Getting there

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According to a survey taken by Ecom Ohio, 80 percent of Web sites in Ohio are less than 3 years old.

The past three years have seen a lot of changes in bandwidth, software and consumer expectations. Many businesses are re-evaluating every aspect of their e-business initiatives.

At Arter & Hadden’s e-business seminar series, three local businessmen — Lial Thompson, director of business system for Polyone; Bob Fortney, CEO of Fortney & Weygandt Inc.; and George Bielert, director of ewolf.com — discussed the issues they faced when making decisions regarding their e-business initiatives.

Don’t worry how it gets done as long as it is effective and works,” says Bielert of ewolf, an online art auction site.

He suggests decision-makers leave the complex technology to the people who specialize in it. It’s too easy to get bogged down in details that in the end won’t matter to your customers.

“I can’t have people going through 17 or 18 screens to put a bid in,” says Fortney.

His advice: Keep it simple and user-friendly. Your site should consider the most unsophisticated user. The best approach is to ask yourself what you need and what is the fastest way to get there.

One of the most difficult questions is cost. The Ecom survey revealed that only 27 percent of businesses created a Web site to save money. Think of the return on investment as a byproduct, and focus on increased efficiency and customer awareness rather than profit and loss. Fortney likens it to “looking at an individual frame of a movie,” and not being able to see the whole picture.

That said, Bielert says don’t forget to put in place the ability to measure results.

“You don’t want to find out after the fact that you can’t collect the data you need,” he says.

Recognizing up front what measurements are needed promises to save time and money.

Scalability is another issue. What you need now may not be good enough later.

“There are many ways to get where you want to go,” says Thompson.

You can spend capital for the best software programs, but carefully evaluate it so you don’t underbuy or overbuy.

“Be prepared to throw away what you do today,” adds Fortney.

As with any business venture, you need risk analysis and contingency plans. Retail is a perfect example. Once you allow customers to purchase online 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you need to have already identified what infrastructure you need to support your new office hours.

“It’s not going to help your business if your customers can get to your site but not have any support,” Bierlet says.

Also be prepared to start slow and be patient. Thompson warns that in some cases, depending on the purpose of the site, the existing sales force may be threatened. Polyone began with a customer service representative piloted Web site and went beta with only a select group of customers.

In the end, patience may be your best asset.

“It always costs more and takes twice as long,” Fortney says. “Don’t try to hit a home run. Try to win the game.” How to reach: Arter & Hadden, (216) 696-1100; Polyone, Fortney & Weygant, Inc, (440) 716-4000

Kim Palmer ([email protected]) is managing editor of SBN Magazine.