New Road signs posted at the entrance ramps to the Web's e-business portals read, "Proceed, but proceed with caution."
One of the best lines that I have read about the Web comes from a feature article in this issue of EW. In "Lay of the Virtual Land," Douglas Chandler writes, "The Internet universe changes so rapidly and so constantly it's like staring into a river."
The river analogy works well here, as it does for author Herman Hesse in his powerful novel "Siddhartha," where he compared the changing waters of a river to life itself-an illusion of sameness on the surface, but in reality, so ever-changing in its depths.
The currents of change that Douglas writes about now reshaping all things to do with e-business are particularly challenging to navigate when you publish a magazine that prides itself on analyzing how the latest trends in the electrical industry will affect its readers. We always feel a pang of frustration knowing that some of what we publish will be outdated by the time the magazine hits the street.
The e-commerce world continually reinvents itself, and in this issue we will fill you in on some of the most recent changes, including what's happening with some important new players on the e-commerce stage.
As you will see in these features, the dot.com world is growing up. Big money and big-name players have moved into e-business, and they are sculpting a dizzying array of purchasing paths for end users to travel. Some roads run to distributors and some don't. That's why we all must get familiar with some new architects in e-commerce now redesigning the purchasing channels, such as Ariba, CommerceOne, SourceAlliance.com, Oracle, and SupplyFORCE.com. These companies plan to totally transform this business.
It won't happen overnight, but it will happen-in some form-eventually. The two biggest problems for all new and existing players during this transformation are adapting existing business systems to the latest tools of new e-business and keeping pace with the changing technology.
Even the most technologically adept companies are feeling financial pain as they make this transition. For instance, W.W. Grainger, Inc., Lincolnshire, Ill., and Thomas & Betts Corp., Memphis, Tenn., reported their fourth-quarter earnings would be off original estimates because of unanticipated problems with new Web-based ordering systems. The Industry Data Exchange Association (IDEA), Rosslyn, Va., is also off to a slower start than anticipated as it continues to fine-tune a plug-and-play solution.
The Web is unfamiliar territory to most of us. At first it seemed like a place that operated beyond the bounds of familiar business principles, a place where profits didn't matter as long as you had a cool product. That's changing, and the old business rules do indeed apply here. In the Web world, as in the real world, content is still king, and more consumers now see through the whiz-bang marketing campaigns trying to herd them to bogus Web sites. The easy money from venture capitalists that funded the first wave of dot.com companies also seems to have dried up, as they too want more in a startup than brainy cybernauts working around the clock on The Next Big Thing.
The days ahead in online commerce will be both fascinating and terrifying for everyone in the electrical industry. But remember that many of the same basics that apply to your business today will rule tomorrow. To be of any lasting value, your e-commerce solutions will have to produce profits, and they will have to make life easier for your customers.