What the hell is eBusiness?by Toby Stack

eBusiness, in it's broadest sense, is the use of IT in business. eBusiness covers a huge range of subtopics, however it is possible to break it down into three main areas ...

  • IT within a business
  • IT in business communications
  • IT in sales AKA eCommerce

It is important to note there is a certain amount of overlap between these areas and much of eBusiness relates to the integration of these areas.

The use of IT within business

The way business uses IT is a complicated area that covers a large number of business plans and IT solutions, however there are a few key areas that even small businesses could do well to take note of.

Customer relationship management

The first area is customer relationship management, this at it's core is tailoring a customers experience by analysing customer data.

To give a simple example, rather than e-mailing a customer a generic company catalogue that list all products, you use the stored information on the customers previous purchases and work out what items the customer is most likely to buy and create a tailored catalogue with prominence placed on these items.

Management of business documents

A second area is the management of business documents, IT systems were once heralded as the gateway to the paperless office, this hasn't quite rolled out as smoothly as hoped and most offices are still reliant on good old sheets of compressed wood pulp but nevertheless digital documents are an important business resource.
As more and more of the office paper work becomes digitised it becomes important to consider how the documents are handled. Not only does one have to consider the storage, backup and retrieval of documents but issues such as storing metadata to allow for the smart processing of documents, for example not only do you store all invoices but you store invoice metadata on a database to enable you to gain additional information such as sales trends.

 

Systems integration

Another area is more of a general concept throughout eBusiness but has a key role to play in a business's internal systems and that is the idea of systems integration.
Many businesses use a verity of different software packages, however as most of these tend to be stand alone packages, data cannot be transferred between them.
An integrated system tends to be built around a central database system that allows for the free transfer of information between software packages, for example a unified database would allow for the integration of a stock management system with a financial management system, a reordering system and an on-line sales system. This type of integration would allow on-line sales to be marked off the stock even before it is shipped and when stock hits low levels a restocking order is automatically produced, additionally sales for the previous months can be analysed and used to predict what stock to buy for the next month.

Mobile computing

One further point to consider is the move towards mobile computing. Originally business computers were single large mainframes accessed by employees via terminals. This meant that the computing experience was completely centralised and required a permanent connection to the mainframe. As computer technology developed systems got smaller and more powerful leading to the development of stand alone computers commonly known as a personal computer or PC. PC technology dominates both the business and personal computing world with the majority of business places running multiple PCs connected via a network. However as computer technology shrinks further and as wireless technology improves business is looking towards mobile computing, mobile computing covers the use of devices such as UMPCs (Ultra Mobile Personal Computers) and smartphones, although at the moment the eBusiness applications for mobile computing are somewhat limited, focusing mainly on improving communications on the move with technologies such as mobile email and web browsing as the field develops it will be interesting to see how businesses use mobile computing and interesting to see how well the concept of the officeless office takes off.

Communication with IT

According to Sumerian mythology writing was invented by king Enmerkar to allow the king to communicate accurately with another disant king, and although we have come a long way since the clay tablet IT is continuing to help us achieve the goal of being able to communicate with others.

e-mail

Email has been one of biggest changes to business communication in the last few decades and now has nearly completely taken over from physical mail in many areas of business. Rather like the explosive growth of the mobile phone and the internet as a whole, a concept that started out as something of a novelty with limited use has now within a few decades become a integral part of modern society. Email should hopefully be a familiar concept to anyone reading this article so rather than explaining email to you we will go into some more depth in other articles.

VoIP

Voice over IP (VoIP) is a communications technology that allows a user to talk with other users using the internet infrastructure. It can take a number of forms either has hardware based units mimicking traditions phones or as software packages that run on computers. VoIP differs from normal telephone systems as it operates using network technology, this means internally you can communicate over the business network without the need for additional phone lines and you can communicate internationally with other VoIP users using just your internet connection avoiding costly long distance and international phone charges. In addition to VoIP to VoIP communications most VoIP companies offer competitive rates on making calls from VoIP to landlines and mobiles internationally.

Messaging/Conference.

As well as providing email and VoIP as modern alternatives to letters and phone calls modern IT systems can provide a whole range of other forms of communication such as.

  • Messenger services
  • IRC
  • Forums
  • Blogs
  • Video Conferencing
  • Interactive whiteboards
  • Screen sharing

All of which provide either an alternative to the traditional face to face meeting, or enable you to communicate in a manner that isn't possible any other way. All of these forms of communication can be used by a business to improve how it interacts both internally and externally with other businesses and customers.

eCommerce

The final area of interest is using IT to make sales AKA eCommerce. Although eCommerce has been with us for some while it's history is a troubled one, the initial hype and abundant investment created a unmaintainable market what happened is commonly know as the dot-com bubble. However this turbulent history should note put you off the idea of making on-line sales, eCommerce is an important part of a businesses sales market with most medium and large companies providing some form of on-line sales system and many big names such as Google are investing in this area.

eCommerce is dicussed here.