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15 January 2014
It's been a good few weeks for cynics. Those who've gloated over the dotbomb collapse have seen the surreal reappearance of Jonathan Rowland. He got out of the investment game when the going was still good, selling his internet investment vehicle Jellyworks for £65m, and has re-emerged with a new business to provide emergency financing to businesses hit by the slowdown.
We got you into the mess and now we're here to get you out, or as he put it: "We were in the right place at the right time with Jellyworks, when everyone was investing in the internet. Now we're in the right place at the right time to capitalise on a downturn in the economy."
Such robust faith in the new e-conomy market wasn't matched by another venture capitalist, Brainspark chief executive officer Stewart Dodd, who said the next day: "There's an acute crisis of confidence in the venture capital industry about itself. It's not just about the investments they've made, but whether they'll stay in business themselves."
And as if the Mickey Mouse economics of dotcom land weren't fuel enough for the "give me the old economy/media any day" brigade, these quotes came hot on the heels of two surveys purporting to show that e-business was on its last legs.
First, the Confederation of British Industry warned that cybercrime was stifling the development of e-business in the UK, with external hackers, organised crime and former employees queuing up to hack, wreak havoc or just put people off developing any e-capabilities at all.
And then the Association for Payment Clearing Services chimed in with figures showing that fewer than 1.5 per cent of credit and debit card purchases were made on the internet last year. Again, it was fear of fraud that meant people were happier to hand their card to a stranger in a shop or read it over the phone to a call centre representative.
Taken together, we have laughable business plans, insecure technologies and a culture that resolutely rejects doing things online - not a good background to develop an e-strategy against.
Clearly, each of the elements of this picture can be challenged. Not all e-business is based on funny money and flimsy strategy, and technologies can be secure if not impenetrable. But for a firm investing in complex and costly systems to develop its own business or to extend its market reach, there are two reasons for pressing on in the face of the cynics.
First, the development of online, networked communication and business is irreversible. Your clients are doing it and expect you to respond. They demand just-in-time responses, 24/7 access and the sort of transparent relationship that effective networks can give. Second, your rivals are doing it. Not just your neighbours in the square mile, but the small, nimble start-ups that are waiting in the wings to offer e-enabled flexible services in your marketplace.
What these reports do mean is that firms have a job to do in overcoming the culture of cynicism and paranoia around e-communication and business. As well as providing quality and secure online services, they need to market them effectively. When they go wrong - as they are known to do - they need to stand up and admit it, make the changes and move on.
Like it or not, firms are now ambassadors for e-business. It is no longer an optional extra or an add-on. Many are at the forefront of developments in e-security, networked working, secure transactions, digital authentication and the like. As such, they are in an ideal position to counter the silly season surveys and play their part in assuring the rest of the business community that there is an e-future. If they don't, someone else might.