A great, functional Web site is a wonderful thing–and they certainly are fun to navigate. Special congratulations to all who have been cited as the “Best Business WebSites” by the editors of B-to-B Magazine. On the other hand…
In recent discussion with several business Web practice owners, one thing became clear: Their Websites are becoming less and less “where the action is.” Sure, they’re an important asset for addressing broader publics, PR applications, investors, and perspective employees, students, etc. But that’s not where the focus is turning. The real action is becoming “what lies beneath”: custom, digital/networked connections between trading partners, which enable tighter linkages between firms, unique and differentiatable value-added, significant reductions in cost and cycle time, real business impact.
If you’re focusing on your pretty Website-improving navigability and user experience, fine. But, if you’re not exploring digital/networked applications such as custom extranets and intranets to deep link with your customers and suppliers, you may be missing the real action. Examples show a real opportunity to get entangled in your customer’s business in ways that create real, new value.
One chip manufacturer discusses how proprietary design software and collaborative project work happen in a secure Internet environment, completely separate from any Website activity. A real linkage between the competency of the chip firm, and the competencies of OEMs using their chips, are enabled through these secure connections.
A disk drive manufacturer finds a way to improve service and sales, at lower expense, by using a digital/networked approach to deal with the time consuming process for handling special pricing requests from value-added resellers. A leading office supply firm–Corporate Express–does just this. If you’re a Corporate Express customer, your company intranet managed by Corporate Express is the portal to their complete array of services.
Sometimes these applications are internally focused, helping streamline operations. Company intranets that get the right information to the right place at the right time to streamline manufacturing, share best practices, cut costs. Business-to-Employee, or B-to-E, Web applications are becoming important. For example, as firms move to more flexible benefit plans, choiceboards can enable employees to select the correct mix from a “cafeteria” of benefit offerings.