The re-engineering of communications networks to fully harness innovative 'new-world' technologies can give small to medium-sized enterprises the competitive boost they need now that the pace of business is reaching breakneck speed.
As the Internet redefines the way business is conducted by shrinking product life cycles and shortening development times, the key challenge for SMEs is to take advantage of the advances. But merely offering e-commerce is not enough. To maximise competitive advantage, businesses have to be networked to all suppliers, partners and customers, both internal and external.
The global networked business is one that pulls together the full spectrum of electronic business operations into the corporate strategy. This approach not only improves the service being offered to existing customers, but will broaden the scope of the company to reach new customers and markets. Merrill Lynch has adopted this integrated, strategic approach in order to increase its share of the US discount brokerage market.
Using web-based applications, it has opened up its information systems online so that anyone can carry out stock transactions over the Internet. Globally networked companies also benefit from creating successful online relationships with suppliers.
External networks can be used to provide a direct link to the company's resource systems, greatly reducing the turnaround time. The invoice for the order is automatically generated and sent. The companies benefit from improved cash management and tighter manufacturing schedules. The true advantages of electronic networking, however, affect much more than customer-supplier relationships. Federal Express realised this at an early stage.
Its range of online services saves the company an estimated $5 per call from its customer call centres. Customer satisfaction levels and order accuracy have also improved dramatically. Removing the walls built around company information and systems, and making this available to everyone, releases the full potential of the technology. By opening up and allowing contact at all levels of the company, electronically, the same relationships can be forged online, as would be made in an office meeting. Restructuring is creating leaner companies that can react faster and compete more effectively. The industry leaders of the future will be those which employ technology effectively to reach the goals of improved productivity, reduced time to market, lower expenses and stronger relationships.
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