Businesses in Asia will leapfrog Europe in terms of Internet use over the next few years, but their US counterparts will remain on the vanguard of the phenomena.
According to a survey by Booz Allen & Hamilton and the Economist Intelligence Unit (EUI) of 600 chief executives from different industries around the world, Asian governments will encourage local firms to exploit the Internet to improve their business processes or even sell over the Web.
The research also indicated that business leaders believed the Internet would force their companies to change from the inside out and the transformation would be greater than that brought about by the fashionable business processing reengineering wave of the late 1980s.
Louis Celi, managing director of EUI's new media division, said: "We were surprised by the fact that 92 per cent felt the Internet was profoundly transforming the global marketplace. We assumed we would see a great deal of variation according to respondents' industry or region. Instead we saw that companies across the board are shifting gears to meet the challenges of the Internet."
Although 89 per cent of respondents currently had simple Web sites that offered general information, only 56 per cent were providing customer service online and just 37 per cent provided ecommerce.
Those offering ebusiness services mainly came from the finance or IT industries, while executives from other sectors such as manufacturing and energy, did not see where it would fit into their business model.
But 61 per cent of respondents said they would set up extranets to help them communicate with suppliers, customers and shareholders, while 84 per cent hoped to introduce intranets into their organisations by 2001.
And most believed the Internet would have a profound effect on their business. About 60 per cent said they would use it to help them achieve strategic goals, while 30 per cent said it would force them to change, particularly in terms of customer service and costs. They also expected to change their business hours from 9am to 5pm to being open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Celi said: "Nine out of 10 executives felt their organisations' cultures would change. If the company does not adjust they will not survive - all companies will become IT companies."
He also warned that companies should consider six points when doing business over the Internet.
They should support an open all hours policy, while their Web sites should be attractive and easy to navigate. Branding was also important because the traditional methods of generating and managing brand awareness might not translate easily into an Internet world.
Businesses should also provide a common interface to everyone accessing their site and understand that the dynamics of the relationships between employees, partners and customers would change.
Lastly, knowledge would become the key differentiator and need to be included in business processes.
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