The Internet seems to have captivated our culture. Articles about the Internet can be found everywhere, from the Wall Street Journal to cooking magazines, and in every conceivable medium. But you've probably noticed that much of the discussion is hype. Very little has been written on applying the Internet to business use. As a result, many businesses are confused and apprehensive. Confused over the value that the Internet can bring to the enterprise. Apprehensive that employing the Internet will be expensive and time consuming or that not being on the Internet will put the enterprise at a competitive disadvantage.
Simply put, the difference between making money or wasting money on the Internet is careful planning. Used properly, the Internet is a reliable, secure medium to communicate with customers, vendors, employees and partners. It can be an effective profit center. It can facilitate research. It can provide enormous savings in paperwork, travel time and customer support. And it can make your company more competitive in the marketplace.
This booklet is for senior management in companies of all sizes. Its purpose is to show you how to use the Internet effectively to reduce expense and increase profit. We'll also discuss what to look for in selecting an Internet Service Provider (ISP).
Let's start at the beginning. The Internet is an interconnected group of networks and data warehouses originally developed by the Department of Defense as a way of providing secure, high speed, worldwide communications and access to data for critical government and research use. It was opened up to commercial usage in the late 1980's.
Numbers concerning the Internet are astounding. Sixty million individuals connected to a multitude of individual networks that circle the globe. The best studies available indicate that by the year 2000, nearly every business in the United States will be connected. Almost three quarters of U.S. households will be connected. In addition, nearly twenty percent of the global population will have an Internet address.
Because of this, the world is quickly changing. New markets will open. Existing markets will change dramatically, since all of these enterprises and individuals will be able to communicate and conduct business at the speed of light, twenty-four hours per day, regardless of their physical location on the planet.
The original Internet was not user-friendly. Advanced technical skills were required to make full use of its capabilities. Today, the interface has been vastly improved, and its power can be harnessed by anyone familiar with a personal computer.
The following examples are real-world applications of the Internet relating to business needs.
In 1995, a major computer hardware and software manufacturer performed a study on the effectiveness of their Internet World Wide Web site. They found that their customers were happier and the site contributed over one million dollars of bottom line profit to the company in a single quarter -- and no product was sold on the site. How was this accomplished? The site was used for technical and customer support. The savings consisted of:
A small company selling hot sauce realized an increase in sales of over $60,000 annually with an investment of a few thousand dollars in a World Wide Web site. Entertainment companies use the Internet and World Wide Web to showcase their products to consumers, who can see still photographs, video clips and hear audio of their favorite entertainers. And, of course, consumers can purchase the products they preview on the Internet.
Financial and legal firms save time, printing and distribution costs by posting legal notices and filings on the Internet. Electronic publication of white papers and useful information for clients increases public awareness of the firms.
Advertising agencies and publishers increase income from existing clients by utilizing the Internet as part of their marketing mix.
Companies with nation-wide or world-wide communications needs have saved many thousands of dollars in telephone expenses through the use of electronic mail on the Internet. Audio and video conferences are also available. One of the great advantages of Internet e-mail is that your message gets through without constant phone tag delays.
An engineering firm based in California is able to use the best world wide engineering talent for its projects by exchanging design drawings over the Internet. They are able to complete projects in half the time of their competitors who must travel across town to design review meetings.
A firm marketing to the government utilizes Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) over the Internet to process purchase orders and automatically file reports to government agencies, saving personnel costs and time involved to receive payments. A major manufacturer uses EDI to connect all of its suppliers to its purchasing and stockroom computers to provide automated inventory replenishment, saving a quarter million dollars in inventory expense per year.
An art broker specializing in major art works conducts her world wide business entirely on the Internet.
Thousands of small and large companies use the Internet to communicate with their field sales forces, including automatic updates of lead tracking data bases, order entry and electronic mail. The Internet allows companies to reduce overhead and increase productivity by facilitating telecommuting of personnel. The Internet can also reduce overhead by providing centralized, paperless internal access to data bases of personnel information, company policy, broadcast notices, technical and sales information.
