If the growing migration of companies to the Internet is any indication, it appears the biggest potential risk businesses may face is the risk of not being on the Net. Seldom has a technology captivated or confused so many. For example, a significant number of businesses that have a Web page, which is no more than a computer file, neglect to promote their online address by including it on business cards and sales literature.
Other companies have only a vague notion of what the Internet, the global collection of computer networks and its subset, the World Wide Web, is or what it can do for their business.
Eventually, they will discover the usefulness of the Web, which opens to them a massive amount of information that can be easily obtained in various forms - text, graphics or audio - ranging from the scientific to commercial.
By any standard, the growth of the Web is staggering. In 1992 there were fewer than 100 sites. Today, more than a quarter of a million exist.
The plastics industry is not yet well-represented on the Web, but that is changing. While less than 10 percent of the respondents to a recent Plastics News survey of nearly 1,000 North American plastics processors report they have put up a Web page, more than a third said they plan to establish one this year or are considering doing so.
Significantly, a number of those companies already use electronic mail, or conduct computer data searches for plastics-related information.
The sharing of corporate, technical and product data is becoming more robust by the day on the Internet. Manufacturers such as Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Corp. and General Motors Corp. are developing an electronic network for suppliers to exchange design files and other information. Why? Because it is quick and cost-effective.
Evolution has proven to be extremely rapid on the Net and most everything associated with it. The Automotive Network Exchange, the Big Three automakers' network being developed for vendors and customers, suggests that in the near future to do business with manufacturers, you can expect to need online capability.
All the signs suggest that the direction the Internet is heading as a communications resource is toward the critical-mass use that some experts have predicted for a number of years.
One of those signs is a recent telephone survey of 4,200 U.S. and Canadian residents by Nielsen Media Research of New York that estimated 18 million people used the Web over a three-month period. The study, paid for by CommerceNet of San Francisco, a 130-member consortium of companies promoting commercial use of the Internet, found that more than 60 percent of Web users work at professional, technical or managerial jobs. One in three is female.
While reports of Internet use typically vary, there is little question of the general trend. The numbers of people and businesses using it are soaring upwards, expanding both their technical capabilities and options in the process.