16 April 2001
After years of being told that there was gold in them there pixels and that, if you truly believed, business salvation could be yours, Sunday night has become Monday morning. The cold light of day has shown that things are pretty much as they were before. You still have to go to work; you still have to do mundane things when you get there; and the internet hasn't made you millions as you've slept.
The 'E-Business 2001' report, by a team of Birmingham-based academics in conjunction with such luminaries as the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply, the Institute of Logistics and Transport, and the Institute of Management, found that half the companies surveyed reported no increase in sales and two-thirds had failed to reach new markets via the internet. And best of all for luddites and cynics, the report lays the blame on hype and consultants.
A huge sigh of relief all round then from finance directors, IT directors and, in fact, any department head who feared for the sanity of senior management who had fallen under the spell of a digital Elmer Gantry. Now they could get back to the real business of producing doodads, selling widgits, or practising the law.
The thing is that this report comes as no surprise and the disillusionment, even disappointment, is to be welcomed. Just as the high-tech stock market crash has sent a gale of sanity through noo meeja investment, refocusing minds on sound business plans, so the realisation that the internet is not a cash cow or a get-rich-quick scam is a damn good thing. It throws the spotlight on the consultants - cowboys and genuine alike - forcing them to stop acting like little boys with new toys.
The thing is, the internet is revolutionary, but not in terms of making money. The revolution lies in changing the way we run and position our business. What the networked economy does is reposition business as a whole. Customers have a new and different sort of power, as do workers. But managers do too. This is not the power to make cuts or a quick buck, but to create new relationships between the business, its suppliers, its customers and within the organisation.
By using the internet (and mobile and other interactive media as they become widespread), businesses can strengthen the heart of their businesses - the relationships.
For firms which have been told that they need to be dragged - or gently cajoled - into making the internet more than a research tool, the temptation has been to see this as a cost-saving decision. As I write, legal boffins are slaving away to create the legal Lara Croft, the artificially intelligent, perfect 24/7 adviser.
But this is not the point. The net is not about saving money, but about spending it better. A decent internet strategy costs. Extra staff, expertise, infrastructure and customer management time all flow into the powerful new space that is created as these new relationships develop.
The thing is, it is from these new and powerful relationships with active customers, networked staff and dynamic businesses that new markets and maybe even profits flow. And no decent preacher ever said the way to the promised land was easy.