Publishers put their products on the Internet, increasing circulation, advertising income and reducing the ever escalating costs of printing, paper and distribution. Publishers use the Internet to transmit photographs, advertisements and editorial copy to reduce the time and expense required to get the publication to press.
A non-profit organization uses the Internet to match donors to individual needs during a disaster. The Internet remained available while other means of communication were cut off. A county sheriff posts "most wanted" information, crime statistics and receives tips from citizens on the World Wide Web. Chambers of Commerce, city and county governments use the Internet to inform citizens and promote commerce to a worldwide community.
Researchers have vast data warehouses available everywhere on the globe. Marketing and competitive analyses, government documents and requests for bid, international trade information, financial data, patent and trademark research, demographic and census data, SEC filings and the entire catalogue of the Library of Congress are a few among the thousands of research tools available on the Internet.
Direct marketers, catalog retailers and people operating home based businesses use the Internet to sell products. Entire shopping malls exist in cyberspace, selling everything from flowers to automobiles.
As you can see from the applicationsoutlined above, the Internet has tremendous potential to reduce costs and increase profits by the following methods: 1) simply being connected to the Internet enhances communication and 2) a World Wide Web site attracts customers.
The answer to this question depends on how many employees will be working on the Internet, where they are located and what type of tasks they will be performing. If you have a small office with a handful of employees, modem connections may be sufficient. If you have a larger office with more employees on the Internet, or if you have a few employees working with large files, Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) may be ideal. A larger company that already connects its employees with a local area network (LAN) may need a direct connection. These examples do not include the presence of a World Wide Web site at your location. The effect of a Web site will be examined later.
The types of connections available are based on the traffic handling capability of the connection, measured as the maximum number of bits that can be transmitted per second (a bit is the basic unit of digital communication). This is commonly expressed as Kbps (kilobits -- one thousand bits -- per second) or as Mbps (megabits -- one million bits -- per second). The capacity of a connection is usually stated as the amount of uncompressed data that can be carried. Modern data compression techniques can increase the capacity, or throughput, of data up to four or more times.
Generally, light usage can be handled by dial-up modem or ISDN service. Medium usage would require high speed dial-up ISDN , 56 Kbps or fractional T1 service. High usage will require T1 or T3connectivity.
Detail on the types of common connections and their uncompressed traffic handling capabilities are listed below:
In order to use the Internet efficiently, dial-up modem speeds of 14.4 Kbps or 28.8 Kbps are required. At these speeds, most tasks can be performed easily, although working with larger files or visiting some Web sites can be time consuming. This type of connection is usually best for a field sales force or light telecommuting. Modem connections have the advantage of being available nearly everywhere in the United States and many places overseas.
Basic rate ISDN is a dial-up service equipped with two digital data channels (called "B" channels), which are 56 or 64 Kbps. With proper hardware and software, these two channels can be combined for an uncompressed throughput of up to 128 Kbps. This type of connection is appropriate for telecommuters and small to medium size firms with light usage on local networks. ISDN is available to most of California, but is less common in other areas. During the next few years, the use of modems will decrease and most dial-up business Internet usage will be conducted over ISDN.
An inexpensive way to connect a local area network to the Internet directly, without needing to dial up for use.
This service is available in increments of 128 Kbps (fractional T1) up to 1.544 Mbps (full T1). T1 service is appropriate for medium to large companies using a local area network (LAN).
The fastest service currently available, T3 speeds range up to 45 Mbps. This service is available fractionally, as well. T3 is appropriate for large companies or companies with major Web sites on their premises.
The fastest speeds available are over 3,000 times faster than an average modem connection. You may need some assistance in selecting the service most appropriate to your business.
Business grade Internet connections range from approximately $50.00 per month (connection fees and usage charges for an individual dial-up account) up to several thousand dollars for T3 service. Additional costs apply for interconnecting hardware, software and security.
The total cost for connecting to the Internet is usually justified by cost savings associated with electronic mail alone, which can reduce telephone costs dramatically. The other benefits of Internet connection, such as access to vast data bases, business news, electronic commerce and business process automation add to the savings that can be achieved. The cost for connection to the Internet is being reduced through competition and reduction in hardware and software prices due to economy of scale (thousands of new connections per month).
