also spoke with 20 leading systems integrators and consulting groups, as well as eight independent technology vendors, to paint a picture of what it calls "the European help landscape".
Most of the businesses interviewed have not considered the overall impact of ebusiness on their organisations - only 40 per cent have a company-wide strategy - resulting in a whole range of projects that should be integrated. One respondent from the insurance sector is typical: "Our company is working on diverse projects. On a national level, some transactional websites are up and running. Our market research department initiated a data mining project, whereas the headquarters started a global customer relationship management project."
The end result is lots of activity: but little deliverable progress may result. Users interviewed by Forrester openly admit they aren't able to complete their ebusiness initiatives on their own. They were all looking for external assistance, with 50 per cent of respondents predicting that outside firms would handle at least half the workload on ebusiness projects.
Perhaps not surprisingly, this decision to go outside is often attributable to lack of resources or technological skills.
"When it comes to new technologies such as Wap, outside experts are necessary. We need concrete information on how the market will develop, and users' future demands," said one postal service representative.
More interestingly, some firms choose to bring in outside assistance to perform an almost evangelical role in transforming the culture of their own organisations into a dot com way of operating. "Our company needs these providers to create awareness within our organisation and to get the ecommerce ball rolling," said one respondent from a telecoms company.
ICL, which was ranked fourth equal in the Forrester listing, has repositioned itself as a services supplier, and is now heavily centred on ebusiness. Clive Keyte, its director of interactive digital services, said many companies come to outside suppliers without clear-cut ideas about what their ebusiness strategies should be.
"What tends to happen is that the larger firms see what's going on with business and decide they need to do something quickly. That usually means they go to some fleet-of-foot smaller firm and build a website to do some transactions. But those firms reach their limits. For example, they can't do anything about the legacy stuff inside an organisation. Then they turn to us."
Trouble in store
Few of the businesses which call in ecommerce consultancies are happy with what they get. Complaints about high costs and unimpressive delivery were numerous. Almost 40 per cent wanted an improvement in post-implementation operations, while half were not satisfied with the final price.
Reactions towards individual vendors varied. For example, IBM came in for both praise and criticism. "Our company has a long-standing relationship with IBM. We know what Big Blue is good at, and where it falls short. We also know how to handle them," confided one telecoms company.
Another telco painted a very different picture. "If our company changes something, IBM is inflexible because of the bureaucracy in its project model. On the web, that's too slow."
To draw up its ranking of the leading ebusiness help providers, Forrester used three 'capability groupings', each of which had up to four more detailed sub-criteria.
The three groupings were ebusiness power, ebusiness resources and ebusiness delivery credentials. These three groups assessed levels of ebusiness model understanding, ability to scale to support large organisations, and the strength of their technologies.
IBM Global Services and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) scored well in all three categories, because of their ability to deliver programmes on a global scale.
Forrester is, however, concerned that both companies lack the integration skills which ebusiness demands. It also has questions over how far PwC has adopted ebusiness internally - an issue which recurs with other vendors. Forrester notes that none of the firms has what it calls "state of the art ebusiness running in-house".
Forrester also identifies two laggards. Arthur Andersen Business Consulting is cited as a company which moved late to address ebusiness. SAP is criticised for focusing too much on integrating ebusiness with existing technologies.
Based on the rankings, Forrester has drawn up a four-step approach for setting ebusiness goals and bringing together the right mix of help:
- set overriding ebusiness goals - within and between companies
- create a shortlist of external resources at your disposal
- score and select firms to partner with
- maintain an ongoing scoring review.
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