It's as easy as one, two, three

Jump starting your e-business strategy is a three-step process: Know your business, identify your goals, and learn from industry experts.
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Simply put, an e-business strategy is fundamental to e-business success. I can't think of a leading e-business that doesn't have a clear and compelling e-business strategy. The also-rans and the failures, on the other hand, often have no real strategy in place. The bottom line is, if you want to be successful in e-business, you need an e-business strategy.

Yet the word "strategy" has a strange affect on folks. It conjures up visions of grandiose, masterful plans that lead to stunning victories. Strategy hints of high-level planners meeting in secret. The word suggests something esoteric or even mystical. And it inspires assumptions about a tedious, painful, and prolonged process. All told, it has rather a daunting image. But it is unnecessary baggage--particularly the assumption about the strategy-planning process.

A strategy simply is a plan to achieve specified goals, and you can jump-start the process with a few simple techniques.

Know your business

In essence, it boils down to "What are our goals, and how will we achieve them?" Answering these questions requires an understanding of the essential business, assessing its e-business capabilities and opportunities, and creating a vision of the company as an e-business, as well as a plan on how to get there.

Judging by industry experience, understanding the essential business is not the no-brainer it might appear to be. It is a long-standing problem, but e-business has made it even worse as companies try to "e" themselves. Rather than finding ways to leverage existing strengths through e-business, companies try to define their entire identities as e-businesses. For click-and-mortar companies, this is both inaccurate and distracting, and it will undermine e-business strategy planning (to say nothing of e-business success).

Understanding your essential business begins with a question: "What business are we in?" The answer should be simple and product-oriented. For example, AT&T Co., MCI WorldCom, and Sprint Communications Co. L.P. are telecommunications companies. Sprint PCS, on the other hand, is a wireless communications company. Daimler-Chrysler, Ford Motor Corp., and General Motors Corp. are automotive companies. Your answer should be just as straightforward.

"We're in the information business" is not a good answer unless you are IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., or Oracle Corp. And even for these companies, such a response really is not specific enough. The essence of your business is defined by your product--the thing you sell to your customers.

Identify your goals

Once you know what business you're in, the next question to address is how you're going to run it. What's the operational model? Is it low-cost manufacturing? High-touch partnering with customers? Sales through intermediaries (wholesalers and retailers) or direct to consumers? The key to answering this question is to explicitly identify the basis for performing each of your key business functions. It may turn out the answers change as your e-business strategy evolves, but it is important for you to have specific answers at each stage of the planning process to provide a basis for assessing your alternatives.


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