There are more than a quarter million large and small company Web sites on the Internet. And this number is growing dramatically with 2,000 new sites each month, 67 each day, 3 every hour. Bob O'Keefe, Internet author of Interesting Business Sites on the Web, feels that Web presence will benefit small to medium size firms the most. Web presence will help them improve their competitive advantage because large organizations already have a strong market presence.
Once you have a home page on the Web you are automatically open round-the-clock and round-the-calendar. People can come in and browse at their convenience. They can find out what products/ services you offer. They can get as much or as little information as they want. They can ask questions, get answers. They can even place orders. While there are many reasons for establishing a presence on the Web most firms establish a home page for marketing and sales. In a recent report from International Data Corporation (IDC), 87% of Web sites were developed to provide easier access to partners and clients and (73.5%) to reach new customers. At the same time local, regional, national and international firms felt they were improving their corporate image, reducing sales costs, reducing customer service costs and reducing their communications costs. Banks, major corporations and government agencies are already carrying out electronic fund transfers on a daily basis. As security processes improve, it won't be long before even small purchases will be carried out electronically. Safe, secure electronic payment systems are available today.
Having a World Wide Web site provides several marketing advantages:
Who visits your site, how long they stay and what they look at can be tracked to fine tune your marketing message. If properly designed, your web site can gather demographic and interest data that will help you target your market better and add to your prospect list.
Your Web site can allow your customer to fill out an order on line, creating the first step in an automated order delivery process.
Information on your Web site can be updated on a real-time basis. This keeps clients and customers revisiting your site to see "what's new". Catalogs, product descriptions and prices are never out of date and can be revised with minimal effort and expense. Dissemination costs are minimized.
Your Web site should be interactive, allowing visitors to make comments, get technical support, leave messages for support personnel and navigate the site to retrieve the information they need, whenever they need it.
Your Web site can be electronically linked to other Web sites that serve the interests of your clientele. When such reciprocal links are established (hyperlinks), your prospective clients can visit your site at the touch of a button.
Business-to-business firms will use the Internet to send/receive product, application and service information. They will also send and receive purchase orders, delivery confirmation data and provide on-line customer service and customer support. Using the World Wide Web, firms say they can conduct a wide variety of business activities on-line. These include:
While the list of potential applications is extensive, you can probably add items that are particular to your firm's business and sales activities. With each passing day, business and professional people are finding new applications, new sources of information, new customers and a new edge to help them in their specific marketplace.
But don't put up a Web page simply because everyone else is putting up a Web page. Make the site useful and informative for your target audience. Make certain the information flows. Make certain it pays off for the person who has gone to the trouble to come to your site. Make certain it pays off for you.
Regardless of your objectives, the Internet and Web will put your organization (large or small) on an equal, competitive footing with firms locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.
Yes. But it may surprise you where it should reside.
The first principle to understand is that geographical location is not important. The Internet operates globally, and will allow access to your Web site whether it is on your premises or across the country. So, then, what are the most important characteristics of a good Web site location? Speed and flexible performance.
The most common complaint of people attempting to access Web sites is the length of time it takes to draw the screens. The second most common complaint is a "server not responding" message that tells your prospective customer that your site is busy and not open for business. The most likely cause of both of these complaints is improper location of the site. This factor alone can mean the success or failure of your Web project. If a customer tries several times to get information from your World Wide Web home page and is denied access, or kept waiting, they will not return.
Until recently, most Web sites were located on a server within the premises of the company that hosted them. This resulted in many problems. One of these problems is security. If your home page is tied to your corporate network, a creative hacker may be able to access corporate data through your Web server. The second problem is traffic congestion. Most business customers will be accessing your site at precisely the same time that your employees are using the Internet to perform their jobs. If there is a single path to the Internet from your premises, the traffic in both directions can significantly slow down your customers and your employees. This can be true even if your access is through a T1 line (see the section on connections for details).
