There is no shame in being scared or confused by e-business. Most people are. But don't allow the fear to paralyze you.
This is no time for "wait and see." This is the time for responsible business leaders to act quickly, decisively and with a purpose. The biggest risk is in taking no action at all.
There is no template, no e-strategy action plan that you can pull off the shelf to apply to your company. But some tips and common sense can help get you moving in the right direction:
* Read, listen and learn all you can about available options, strategies, risks and opportunities in this fast-moving field.
* Identify the e-business evangelists within your firm — and be aware they may be young or junior employees who toil in the unlikeliest corners of your operation. These are not the techno-geeks who advocate ultraslick corporate Web sites with cool streaming video. These are everyday employees who interface with vendors, customers and the shop floor, and who have open minds and fresh ideas about how to streamline daily operations.
* From among those ranks, appoint an e-business leader and a core project team, motivate them, and give them the time and resources necessary to tackle this vital challenge properly. Delegate, but stay involved, and provide visible encouragement. No project will thrive without top management's total commitment.
* Identify e-business opportunities. "Start simple and grow fast," advises IBM Corp.'s Archie James. "Know that you're going to make mistakes, but pick something and get started." Choose a modest target that will provide quick returns. That could mean buying your office supplies or travel services online, or implementing software that allows customers to check the status of their own orders on the Web.
* Ask customers what tools and services they want. Then aim to differentiate yourself and win their loyalty by using data-management applications to personalize their buying experiences with your firm.
* Strive to develop an e-culture within your company that stresses organizational speed, agility, teamwork, partnerships and customer focus, while not compromising quality.
* Never invest in technology for its own sake. But do invest quickly and where necessary, and don't expect traditional return-on-investment ratios. Jim Woodward, e-commerce director for Dana Corp., states bluntly: "Plan on throwing away your investment every 18 months." That's the harsh reality of this fast-paced environment. Get used to it.
* Most importantly, remember that the Internet does not alter your company's underlying business drivers, it only accelerates them.
Many fear that e-business will devalue their products. For many low-value-added products, that will occur. But assume also that the winners will be those firms that differentiate themselves via technology, innovation and service. Welcome that challenge.
You can choose to play and win by the New Economy's new rules. Or you can fear taking a misstep, decide to "wait and see," and let opportunity pass you by. It's your choice.