"e-Business" is one of those terms, like "campaign finance reform", that seems to have a different meaning every time you hear it. For some, Amazon.com is the archetype e-Business, representing a new breed on online commerce. Others would point to Yahoo, which ships nothing but bits. Kalakota and Robinson do not address either of these crowds; their challenge is the transformation of large existing organizations with the introduction of superior technology in decision-making, sales, procurement, and other aspects of their businesses.
Both authors are consultants to large companies looking to improve their use of technology. In this book, Kalakota and Robinson's technique is to define the terms of art in each area, explain the advantages to installing a modern computerized solution, mention some of the leading providers, and provide examples of firms which have successfully implemented such a system. They close each chapter with a "memo to the CEO" which summarizes the material discussed and might serve as a template for documents to be created by the reader.
The presumed audience for the book seems to be lower- or middle- management at large organizations, people who have (or want to have) responsibility for technology plans, and who need to catch up with the whirlwind of acronyms which populate the pages of Infoworld. This book is for those who have heard the acronym ERP, aren't sure what it means, but suspect that their jobs depend on it. It would do equally well for readers responsible for technology at a companies with legacy systems, who want to justify increases in their budgets by arguing that the competition has adopted superior software and practices.
These practises include the obvious chapters on the use of customer relationship management software to acquire new customers and increase the value of existing customers, the use supply chain management software to coordinate the delivery of the money and factors necessary to make products. They also discuss less obvious, but perhaps even more important issues. For example, they cover the Cluetrain-like need to build products and services in response to customer demand. They discuss e-Business employee retention policy, and suggest that employees should get paid more if they perform better. That's not a bad idea at any business.
The use of case studies generally strengthens the book. One of their most powerful techniques is to contrast successful companies with unsuccessful ones, and to draw out the differences between them. Why is it that you can order a minutely customized computer online, but can't do the same with a Xerox copier? However, some of the examples do seem trite (another puffy biography of Michael Dell adds little to my life).
Given the book's corporate focus and the credentials of its authors, it was surprisingly sloppy in its details. I found several errors or typos (SAP's R/1 released in 1993? Please) and some mixed metaphors (such as the reference to the "Lemmings in the Pied Piper story").
The book is not for people who want to do something new or innovative. It drives the reader to adopt the solutions which others in the industry have already adopted, both in practices and often in particular products. To a typical Slashdot reader, who probably identifies with the underdog, this may grow bothersome. The authors definitely espouse a "me too" strategy.
The "Memo to the CEO" section at the end of each chapter grew tiresome. It was a cute idea but they overused it.
Alexander Pope once said "A little learning is a dangerous thing." Many people will read a book and think this makes them into experts. God help anybody whose boss reads this thing and decides to run with it. It does not reach anywhere near the depth necessary to allow you to oversee the implementation of the systems it discusses.
To the credit of its authors, "e-Business: Roadmap for Success" provides a balanced view, talks about failed implementations as well as successes, and does not try to sell technology as a "magic bullet."
Ultimately, I have to judge any book of this type on the basis of whether or not I learn anything from it. In this case, I did. It's a somewhat voyeuristic understanding, since "e-Business" teaches of practices at companies both different from and larger than my own. However, if my company should grow by a couple orders of magnitude, having read this book will leave me better prepared to implement systems for continued success.
A useful review of the best e-Business techniques employed at the end of the century by large companies. The right reader can use this book to design proposals that might lead to improved efficiency, quality, and customer relations.
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