Here is an article I wrote in 2001 and it now seems even more relevant than ever, thought I would share it here.
The 'Now!' Factor - what high-speed broadband Internet access means for business.
By Alex Gogan.
Managing Director of the Future Business – Irelands complete Internet Services Company (fbi.ie).
Credit goes to the English guru Ray Hammond for being the first to say “If you want to understand e-commerce, just drop the E-.” Business has acquired go-faster electronic stripes but it has not changed. Those of us in Internet-related services tend, I think, to become a little too involved in the buzz of tomorrow’s technology. Essentially, broadband is about speed, but not speed as an end in itself.
As mass broadband Internet access rolls inexorably out to the market, speeds up to a splendid 512k will soon be available to any home and consumer. The recent ntl hiccough is unfortunate, but between it and Chorus and ADSL from eircom we will still get to a high speed connected future sooner rather than later. Right now the business market, including SMEs, is getting 1.5mbps or even 2mbps for about the price of a simple leased line in the old days. Our entire society is being digitally transformed.
Assuming that you agree that consumer e-commerce is just mail order writ electronically, it's sometimes hard to see what all the fuss about. Amazon is one of the best known and most widely used B2C companies. They sell books and music for home delivery. Big deal. As for online ticket buying and reservations, is it all that much better than phoning with credit card in hand?
In many ways the key value of the Internet is quite simply that it enables a business to tackle the 'NOW!' factor (providing instant gratification for customers). Broadband access makes this more pertinent than ever. The 'NOW!' factor of broadband access will somewhat justify the traditionally hyped 'WOW!' factor of B2C commerce.
For example, at the moment, as a normal consumer, if I want the latest share price of CRH or Baltimore, or the new Beatles compilation, or an upgrade for my MS Office application, I can download it, but at a price: my time (download time for most people in Ireland is still unacceptably slow).
However, with broadband access, download time will reduce significantly. In addition, the delivery of information will diversify and further stimulate demand. In turn this will facilitate and indeed force the emergence of new, more efficient, business models to cater for increasingly impatient customer demands. Through my mobile phone, a stocks and shares shop will offer me live price feeds and one-click purchasing; listening to my DISCman music vendors will compete for my custom with free sample tracks or bundled albums in better than MP3 format in minutes, and so on. As for my PC's/laptop's/Palm Pilot's MS Office, my licence from Microsoft One (the ASP division) means all of my applications software is always state of the art and bug-free, naturally.
On-line businesses, from ISPs to portals to news services, should be examining their laurels very carefully in light of imminent broadband access. What currently seems to the user a worthwhile experience in 56k slow-mo is going to seem superficial and old fashioned in a broadband world. TV listings and magazine type portals - yawn! Instant gratification is becoming an expected feature, rather than special bonus, of the B2C equation. In the real world, customers mostly do not know or care how goods are made or distributed, or how a service is provided. Consequently, the task is to give customers what they want, when they want, as cheerfully as possible, because if they don't, someone else will. In the world of broadband access, speed is the new whipping master. End of story.
Although public hype is mostly about consumer markets, the implications of a broadband Internet world for otherwise ‘ordinary’ business are nothing short of profound. Apart from instant communication and transactions with each other along the supply chain, almost every business, especially SMEs, will outsource a range of specialist functions because fast broadband makes it workable for the first time. Network management and systems administration should be the first to go, because smaller companies cannot afford in-house expertise even today. Security will be a major factor, because ‘always on’ Internet connection with fixed IP addresses means every business and Web user is as targetable as a physical location.
But there are umpteen opportunities also for non-technical outsourcing. Why bother doing your own credit card payment processing, for example? By leaving the administrative quicksands of logistics and fulfillment to companies whose core business they are, you can pass on the orders in real time, leaving you less stressed and your customers' requirements better met. Even accounts and credit control, at the heart of any business, could be outsourced. One small bureau could probably serve a dozen SMEs, live and in real time, paying dedicated staff well enough to keep them! Another stress factor off your shoulders.
With broadband internet access, any given company can have a range of specialist partners to provide the full complement of skills for its core business offering. Instant online communications (let’s stop talking about ‘virtual’ - profits made online are as real as those made offline) means the appropriate skills and function set is available for each transaction, without having to go to the expense of having it all in-house. In this new outsourcing-driven way of doing business, it seems inevitable that our ISPs will play a major role in putting the strategic partnerships and alliances together. The term ‘Business Service Providers’ has already emerged on the other side of the Atlantic.
So what should we be doing about broadband Internet access? For starters, ruling absolutely nothing out. Look at www.hamsterdance.com - dancing cartoon hamsters generating more Web hits than Amazon.com and spawning a hit music single that made $ millions.
One example of a whole new field opening up is Open Platform Game Servers. OPGSs allow subscribers the ability to connect with one another over the Net and play many of the most popular multi-player games on the market such as Quake, BattleZone, and Total Annihilation. You get the flavour. The Gameserver concept is one that will doubtless generate fierce customer loyalty. These are definitely going to figure largely in our entertainment future and there’s lots of scope for regional variations.
What's more, there’s no reason why more adult (in the dignified sense) and cerebral variations of OPGSs will not emerge. For example, there are plenty of role-playing and educational games currently available. Many of these are focused at the business market, e.g. Wall Street, and the SIMM’s family of games. These allow people to control, build, nurture etc a whole variety of different themes from family’s to cities. With more and more broadband connections becoming available it will allow people to interact and enhance their skills in planning through these virtual environments. With computing and programming getting more and more powerful almost month by month again this will only lead to much more advanced software and interaction which can be as close to reality as possible.
Broadband access will change the way consumers and businesses use and think about the Internet. At Future Business we're investing considerable amounts of time and money (increasingly the same thing in this Internet era) in the development of new products, services and business models, which will be in demand by broadband users. Already we have set up a dedicated online marketing company, which will look at reaching target audiences at a number of levels employing all access channels available e.g. PCs, mobile phones (be it WAP, SMS or the future UMTS and G3), MP3s, Palm Pilots, TV set-top, Digital TV, essentially all manner of connected to the Internet.
In conclusion, broadband Internet access is due to hit home in Ireland within the next 12 months. As a business, it's up to you whether or not you want to hitch a ride or get left behind. The choice is that straightforward. As in all walks of life, the choice is yours.
- ENDS -
Labels: broadband, future business, future of the internet