IBM Exec: Simplify E-Business

"Make it simple and they will come" was the message from one of IBM's top Internet executives in a keynote address that opened the E-Business Conference and Expo in New York today.

While E-business has taken hold, more work is needed to simplify everything from the devices used for Internet access to the back-end systems that support electronic commerce, said Irving Wladawsky-Berger, general manager of IBM's Internet division. "We have to make it easy to use. Look at electricity or television. You turn on a switch or plug it in the wall and it works," he said.

Growth in E-business will continue at a fast pace because of the rapid advancement of technology such as the next-generation Internet, broadband, streaming media, and increased bandwidth, Wladawsky-Berger said. Wireless devices such as cellular phones and Palm Pilots with Web access as well as consumer goods such as televisions with Web support will also drive growth by bringing applications to users when and where they need them. As a result, new E-businesses will flourish as companies figure out ways to take advantage of the technology, Wladawsky-Berger said.

While IBM has so far focused much of its E-business efforts on Fortune 1,000 customers, the company is looking to target smaller Internet-based businesses, Wladawsky-Berger said in an interview after his keynote. "The Net-generation companies are inventing the E-business models," he said. "We want to grow with these companies and use these innovations to help other businesses grow."

Whether these E-businesses are business to consumer or business to business, integrating legacy systems is key to their success, Wladawsky-Berger said. For E-tailers, this means paying special attention to customer service and integrating all sales channels to create a simple and easy experience for customers. "More than price, people will return as customers because of the service," he said. For business-to-business sites where attractive marketing and customer service is less of a focus, the ability to integrate business partners' legacy systems such as procurement and payment is essential.

Still, keeping all these complex technological developments seemingly simple to users will be the greatest challenge as the industry moves into the next century, Wladawsky-Berger said. "Technology that brings tears to the eyes of scientists should be hidden from the user experience."

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