Picture the Internet as a water distribution system. There is the main aqueduct that supplies your city (this is called the "backbone" in Internet terms), and a series of pipes of decreasing size until it winds up flowing from your tap. When you open up a Web site, you are increasing the water flow requirement to a small river, which can not be supplied through your garden hose. You could go to the expense of increasing the size of the pipes to your premises, but there will still be times when the demand will exceed the supply.
The answer is to place your site next to the aqueduct (backbone) where a virtually unlimited flow is possible. In Internet terms, this means finding an Internet Service Provider (ISP) that can locate your Web server directly adjacent to the Internet backbone. Not all ISP's have this capability. Your ISP must operate a portion of the Internet backbone, and that segment must be directly connected to all of the other major ISP's and Internet exchange points at T3 speeds.
Being hosted directly on the backbone by a business Internet Service Provider has additional benefits. The best ISP's are uncompromising in keeping their server technology at the highest levels. This means that the best of technology and specialized staff are always available to your firm. If a business purchases its own server, upgrades can be a major expense. Being located on an ISP server also means that you won't have to worry about maintenance issues. Also, if your Web site becomes very popular, you can be relocated to a larger capacity server at the ISP site. With your own server, it would need to be replaced or upgraded, often at considerable cost.
This solution is also less costly than locating the Web site on your premises. For these reasons, most companies are now rethinking their World Wide Web strategies and moving their sites to a reputable ISP located on the Internet backbone.
If your company is large enough to employ full time in-house programmers to establish and maintain your site, you will gain some control by keeping this function in your organization. But authoring a Web site requires an unusual combination of skills, including artistic talent, technical competence and marketing savvy. One of the most important features of the World Wide Web is the ability to cross connect (hyperlink) your site with other related sites so that a simple mouse click can transport your prospective customer to your site from the hyperlinked site. Your programmers must keep up to date on all related sites to promote this feature. There are a few people with all of these talents, but they are not easy to find.
In most cases, it will be quicker and more cost effective to employ a professional team of Web authors to establish and maintain your site (although you will still need in-house personnel to supply content input). This is the surest way of obtaining profitable results from the outset.
How do you find and select a Web authoring team? At this time, you will not likely find them in your phone book. Word of mouth from satisfied customers is a good method (just make sure the pleased customer has requirements similar to yours). Many advertising agencies perform this function, so you might check with yours.
Be aware that there are several specialties within the domain of Web authoring teams, such as large data bases, on-line commerce, direct marketing, legal, financial, high tech, biotech, entertainment, etc. It is rare to find a team with a combination of experience in all of the specialties. Some ISP's provide this service directly, but their ability to cover all of the areas of expertise is likely to be limited. Web authoring is a field for specialists, not generalists. It is best to seek out a group that has a proven track record authoring sites like yours.
The most efficient way to find such a group is to consult with an ISP that has no vested interest in any individual Web author. They will be aware of the most competent Web authoring groups to meet your exact requirements.
The cost of a Web site depends on many factors. A recent study from International Data Corporation (IDC) indicated that the initial cost of establishing a Web site ranged from a several hundred dollars to over $100,000. Both the low end and the high end of the scale were likely to be failures. The low end because not enough resources were employed and the high end because the cost did not justify the return. So what is "just the right amount"? Here are some guidelines. These estimates are based on average requirements. Your expenses may vary.
On an in-house site, authored by your staff, your expenses will include a server (around $15,000), one or two full time employees for several months (estimate $25,000) and a high speed connection (about $2,500). Ongoing costs will include at least one full time employee ($5,000/mo.) and a high speed connection (estimate $2,500/mo). There are additional costs involved to ensure security. And there are limitations in traffic capacity, in-house expertise and equipment obsolescence.
On the other hand, you could have your site professionally designed for $2,000 to $15,000 (depending on complexity) and house it directly on the Internet backbone on a high speed server supplied by an Internet Service Provider for a few hundred dollars in initial fees and a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per month, depending on the size of the site and the traffic to the site.
A few years ago, the answer to this question would have been "maybe". Just a few months ago, the answer would have been "probably". Today, the answer is almost certainly "YES!" In almost every field of endeavor, the Internet provides a means to enhance your business, and the proof is in the successes that already exist.
