The year 2000 is just around the corner, and that corner could turn out to be a slippery curve if your business hasn't hooked into the global economy, using the latest technology. The Essential Internet Guide is here to alleviate sleepless nights filled with nightmares about spinning out on the Information Superhighway, and instead get you dreaming about faster bandwidth, the World Wide Web and sugar plums.
In NetPersonalities we'll get the wired thoughts of some of Canada's top business brass, CEOs who have embraced technology and know where it's heading. In addition, ISDN and faster bandwidth will be explained.
To round things off, well make a pit stop at our picks of
the Top 20 Biz Sites on the Net, through which you can do everything from booking a business trip and checking on the stock market to e-mailing an old crony or playing an involving game of Doom.
However you choose to use your connection, happy trails, and enjoy the ride.
JOHN ROTH: President ft Chief Operating Officer, Nortel (Northern Telecom)
The Internet is growing fast. Do you think too fast? Not at all. I think the rate of growth is certainly straining the capacity of networks to accommodate the traffic. In fact, we are already seeing congestion in some parts of North America. There is a danger that if service providers don't keep up with adding capacity to the network, the response times that users see will get too long and cause people to turn away from the Net. So that is a real risk if the capacity can't be added to match the rate of growth. If the Internet experience becomes one of just waiting in an electronic queue for something to happen, people will stop using the Internet.
How has your Net connection helped your business? Nortel has received product orders via the Internet and we have reached a set of customers we otherwise couldn't have reached. We're taking more business from more customers as a result. We have also used the Net to do a better job of keeping our staff informed about Nortel products so our own people can do a better job of servicing customers.
What do you see as the future of business on the Internet? As we solve security issues, I believe that a lot of electronic commerce will move to the Net. In the case of electronic shopping, for example, the Net can help me evaluate products from different vendors. I can scan electronic catalogues, look at video clips of how to install, use or repair products, or do other things to help me make choices quickly and buy the product I want. This ability will make life easier for customers. The key to this is to have the security in place to be able to conduct reliable financial transactions on the Internet. Nortel's Entrust product is one of the keys that will solve that problem. As it gets broadly deployed, Entrust will allow commerce to move onto the Net in a big way.
FRED WARDLE: Publisher Et CEO, Copp Clark Professional
Why do you think it's important for businesses to go online? Important for businesses to go online? 'Hello, my name's Graham Bell, can I interest you in my communication "thing"? No?'
How has your Net connection helped your business? We've had a Web site for about 18 months (www.canadainfo.com). It's not polished but it provides visitors with a lot of links to Canadian information sites with separate pages for association listings and our most popular environmental sites. We sell a few of our own information products this way, probably enough to make it pay its way, and everybody here gets a chance to personalize a weekly quirky info page. The importance for us is in finding ways to present our particular indexing and information-synthesizing techniques to the community. Our flagship, Canadian Almanac Et Directory, has been providing this kind of service in print form for 150 years. We believe that someday soon we may be able to provide an Internet indexing service, so we view the Net as critical to our long-range business development.
What do you see as the future of business on the Internet? I just bought a book from amazon.com. I did it as a test because I have been deeply involved in Canadian copyright activity and I truly want to strengthen the Canadian book distribution system and protect author/publisher rights. I bought their featured book-of-the-week that fit with a current interest and that I had never seen in Canada, a book that was delivered to my office within 10 days by regular post. A hard-cover that after postage and exchange cost me about 10% less than the Canadian price given on the dust jacket. I never left my office through this process. End of story.
ELUE RUBIN: President, The Bulldog Group Inc.
The Internet is growing fast. Do you think too fast? I guess being in the software business, ‘too fast' is not really a term that comes into play very often. Whenever I hear people suggesting that the Internet is happening too quickly, I am convinced that the messenger of this particular message has somehow temporarily forgotten the human element that is still the driving force in business today. Companies do not suddenly feel overwhelmed by a new technology, or feel pressured to adopt technology without a lot of careful consideration and strategic as well as tactical plans for implementing and integrating technology into their existing business. If they are not doing this, then they will bump up against their own structural limitations so quickly that it is almost a self-protecting mechanism. In short, too fast? I don't think so. In fact, some technologists don't think it's happening fast enough.
