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9/19/2002
02:00 PM
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Executive Forum:
Real Connections At The Internet Party

The key to an effective working relationship is making a connection

We've all learned that it's not necessarily about technology but what we do with technology that makes the difference. So, when it comes to bringing companies together, our focus should be on creating and sustaining relationships that enable productive interactions. The Internet has given businesses an invitation to a 24-by-7 social event. It's up to business and technology leaders to make the most of this opportunity.

The key to creating an effective working relationship is to make a connection. Connection means going beyond mere communication. Business connections require physical links, but connecting goes beyond the physical networks.

The first step in the alchemy of real connections is to get internal constituents invited to the party. If your company looks like mine did a few years ago, there may be key players that aren't connected with the rest. Our technologically fragmented segments were the salespeople and construction managers who were on the front lines dealing with customers and making products.

Getting physical connections to field personnel has been challenging, but with a mix of frame relay services and VPN connections over wired and wireless broadband Internet services, as well as wireless Web connections on handheld devices, we've been able to find effective solutions. Once linked, we're able to extend applications that connect these important employees to others outside our firewall.

Once internal chemistry is addressed, connections should be established for all types of stakeholders, including prospective and actual customers, suppliers, and other business partners. The expectation of such connections should be to improve communication among the real players within each company involved in a particular process, as well as to extend the appropriate functions of applications beyond the firewall.

The most traditional connection on the Web is between a company and its customers. The customer experience is improved through the provision of information that's easy to navigate and lets customers make buying decisions in their own space, on their own schedules. At a minimum, the company's experience is made better with more-informed buyers being led through a less labor-intensive sales cycle. More advanced companies profit when they push this connection to the next level by looking for ways to better understand customers through interaction over the Web and by providing a mechanism to reach out to the company for technical support and services.

Once effective connections are established, companies can build on them to strengthen relationships. In our most advanced business units at Beazer Homes USA, we've automated interaction with the majority of our suppliers. Purchase orders are issued via E-mail and direct data exchanges through an application service provider for the home-building industry. The result is a dramatic improvement in both parties' back-office efficiencies because of the real-time exchange of schedule information.

Working relationships are based on real connections to others. The Net has given us all an invitation to make real connections with our stakeholders.

Jonathan Smoke is VP and CIO at Beazer Homes USA Inc.

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