Bringing Order to e-Business Transition Chaos

By Peter Weill & Michael R Vitale
Harvard Business Review Press
Any company that has tried to make sense of the rapid rise of e-business over the past few years will know that no one solution quite “fits”.
Most models designed by theoreticians exist only in rarified dominions of academia, and have little to do with the reality of trying to get the job done in way that won’t destroy the whole company if it doesn’t work. Place To Space tries to bring some order to that chaos, and recognises that more hype won’t help. “The e and dot revolution can declare victory when e-business becomes business and the dot-com becomes the corporation.”
Peter Weill, an Australian living in America as director of the Center for Information Systems Research and Senior Research Scientist at the MIT Sloan School, and Michael R Vitale, an American living in Australia as dean and director of the Australian Graduate School of Management in Sydney, have co-authored Place To Space as an antidote to the inevitable frustrations of finding your way around new theories.
At first glance it would be easy to discard Place To Space as yet another “me-too” book to satisfy the egos of Weill and Vitale. Progressing through the book, however, it becomes clear that the plain format and simple layout belie the fact that within the chapters lie practical models of how to modify traditional company into combination of bricks and mortar operating in both place and space.
Perhaps it’s the editing. The first 85 plus pages create and define jargon, and explain and analyse terminology to mind-numbing extent; it takes 27 pages of reading about atomic business models to find out what they are – at which point it all makes sense; and the “where are we now” figures and predictions for e-business growth may quickly date the book.
But that aside, this book provides some useful tools. For the record, atomic business models are defined as “the essence of the way e-business is conducted… [they] are building blocks of more complex business models… [and] each atomic e-business model is described by four characteristics: strategic objectives, sources of revenue, critical success factors, and core competencies required.”
Weill and Vitale have identified eight atomic e-business models – as starting point only and fully expecting that more will follow. Each describes philosophy of doing business. Readers will instantly recognise which of the eight models is applicable to his or her own organisation, and which combination of the eight that organisation strives to become. Weill and Vitale predict that successful implementation will depend on getting the combinations right. Some will work together and others will be mutually exclusive. For example Amazon.com is used as an example that makes use of four of the eight models: –
* direct-to-customer
* virtual community
* content provider and
* intermediary.
The other four models put forward aren’t quite so easy to recognise, or may be in conflict with the four above, which is perhaps why Amazon.com doesn’t participate. They are:
* full-service provider (a full range of services from variety of providers so the customer has no need to go elsewhere for full satisfaction);
* shared infrastructure (multiple competitors cooperating by sharing common IT infrastructure);
* value net integrator (gathering, synthesizing and distributing information);
* whole-of-enterprise/government (bringing all the disparate elements of “multiunit organisation” together using one point of contact).
The bulk of the book’s 388 pages outlines each of the eight models and methodically ushers the reader through examples, case studies, problems, schematics and resources required to implement the models. Many of the case studies are American, but some closer-to-home Australian case studies may help New Zealand readers.
Place To Space is emphatically academic in feel and style. The difference with this book is that I’m looking forward to putting the theory to the test.

Kevin Lawrence is involved in developing e- business strategies at Profile Publishing.

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