How has your Net connection helped your business? We are a software company whose product is focused on the creation, repositioning and redistribution of all kinds of media files through channels like the Web as well as other networks. Given that, the Net is absolutely crucial to our marketing efforts, to channelling sales information, our VAR program internally supporting all information transfers.
What do you see as the future of business on the Internet? This is the big question. First of all, content is king. From a business standpoint, and probably for education and entertainment as well, I think you are going to start seeing a real shift, as we have seen in many other media industries over the years. That shift is ultimately about what people want and what people are often willing to pay for. And when you get down to it, it’s about content. Access, case of use, graphic appeal, structural soundness, depth of information is what most people, especially within a business context, are looking for. This will greatly affect the kind of services people sign up for, and the pricing of them. It will also start to set some parameters for who will win the race, whatever that race may be. Ultimately, the future of the Internet will be how it works in conjunction with the next great communication channel that evolves from this converging world of technology, business and design. I am looking forward to it.
GERRI SINCLAIR: President ft CEO, NCompass Labs. Director,
ExCITE Centre at Simon Fraser University
Why do you think it's important for businesses to go online? Internet technologies are maturing to the point that businesses must seriously consider developing an online strategy to support and extend their current business models as well as their marketing and communications strategies. The Web has become a very important medium that can be used by businesses to increase brand awareness and expand customer support and service. Using Web-based multimedia technologies, corporations no longer have to worry about the limitations of print campaigns, or the time constraints of broadcast media. Many companies have been using their Web sites as a means to address customer support and service concerns, engaging in a two-way dialogue with their customers, and offering answers to frequently asked questions before they arise.
How has your Net connection helped your business? As a high-tech company that develops software for the Internet and Intranet markets, NCompass simply cannot exist without an Internet connection. As a fledgling start-up with our roots in the ExCITE Centre at Simon Fraser University, NCompass was both born and bred on the Net. By releasing our product on the Internet and taking advantage of the powerful marketing potential of the Web, we were able to create sufficient mindshare and brand awareness that we were able to spin out our technology from the university and become a commercial venture in our own right. Not only is the Internet our advertising, marketing, sales and communications tool, it serves as our warehouse, storefront and customer service centre as well.
What do you see as the future of business on the Internet? Internet users need to change their perception of the Internet as something more than a place to "browse" and more as a place that can accommodate business development and commerce. Face it, most commerce on the Web today is limited to online magazines, adult entertainment and consumer products such as books, CDs, and computer hardware and software - "brochureware." New advances in e-commerce transaction processes, and security technologies, and more rapid response times will, however, soon make
it possible to conduct real business on the Internet. New "push" media and agent technologies are emerging that allow consumers to choose which products they wish to learn about, while they assist businesses in targeting specific customers for their products and services. There is no question that the Internet will continue to provide better and better opportunities for us to learn, to entertain ourselves, as well as to conduct business.
ALLISTER C. PATERSON: Vice-President Sales, North America, Canadian Airlines International Ltd. Vice-President Ontario/Atlantic Canada
The Internet is growing fast. Do you think too fast? The Internet is not growing fast enough. Given the cost and convenience advantages offered by online communication, more people worldwide should be using it. The technology is progressing well, but people's reluctance to embrace change is limiting the advancement of the medium.
How has your Net connection helped your business? It is helping in two main ways. First, our company is improving both our internal communication and our product communication with customers. Second, about 20 per cent of our costs today relate to finding, booking and ticketing a passenger. With the Internet, physical limitations on product access (paper tickets, storefront shopping) are being removed, saving time and money. These are precious commodities for our customers.
What do you see as the future of business on the Net? People do business with people, and this will remain key in future commerce. Internet technology will be pervasive in business transactions, primarily overcoming traditional marketing channels that are cumbersome or expensive. It is really impossible to gauge how far the Internet will go at this point.
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