by Chris Noonan Sturm
The director of Excite's European operations told a mostly-corporate audience in 1998 during the first Internet World in the Czech Republic -- the easternmost Internet World in Europe thus far -- that the Internet is bigger than anybody expected.
Not even those savvy entreprenuers who've been selling it, boosting it, evangelizing it, making money off of it since the late 1980s and early 1990s grasp its full potential to change global business and communications. It's like the proverbial elephant and the blind man -- he's knows it's big, but can't fathom just how big big is.
If even Internet business leaders admit that they don't have a clear picture of the Internet's role and scope, it's no wonder Fortune 1000 companies are cautious about the Net and how they can use it to enhance business. Of course companies in sectors where the benefits are clear -- publishing, broadcasting, news, information services, entertainment, mailorder houses -- have moved quickly to exploit the Net. And even they have yet to see profits.
But what about companies in manufacturing, retail, pharmeceuticals whose Internet efforts consist mainly of Web site brochures?
Some are realizing that the net may change many traditional business paradigms -- supply & demand, marketing, consumer buying trends, distribution, supplier relations. The definition of the customer and how to relate to him or her is changing. Product marketing is changing -- becoming more information-based to suit the busy information consumers bred by the Net.
But how does a Fortune 1000 fit the Internet into its structure and work, especially if its core business has little if anything to do with the high-tech, computer, Internet, or information/media industries? How does a Fortune 1000 recognize and exploit an Internet opportunity that will position it powerfully in the next century?
Why does the corporation need the Internet?
Corporations need to realize the Internet is not about computers or, indeed, even technology. It's about communication and relationships -- public relations and marketing, even distribution.... Every Fortune 1000 has vital relationships with customers, suppliers, stockholders, employees and others. Relationships/partnerships equal business. And a corporate Internet project can be a powerful tool in enhancing relationships and creating new business.
Does any Fortune 1000 company assume that it can go into the next century ignoring the possibility that the Internet -- the fastest growing communications medium in history -- will be a newly important way to do business? The reality is that Fortune 1000s need to begin investing in the Internet now -- even if they don't know exactly what to do with it, how they'll benefit from it over the short- or long-term. It is truly an example of the "just do it" mentality. But how do you DO it if you don't know what IT is?
Take at least one step: Create an Internet Division or Department with full-time staff -- not consultants, not contractors, not freelancers -- whose role is to track Internet developments and find ways to implement Internet projects to serve the company's goals.