Top Executives Rank Attracting and Serving Customers As Most Important Aspect of E-Business

E-business leaders show greater success in transforming internal processes and behaviors

As Popularity of Telecommuting Grows, Training for Employees Remains Scarce

Boca Raton, FL., March January 6—The American Management Association (AMA) today released results of its first annual E-business Survey at Council 2000, where executives focused on the management implications and practical solutions of E-business. The survey queried CEOs, CFOs, COOs, and other top executives at 500 AMA member organizations on the impact, challenges and opportunities of E-business as it relates to their organizations.

AMA’s Council 2000 meeting brings together thought and business leaders to identify trends and practical solutions to E-business issues. Attendees include executives from a cross-section of leading companies and academic institutions, including EDS, IBM, Ernst & Young, Allstate, Arthur Andersen LLP, All, Xerox, Trinity University, Notre Dame College and many more.

Peter S. Cohan, author of "E-Profit: High Payoff Strategies for Capturing the E-Commerce Edge," delivered the keynote address on "Creating Value via E-Business."

Survey results

Asked to rate the importance and success of 24 E-business issues, senior executives say that attracting customers to their Web sites is their number one E-business priority, followed narrowly by converting visitors to buyers and enhancing the skills of their current employees.

While business leaders rank attracting customers to their Web sites and converting them to buyers as the most important applications of E-business, implementation of these goals has fallen short. Executives rank their success in these categories at 13th and 21st, respectively. Looking forward, 77 percent of senior executives say that improving customer service is the greatest opportunity E-business offers their organizations

"Product-centered firms have given way to product/service bundles that depend upon understanding customer service needs. The unique ability of E-business to build knowledge of customers makes it a powerful tool in this development. Our survey results reflect this," stated George B. Weathersby, president and chief executive officer for AMA.

Staffing and training issues are a major concern to business executives. Enhancement of skills for current employees tied in importance with converting Web site visitors to customers in terms of importance. Other staffing issues also deemed important include identifying needed skills and competencies, ranked fourth, and the cost of qualified e-workers, ranked seventh.

Looking forward, respondents say their organizations’ greatest needs will be recruiting Web talent in areas, including Web design and maintenance; system design and integration; and training for Web-based communication tools.

"Success in today’s E-conomy is dependent on companies providing their employees with appropriate training and empowering them to make the best decisions. AMA is committed to this, and is dedicated to offering comprehensive courses designed to help organizations attract and retain talented employees," asserted Weathersby.

The survey also revealed a difference between "leaders" and "laggards" in E-business. Leaders reported greater success with Web-based purchasing and supplier arrangements and in the more difficult aspects of marketing and sales, such as reconfiguring product delivery infrastructure.

"E-business is far more than marketing to connected customers," Dr. Weathersby said. "Leaders in e-business do more than ask their customers to change their ways. Instead, success in e-business means changing the ways that firms organize their work."

a proprietary survey that shows that only 7% of teleworkers at US-based corporations have been formally trained to work outside their normal office environment, despite a surge in the number of workers utilizing this practice from 4 to more than 19.6 million since 1990. The results indicate that few companies have thoroughly considered the strategic implications of telework or addressed the new management issues that it poses.

"We are drifting into becoming a nation of teleworkers. Companies need to recognize that even the most dynamic organizations will need some structure and methodology as they move into a teleworking environment," said Scot Faulkner, Global Practice Leader for the AMA. A teleworker is defined as an individual who works at home, at least part of the time, during regular business hours. "The entire concept of core business hours," said Faulkner, " will become increasingly obsolete, and that will have huge implications for management."

The survey polled 1265 executives of AMA member organizations, which encompass a cross section of industries and company sizes. Over 75% of those polled spend some time working at home during the week, and 41% stated that given the choice they would prefer to work at home more often, even in the face of significant challenges. In addition to the lack of training, a third of workers operating in telework environments experience a lack of ongoing communication with their superiors. A similar number of managers, 38%, report difficulty maintaining ongoing communication with teleworking employees. Additionally, nearly half of all teleworkers (48%) report that they lack adequate technical support when conducting work from remote locations.

"Companies see that teleworking can significantly improve employee recruitment and retention, and even alleviate the need for new office space, so they jump for it," stated Faulkner. "These statistics show that a great number of organizations are not treating telework with the strategic forethought that it demands, and which will maximize benefits."

Looking for solutions to these problems, AMA has identified best practices that companies can use as benchmarks to develop telework programs that will increase productivity. These best practices address the underlying difficulties many companies have found with telework programs:

Providing adequate operational support to teleworkers, including hardware, software, and remote access capability.

Establishing clear requirements and expectations for both employees and managers; stipulating hours, assignments, and output expectations.

Preparing managers to supervise teleworkers through communication and performance monitoring, instead of physical proximity and observation.

Encouraging teleworkers to meet with their family members to set ground rules for their new work style.

Selecting employees for teleworking based on self-motivation, ability to work independently, familiarity with job requirements, and success in the current position.

"These practices should help ensure that companies can reap all of the clear benefits of teleworking while avoiding some of the less noticeable, but commonly encountered, difficulties," said Faulkner.

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