E-fun And The Art Of E-business

My friend and colleague,
Aruna Jayanthi, embodies the modern day spirit of an Indian Software
Professional. She works 14 hours a day, six days a week, parties into
the wee hours of the morning and catches up on sleep every Sunday. Caught
in the exciting web of the World Wide Web, Aruna, whose imagination,
like many others’, has been set on fire by the ever-changing technologies
and commercial possibilities of the internet, has come up with the concept
of a mega portal- e-fun.com.

This will be the
place to be for all fun-lovers in the new millennium. A place where
everything from virtual courtships to video-on-demand to music downloads
to every form of infotainment and edutainment will be available at a
mousetouch! Where every citizen will be able to customize his needs
for entertainment and can set up templates that will capture every means
of amusement appealing to his specific brand of funny bone. Will Indian
discos ever be the same again?

Widespread spectrum
Three years ago, when the concept of Information Superhighway was just
beginning to touch Indian shores, I wrote and spoke about the future
life of the Indian citizen, who would learn, earn, communicate and virtually
live on the Net. With the number of netizens in India growing exponentially,
and worldwide trends beginning to be replicated in our country, those
predictions seem to be coming alive much earlier than anybody could
have predicted. My daughter Karuna, an ICSE student in Mumbai, tells
me that all except two of the kids in her class, do their projects and
ICSE exam practice off the net and a friend of hers, Sameer Merchant,
has a full-fledged web site, which provides school kids opportunities
to relax, do serious learning and communicate with other kids around
the world. Even my friend, Ajit Balakrishnan, the pioneer of ecommerce
in India reports that over 2,500 cinema tickets are being sold every
week through rediff.com. And the popular site, zeecineawards.com, which
has been created and hosted by an enthusiastic Aptech Web Development
team, reported over a million hits within two days of its launch and
is targeting a 25 million hit record before the event is over.

What are the implications of these early trends and concepts for every
Indian citizen and Indian business? First and foremost, we all need
to look beyond the visible end of ecommerce, the business-to-consumer
segment, which has been heavily publicized, thanks to popular sites
like amazon.com and rediff.com, and realize that there are success stories
and breathtaking possibilities in every segment. If e-bay.com can provide
electronic auctioning capabilities in the consumer-to-consumer space,
all used car purchase and sales showroom can shut down their yards.

Similarly, if Priceline.com can enable a traveller to ask for and get
a discounted ticket between American cities, a Delhi-Mumbai traveller
will soon specify the date of travel and price, and get a ticket delivered
to him. A ticket that matches his specification, through a consumer-to-business

And of course, the oft-quoted success stories of Fedex, Intel and Cisco
in the business-to-business segment should and will inspire many Indian
businesses to rethink their age-old business models and integrate their
ERP implementations with a seamless web interface. One that enables
every stakeholder, including customers, suppliers and subcontractors
to become a part of the new e-corporation with access to all relevant
data and capability to complete the business transaction through Electronic
Data Interchange. Already, there are success stories like ICICI Bank
which makes this transition to be happen on our own shores.

New approach
However, there is no glossing over the fact that this is a new paradigm
of doing business and requires a complete reorientation of mindsets
and business processes. I was amused to participate in a discussion
after a recent conference in Delhi where the excited CIO of one of India’s
large services companies was bemoaning the fact that while adequate
hits were being registered from overseas residents on their web site,
the internal organizations took the usual three weeks and more to respond.
Pat came the solution from his boss, "Print out the emails on pink
paper and circulate copies so that they take more prompt action."

The paper culture is so deeply ingrained in all of us that it will need
a total rethinking to embrace and benefit from the new model and opportunity
that e-business presents. A clear goal has to be set for expanding the
served market as well as extending the scope of customer service and
stakeholder interaction through the internet. The web site which for
many corporations has been nothing more than a token extension of marketing
in traditional Static Print Media, will have to be made more interactive
and receptive to customer feedback. The interfacing of the external
web sites and the internal business processes has to be made seamless
through extensive use of groupware technologies. The entire functional
integration has to be made Customer-facing with enough collaborative
working to ensure quick handoffs between departments, without non value
adding activities or orthogonal approval processes that may lead to
delays. And the loop has to be closed with the
customer by integrating electronic payment capabilities with appropriate
controls to make the transaction truly meaningful and complete.

MD, Aptech Ltd, and Director, Hexaware Group.

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