Are all Internet projects a success? Definitely not. Many businesses don't utilize the Internet wisely. Success requires a carefully thought out business plan, proper selection of an Internet Service Provider and wise selection of other professional partners. In the end, this is good news.
This means that a small or medium sized enterprise can successfully compete with a much larger company by intelligently using the Internet.
If you'd like more information about Internet success stories in your Industry,
we'll be glad to give you some examples.
The Internet backbone is very reliable. It is as reliable as the major long distance telephone companies that your business relies on every day.
The reliability you will experience on the Internet depends entirely on the reliability of your Internet Service Provider.
Businesses need the most reliable connections available. These business grade connections (as opposed to recreational grade connections) are obtainable only through ISPs that actually provide Internet backbone service. There are many ISPs that claim to provide business grade service, but do not provide direct connections to the backbone. You can assure that you get the reliability you need by asking two questions:
Yes, with some qualifications.
No network is entirely secure. Most security breaches are from the inside of an organization. However, a business should take prudent precautions to assure that its Internet connection is secure enough to meet its individual requirements.
For most businesses, the Internet in its native form is secure enough. Others may have need for a "firewall" to separate the Internet connection from corporate data. Still others may require encryption or message authentication to meet their business needs.
The bottom line is this. A thorough analysis of your security needs should be performed before you connect to the Internet. Your ISP should be able to discuss this topic intelligently, make recommendations and be able to provide any hardware or software necessary to meet your Internet security requirements.
First, be aware that a business Internet Service Provider is providing service, not a commodity. One of the most common mistakes that companies make in selecting their first provider is to assume that all Internet providers are equal. They clearly are not.
As companies begin to use the Internet, they find that it becomes a critical part of their business. It must be as reliable, secure and easy to use as their telephone service. A recreational provider charges less than a reputable business Internet Service Provider because they offer an unacceptably low quality of service for business usage (although they may be doing a fine job for recreational users). This can have an unfortunate effect on your bottom line, because it will waste your employees' time, delay or fail to deliver important communications, and frustrate automated business processes.
Questions and evaluation criteria you'll want to consider when considering your Internet Service Provider follow.
Most Internet providers target their services to recreational or individual users. Make sure your provider has a long history of providing business service. Be sure to ask for a list of customers in your line of business.
Availability for direct connections is measured as a percentage of uptime for the network under control of the ISP. This should not be less than 99.8%. Availability in relation to dial up connections is measured by the number of busy signals encountered in 100 attempts to connect. It is expressed as a "p level" of service where p.05 is equal to five busies per 100 attempts. Ask your ISP what "p level" they grade their dial up service to. An ideal level for business use is p.02. An acceptable level is p.05. Anything greater is unacceptable for business use.
Network topology is one of the most important factors to consider when selecting an ISP. By reviewing the firm's network topology, you can determine how vulnerable the network is to outages, how much capacity is available when the network is operating at peak load periods and how well the provider understands sound network engineering.
Reputable providers will provide information on their network topology because it gives them the opportunity to explain how well they understand their business.
Examine the network topology closely. Is the backbone operated by the ISP? Is the backbone at full T3 speeds? Does it connect directly to several Network Access Points (NAPs) to prevent a single point of failure? On critical routes, is the backbone redundant so that traffic can be carried even though an outage occurs?
Once you've evaluated the physical topology, you need to examine the speeds of the backbone links. Your organization's network connection can only be as fast as the slowest link in the network path.
Even if your organization has a T3 node, if there is only a 56 Kbps link between your connection and the Internet backbone, throughput will be limited to the slower speed. It would be the same as hooking a half-inch garden hose to a fire hydrant. The limiting factor is the garden hose, not the fire hydrant. If the ISP claims to have a high-speed backbone, determine if the speed is available now or is being planned. Determine if the topology you are being shown is operational or still in development. Some ISP's have been known to show links that aren't operational as part of their backbone infrastructure.
