Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Does e-Business Automate or Informate?

Does e-Business Automate or Informate?

Electronic Business (e-Business) is, in its simplest form, the conduct of business on the internet according to Marios Alexandrou, SEO Director, East Coast at Steak, New York. He attributes the first usage of the term to IBM, in 1997, when it launched a commercial campaign on the internet, forcing many corporations to reconsider their perspective of their extant businesses with relation to the internet within its supposedly definable boundary of capabilities. With the passage of time and the evolution of the internet to a seemingly limitless entity, I would define e-Business as the focussed harmonisation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in furtherance of an overall business aim.
Zuboff (1988) argued that the computer, initially designed to replace lower echelon jobs by automating them had, instead, led to an unexpected outcome: a focus on what she called ‘informating’. A close look reveals that the technology implementation that Zuboff describes can be seen from two angles. One aspect concerns automation of arduous manual and repetitive tasks. The other facet, more central to Zuboff, involves informating or re-designing work well beyond automated tasks so that any new data generated by computerisation could be developed by workers into a strategic company asset. Informating calls for collecting, organising, analysing and creating a database, the domain of IT specialists, who then administer it. This information flow is, de facto, edifying to those with access to the computers, thereby precluding the planned laying off of staff. I agree with Zuboff, but find that I have to go beyond her. I believe that computerisation works at two levels:
    The first and most important level is its output of information. It is this information that guides decision making authorities to an optimal business strategy, i.e. minimal cost and maximum efficiency. Information is of many types and impossibly diverse to pen. From an organisations’s point of view, the field could be narrowed, depending upon its raison d’ĂȘtre, to departmental productivity rates; cross-channel interaction, particularly in supply chains; delivery schedules/bottlenecks; market demand and performance, etc. 
            The second level is a mix of information and linked automation, fed downwards through a network, an indication that the management believes in informating.  Workers are granted access to role-specific data and overall section-wise performance, creativity is encouraged.  Workers now have the opportunity to explore different patterns in the information, perhaps bringing ideas to the company that will increase productivity, decrease operating costs, create new products, or serve customers better. Feedback is welcome. Workplace ethos also changes to an unshackled approach.
Next, consider the case of the world's largest enterprise software company, Oracle. The first sentence that stares at you in big bold letters when you download their brochure at http://www.oracle.com/us/solutions/financial-management/018836.pdf is their USP: INFORMATION GENERATES VALUE, the Cornerstone for Sustainable Compliance and Growth. Today’s branch heads in an organisation are constantly carrying out a balancing act. On the one hand, they must comply with increasingly stringent regulations, which require a consistent flow of information.  On the other, they must help guide the enterprise to a profitable future, investing in new opportunities and equipment while hedging risks to maximise Returns on Investment (ROI) and economies of scale. What is of great help here is that the information is fully transparent and the data presented is exactly the same to all heads. They are on a level playing field as a cohesive unit if called upon to make either objective or selective judgments.
Boeing engineers also use ‘informating’, which they describe as a collaborative, distributed and multimodal system. Their perspective is slightly different, as should be the case in two vastly differing industries. Boeing believes informating strategies emerge as industries move beyond an emphasis on productive efficiency, where ‘automating’ strategies tend to be at the forefront− like the production of Intel chips− to an emphasis on innovation and competitive advantage in which interpretation and manipulation of information to suit the organisation’s aims can be as important as the production of material goods.
Automating technologies seek to extract productive value (skill, technique, strength) from human bodies and invest them in machines, making human labour superfluous. Informating technologies− for example electronic mail and bulletin boards, telecom networks, etc. also extract or externalise workers' activity (e.g. planning and discussion,) but they do not seek to replace workers; they are meant to augment or enhance a worker's performance.
There is an inexorable but welcome concomitant to informating: A change in workplace ethos. Informating addresses the changing roles among managers and workers that occur with the influx of information technologies. In the informated work milieu, quite different from an industrial area of operations – a trio of specific operating conditions needs to be met.
1.    Managers must ‘release’ workers to explore and interpret patterns in the central database's content. In many cases, this means that managers must loosen their grip on authority to give way to a more decentralised work environment. Workers should be encouraged to look for underpinning patterns that contribute to innovation and new directions and rewarded for their discovery.
2.   Workers need access to participate. This mandates that systems' computer expertise be decentralised and distributed throughout the organisation so that workers have more direct, ongoing access to key, raw data, i.e. resources.
3.   The management must make a conscious effort to develop and to train workers so they can determine context within the informational stockpile and participate in the planning process; this is especially valid at the brainstorming level.
