Subject: Apr2001 A New Internet-Enabled World brought to you by
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A New Internet-Enabled World
by Mitchell Levy, Author of

Every business - 25 years ago, today, and 25 years from now - must continually ask three basic questions:

  • What business am I in?
  • What value do I provide to my customer?
  • How do universal networks change things?

Fundamentally, digital commerce in the next decade will resemble the Internet components of today: internetworked CPUs, each with individual identity, applications, and repositories of data. Networks have always been key, but the critical transformation will be the shift from analog to digital mobile devices.

The start of networks:

Networks and "value moving at the speed of light" started 100 years ago with electricity. We separated power generation from power consumption, and enabled remote devices - connected over networks - to leverage distributed power. With the advent of radio, we moved the electromagnetic spectrum from moving electrons to moving information, and radio created the first "wireless portals" over 50 years ago. Early telephones became the first "individual" nodes interconnected on the new communications networks. The critical inflection point was the invention of the transistor, which allowed us to process "mass-less" information using computers instead of paper, and gave birth to the mainframe-computing era.

In the late 1970s, local area networks and inexpensive desktop computing created the client-server revolution, allowing thousands of computers to interchange information and share local resources. The advent of the Internet in the next decade gave each computer access to the global network, plus a half dozen messaging formats to move information. A shift in focus from addressing computers to addressing information gave rise to the Web, which made the Internet useful and relevant to ordinary citizens and dramatically accelerated its growth.

The advent of the Web and its potential to provide universal access to a market of over 250,000,000 users made every desktop a potential point of sale, and "electronic commerce" exploded. But the quiet story of 10,000 internetworked ATMs, 100,000 enterprises using electronic data interchange (EDI), and over 2 trillion dollars in network mediated credit transactions was ignored by most analysts. E-Commerce actually began 30 years prior to the Web.

Today, we marvel at the range of devices now joining desktop computers connected to the Internet: 10 million PDAs and 40 million cell phones, which together will outnumber the 250 million computers on the Web by 2005. In much the same way that electricity became a standard for moving power over networks, our TCP-IP protocols have become a standard for connecting any digital device, whether mobile or stationary, to the global resources of the Internet and, more recently, to the distributed computing resources offered through Web services.

PDAs, which first were a novelty gadget, now plug in to corporate networks, synchronize with enterprise information, and can even run ERP applications. They can mingle. Wireless phones, expected to outnumber Internet computers in three years, can not only surf the Web, they intelligently connect to programs that push information from corporate of commerce sites, signaling when information can or should be acted on. Our pagers have become email receivers that are capable of filtering out everything except what we should know, or want to know.

GPS units in cars make look like navigational devices today, but someday they will guide us to nearby food, shopping, or hotel services as our digital personas move fluidly over the globe, always in contact with intelligent business applications. Future wireless devices, detecting the deployment of an air bag and structural change to surrounding steel, will quickly inform emergency response centers to the exact location of a severe car accident - and even perhaps provide the identities of the occupants, pushing medical records to the scene.

Hospitals use PDAs not just to input data without paper, but to move patient information to repositories that analyze, predict, and message to health care professionals the next important treatment to prescribe. As an aggregate, Internet connected medical devices and instruments will cull the repositories of medical data, helping pharmaceutical firms to quickly analyze the effectiveness of new patient treatments.

Lastly, developments in broadband communications, HDTV with static IP addresses, and rich media are driving the long-awaited convergence of entertainment, information, and commerce. E-learning, the new hero of global education, simply addresses the three questions for any business. E-Learning is based on the premise that intelligent delivery of content, in a more pleasing interface that captures all the modalities, is the best way to extend education from physical community portals out to interconnected and distributed portals.

Many of these business models have "human consumers", but others don't, as computers will now seek out Web services using directories, and deliver value to the enterprise, channels, or end user customers.

Today, business models move fluidly, connecting enterprise business processes and negotiating the trade of information in P2P distributed portals. But it's still the same game. Every business must continually ask:

  • What business am I in?
  • What value do I provide to my customer?
  • How do universal networks change things?

All types of businesses - insurance companies, banks, health care firms, educational institutions, and news services- under all kinds of names - including such bellwethers as Oracle, SAP, Schwab, AOL, and NCR- have simply leveraged the power of the Internet to distribute value, meet new demands of mobile users, and leverage a universe of data, applications, and commerce enabled devices. FedEx and UPS use ubiquitous networks to connect scanner data immediately with enterprise databases, and make relevant information instantly accessible to customers over the Web. Local law enforcement personnel use similar devices to scan in license plates in parking zones. And the ubiquitous nature of cameras on traffic lights, directly linked to OCR units in many municipalities, has automated the business process of many urban cities. Welcome to the era of digital law enforcement.

Will the electronic bridge tolls that record our presence in the morning and evenings eventually become more widespread, facilitating "pay per ride" access to special lanes in freeways and controlling entrance to public and private parking facilities? We may enjoy the convenience of paying one monthly bill instead of paying for multiple individual transactions, but such a system will also make it easier to decipher our daily activities. When high definition broadband televisions deliver pay-per-view content, will every nuance of news, entertainment, and information we watch be known, and-cross matched with our zip codes and estimated incomes? This brings up an interesting question: in an era of universal networks, remote scanning and sensing devices of all kinds, in which our identities not so hidden, will our very individuality become transparent?

While we can't imagine where networked information from every electronic point of service will take us, we can be sure about the steady forward march of digital commerce. Those firms that understand network-delivered value, independent of the device and the protocol, will e-volve into 21st Century practitioners of digital commerce. The Internet was just the first quantum leap of many to come. In this new era, strategy will leverage technology, and not the other way around.

"Just as" seems to juxtapose the second clause an event that is happening or recently happened, and the advent of electricity does not fit that description.

I hope you enjoy this eZine.
See you in cyberspace,

Mitchell Levy
Executive Producer, <>
President, <>
Founder and Coordinator, SJSU-PD ECM Certificate Program <>

  • is the premier monthly ECM e-zine.
  • is an e-commerce strategy, e-marketing and training firm. helping start-up, medium and large corporations change their business to harness the power of the Internet.
  • is a book one must read to help them figure out how to e-volve-or-die
  • San Jose State University, Professional Development, Electronic Commerce Management (ECM) is a Certificate Program for e-commerce professionals <>.

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