Some providers claim to have a T3 (45Mbps) backbone but they may only have a "fractional" T3 connection, running at the slower range of T1 speeds.
Next, examine the external links of the ISPs' backbones you are considering. If they have a single connection to the rest of the Internet, there is the possibility of a single point of failure. Look for ISP's who have multiple, direct connections to other network providers. The more connections, the better. This shows that the provider is concerned about external connectivity and isn't dependent on a third party for interconnection.
If the potential provider has a single connection to the outside world, find out how often it fails and how long they are usually isolated. "Not very often" is not a sufficient answer. If they can't provide these statistics, they aren't managing their network very well.
Check the staff's experience in TCP/IP data networking (TCP/IP is the network protocol that the Internet requires to work). They should have several staff members who have had extensive experience in this area. While it is unlikely that you will actually deal with these senior people on a day-to-day basis, it is reassuring to have them available when needed. Make certain that the technical staff consists of individuals who are experienced with TCP/IP and not just "networking-related" projects.
Make certain that the Internet Service Provider has adequate staff to handle unusual situations, which may arise. Many service providers have a potential single point of failure due to inadequate staff capacity.
Take a close look at the provider's network operations center (NOC). It should be staffed round-the-clock and round-the-calendar. The network must be accessible to your employees who may be working outside of normal business hours. Also, do not forget that the Internet is global -- your connection or Web site should be conveniently available for all time zones. A number of Internet service providers claim 7 x 24 operations, which means that someone is always available to answer the phone but they aren't capable of dealing with your problem. An answering service or beeper is no substitute for a trained network engineer. Insist that one be constantly available and not simply on-call.
Determine how the NOC is staffed. While it is normal to have junior staff members on duty at odd hours of the night, it is critical that senior personnel be onsite between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. If a connection fails during "normal" business hours, your requirements deserve to have senior people immediately available to resolve the situation.
The Network Operations center should be constantly testing each link of the network to provide proactive service to fix a problem before it affects your business.
The NOC should be equipped with an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) and a self contained generator to power the operation during a power outage.
The NOC should be redundant (mirrored in another location). A local disaster at the NOC site should not interrupt your service.
Determine how long the firm has been in the ISP business. Are they in the business for the long haul?
Determine their financial stability. If they are publicly held, ask for copies of their audited financial statements. If they are a division or subsidiary of a larger corporation, determine the fiscal health of the parent firm and their commitment to the ISP services industry.
Determine if they have one or two major accounts that provide a majority of their revenue. The loss of these accounts could dramatically impact their ability to maintain quality of service for your firm.
Does the provider offer a full range of services (from low-end to high-end) or is it simply filling a niche? If you have to increase or decrease your service level, will they be able to accommodate you? Will you have to switch providers?
Does the potential provider offer true one-stop shopping? Will they supply equipment, manuals, training, consulting, on-site analysis, installation and other support as well as basic service?
Find out how many customers the provider actually has. Some firms claim all the individuals they have connected, while others only count organizations and firms that are connected. The number of professional organizations willing to pay $500 to $1,000 and more per month for connectivity is a better indication of the quality of professional service than the number of individuals willing to pay $10 to $20 per month.
Carry out a price/benefit analysis.
While prices should be competitive when compared to other business oriented providers, beware of prices that appear to be too low. The least expensive providers make compromises on backbone capacity, access capacity (dial up and ISDN) and support services. Be sure that your ISP is as professional as your organization.
Some providers may appear to be less expensive than others. Make certain you are doing an "apples-to-apples" comparison. Don't compare no-frills service with full-service offerings. Make certain that "Basic" service with one is the same as "Basic" service with another provider. Don't get trapped into incurring the added expense of having your employees provide services that the ISP should provide.
Ask for customer references. Talk to them. Find out what issues current customers have. They may be the same as yours.
Once individuals and organizations begin taking advantage of the power, flexibility and capabilities available with the Internet and Web, they wonder how they ever got along without it. The key is to select a responsive and responsible service provider that can help you optimize the use of this new professional and business tool.
The answers to the following questions will give you a good idea of how a prospective Internet Service Provider will be able to fill your business needs.