The flexibility of Web tools for managing multimedia content, the relatively little staff required to design and maintain a site, and the technology's inherent accessibility by most users are the primary reasons behind the growing popularity of Web-based tools for informating projects. Interestingly, research has shown that information professionals - whether they are working in a corporate library or in another department as Webmasters - play a key role in designing and/or and maintaining a company's central information resource and in carrying out the informating process. Typically, the core database is the history of the organisation since inception. Even more interesting is a report that by placing most of their core database as ‘current awareness’ on their Web site, an organisation added a strategic edge by off-loading a lot of repetitious tasks/responses and directly saved millions of dollars annually in support calls.
           Judging from the evaluation and analysis presented supra, there is no need to fear that e-business will morph to its retrogressive past by going back to the earlier wave of automation,  with systems that either replace people or reduce the amount of skill that people need to do with systems that either replace people or reduce the amount of skill that people need to do their jobs.
Zorayda Ruth Andam, in her Report on the e-ASEAN Task Force UNDP-APDIP (2003), writes, “In the emerging global economy, e-commerce and e-business have increasingly become a necessary component of business strategy and a strong catalyst for economic development. The integration of information and communications technology (ICT) in business has revolutionised relationships within organisations and those between and among organisations and individuals. Specifically, the use of ICT in business has enhanced productivity, encouraged greater customer participation, and enabled mass customisation, besides reducing costs” (http://www.apdip.net/publications/iespprimers/eprimer-ecom.pdf p.5).
Andam first defines e-commerce as a wide range of online business activities for products and services. It also pertains to any form of business transaction in which the parties interact electronically rather than by physical exchanges or direct physical contact. (p.6)
E-commerce is usually associated with buying and selling over the Internet, or conducting any transaction involving the transfer of ownership or rights to use goods or services through a computer-mediated network. Though used often, this definition is not exhaustive enough to integrate latest developments in this new and revolutionary business phenomenon. A more complete definition is: E-commerce is the use of electronic communications and digital information processing technology in business transactions to create, transform, and redefine relationships for value creation between or among organisations, and between organisations and individuals.
Interestingly, e-business also deals with commercial transactions over the net. It has the same parameters, viz., Buyer, Seller or Provider, Internet contact and contract, Product and Sale. On the topic of whether the Internet economy is synonymous with e-commerce and e-business, she writes that the Internet economy is a broader concept than e-commerce and  e-business. It includes e-commerce and e-business.
            Andam defines e-business as: 'The transformation of an organization’s processes to deliver additional customer value through the application of technologies, philosophies and computing paradigm of the new economy.' Surely, this is just a matter of semantics, a play of words. What then is the difference between e-commerce and e-business?
Andam explains that internet economy pertains to all economic activities using electronic networks as a medium for commerce or those activities involved in both building the networks linked to the Internet and the purchase of application services such as the provision of enabling hardware and software and network equipment for Web-based/online retail and shopping malls (or 'e-malls'). It is made up of three major segments: physical (ICT) infrastructure, business infrastructure, and commerce. The CREC (Center for Research and Electronic Commerce) at the University of Texas has developed a conceptual framework for how the Internet economy works. The framework shows four layers of the Internet economy-the three mentioned above and a fourth called intermediaries.
 Let’s look at the components of the four layers.
                                      Layer 1: Internet Infrastructure: Companies that provide the enabling hardware,
software, and networking equipment for Internet and for the World Wide Web. 
          Layer 2: Internet Applications Infrastructure: Companies that make software     products that facilitate Web transactions; companies that provide Web development design and consulting services.    
               Layer 3:    Internet Intermediaries: Companies that link e- commerce buyers   and sellers;companies that provide Web content; companies that provide marketplaces in which e-commerce transactions can occur.

          Layer 4 – Internet Commerce Companies that sell products or services directly to consumers or businesses. There is no mention of e-businesses here! Does Andam imply e-commerce has the same factors or components as e-business? Or that they are the same in different guises? No, we need to go back to basics here. I’ll give you a hint: Read page 7 of Andam’s PDF carefully.
If you want a slightly clearer understanding of the two, just remember that e-commerce is a subset of e-business. “E-business goes far beyond e-commerce or buying and selling over the Internet, and deep into the processes and cultures of an enterprise. It is the powerful business environment that is created when you connect critical business systems directly to customers, employees, vendors, and business partners, using Intranets, Extranets, e-commerce technologies, collaborative applications, and the Web.” Read about it online at: (http://www.ebusinessprogrammers.com/ebusiness/ecommerce_and_ebusiness.asp). I don’t think you will have doubts anymore.
                   
Anik Singal's Lethal Commission - The IM Movie! Huge Epc! (mobile only)
The One Of A Kind Product Launch. A Full Production Movie. Tested At $5.22 Epc And Monster Conversions.
The Product Is Top Notch With 24 Hour Customer Service On Board! Grab A Piece Of The $22,000 Cash Prize
Contest At www.lethaljv.com For More Info
CLICK HERE!