PHILADELPHIA (Oct. 30, 1:05 p.m.) — When Myron Galuskin, president of materials producer Rhodia Inc., surveyed his own company´s e-business activities, all he saw was one large mess.
"We have over 25 Web sites and only 18 enterprises inside the company," said Galuskin in during the E-Business for Chemicals and Plastics 2000 conference in Philadelphia. "Each one looks different and navigates differently. We have a major transformational challenge ahead."
Galuskin´s Cranbury, N.J.-based company can take solace in the fact that other resin companies share that pain. While Rhodia struggles to unify its business units on the Web, it can look to an industry still feeling its way out of the forest.
For small, lean organizations, crafting a Web site might not be a major stumbling block.
But for the multinational players such as DuPont, a $27 billion company, the challenges are more immense, said Robert Ridout, DuPont vice president and chief information officer, speaking at the same event.
"In early 1999, we started thinking about how to get started in e-business," Ridout said. "We´re a 200-year-old company. We´re big and broad. Getting to e-business creates a challenge."
In fact, in speeches and interviews during the two-day event, numerous companies — many of them major worldwide resin suppliers — expressed similar headaches at setting up in-house systems that help drive the e-revolution.
Many recognized that the rewards are worth the time pulling together disparate poles of an organization. The holy grail comes when a collaborative marketplace can be formed, said Gerald Quinn, vice president of consulting firm Cap Gemini Ernst & Young U.S. in Houston.
That rosier future would allow customers and suppliers to effortlessly communicate, transact and satisfy all needs by driving down the information super highway, he said.
"The value comes from selling all products for all needs for your company," Quinn said at the conference. "There´s no advantage just in setting up (in-house computer systems). That´s a small part of an overall e-business strategy."
Judging from the industry leaders attending the conference, no one is nearing the Eldorado of full-fledged e-business activity just yet. First, companies must get their own houses in order.
For nylon producer Rhodia, that means pooling its many units onto one shiny Web engine. Those business segments run the gamut from commodity areas where cost is king to those needing high levels of technical support, Galuskin said.
The company is starting with what it coins "Pacesetter Projects" that focus on specific areas that can be Web-enabled, Galuskin added. Rhodia is setting up a learning center to collect best e-business practices.
By the end of the first quarter 2001, Rhodia hopes to have its collective units gathered through the same portal at www.rhodia.com, Galuskin said. It will cost $2 million to $3 million to set up the site and countless more millions to buy outside software within each unit, he said.
Money is only one issue. Attitude is another among the individual fiefdoms within an organization.
"We recognize there´s going to be a huge amount of resistance," Galuskin said. "The fears of job security are very real. There´s a level of comfort with the technology that must be developed, and there´s an unwillingness to let go of old ways."
Other organizations face the same insider battles. Summit, N.J.-based engineering resin producer Ticona is working with ambitious e-business targets: Within three years, parent company Celanese AG wants to funnel more than half its worldwide sales through a Web portal, said Ticona Chief Executive Officer Edward Muñoz.
That would mean that more than $420 million, based on Ticona´s 1999 sales of 788 million euros ($840 million), would be transacted over the Web.
Yet, to do that requires getting many of the company´s 2,500 employees on the same page, Muñoz said.
"We still have some businesses that are hard-pressed for performance who feel that any dollar or time energy spent in e-commerce is something they can´t afford right now," Muñoz said. "To me, it´s a sign that they don´t get it yet.
"But you can´t legislate it. It has to come from the business systems themselves."
The daily struggles are found at resin producers large and small. DuPont has about 20 strategic business units that must mesh with a corporate strategy to pass through one Web site, Ridout said.
Those business units — representing products ranging from Corian kitchen counters to Surlyn bumper fascias to paints and coatings — fret about brand erosion, Ridout said.
Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont is preparing to form an across-the-board strategy. The supplier has held about 50 workshops with business segments taking a look at how other industries have applied e-business tools, Ridout said.
"We even looked at a model beer distribution system and how it would apply to Corian manufacturing," he said.
For compounder PolyOne Corp. of Avon Lake, Ohio, the challenges were made more palpable. In August, compounding leaders Geon Co. and M.A. Hanna Co. merged, with the new company changing its name to PolyOne.
Suddenly, the smooth-running Geon Web site needed to embrace Hanna´s more-global operations, said David Honeycutt, PolyOne´s e-business director who had served in a similar role with Geon.
"It brought the company resources in Europe and Asia that we did not have," Honeycutt said. "It will give us a vertical deepening."
The company now plans to add seven to 10 languages to the site over the next year and invest in updated software for Hanna´s previous site, Honeycutt said.
Geon had invested $1 million to build its Web system, which launched Feb. 1, Honeycutt said. It costs the company about $50,000 a month to manage the site, he added.
The arduous tasks undertaken by resin companies are needed for survival, said Quinn at Cap Gemini. But it will not be an easy task, he said.
"There are a lot of marketplaces working with each other to provide value," he said. "We´ll find more large chemical (and plastics) companies struggling to find their way in this space. Many see that as part of a long-term solution for success."