eBusiness must learn past IT lessons says BCS study

19 February 2003

Companies are failing to exploit fully the potential of ebusiness because they are continuing to make the mistakes of traditional systems development - this emerges from a study by the BCS SocioTechnical Group.

In particular it highlights an "undue focus" on technology, lack of user influence, lack of attention to human and organisational issues, lack of strategic thinking, lack of evaluation, and very little integrated working - internally between new and existing systems, and externally with suppliers and customers.

The study, involving interviews with 70 experts and users of ebusiness in the UK, plus questionnaires, found for example that 62% of respondents felt that technical specialists dominated ebusiness development, 66% felt little or no resources were spent on getting human and organisational issue right, and 57% felt that companies were totally or greatly caught up in the hype, with only 13% not seeing this as a problem.

"Many of the issues are not unique to ebusiness: they are old problems," says the research report - which was launched by UK eMinister Stephen Timms. "Nevertheless, there is some concern that many businesses have forgotten earlier lessons about good practice and failed to apply them to their work on ebusiness."

The researchers say that these are early days in the take-up of ebusiness, and there has not yet been any widespread impact. Between 15% and 20% of companies have done nothing about ebusiness.

Another 20% are now doing online transactions, and the report highlights some of the "dramatic success stories": from a small retailer who did so well on the Internet that he switched entirely to this way of doing business sold his shop, to a top company that has reduced transaction costs by 85%.

But for most organizations there are "gaps in practice and understanding which require focused attention", the researchers say.

"These include gaps between actual and good practice; in understanding, vision and leadership by senior managers; in relationships between the business and technology communities; in the provision of practical methods and tools; between users and non-users - the so-called digital divide; in systemic understanding of eBusiness within businesses, between businesses and with customers; in understanding the appropriateness of new business models and channels for different circumstances; in understanding the opportunities afforded by the novel aspects of eBusiness working."

The report points to a need and opportunity for new business processes, changes in company structure and working practices, new thinking, new emphasis on training, and effective management of change.

There is a need to educate staff on what eBusiness means, and the issues: "The stress here is much wider than training in how to operate eBusiness systems."

One danger, identified by the research, is that many companies are getting into ebusiness for short-term tactical motives, and this runs counter to good practice.

Even so, some respondents felt it was important to establish a presence, "because getting involved in the thick of the action is the best way of learning".

For further information please contact the BCS Press Office.