New Rules

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

The American business community has been more successful than any other in utilizing the Internet, says Prof. Mary Cronin (CSOM), but it is no longer alone at the top.

"It's fair to say the US has a two-year lead," Cronin said. "The cycle of change in computer and Internet-related technology is so rapid, however, that two years simply doesn't mean much. Companies in Japan and Great Britain, for example, are catching up, and so it is important to start looking beyond the US for new models in this global electronic marketplace."

Cronin examines these models as she discusses how the Internet has changed the rules for international business in her forthcoming book, Global Advantage On The Internet: From Corporate Connectivity to International Competitiveness . Focusing on the World Wide Web, Cronin notes how innovative companies use the technology to transcend the limits of size and location to compete on an international basis. Cronin also warns that managers who do not understand the pitfalls as well as the potential of the Internet as a tool for business, risk failure.

"One key is really understanding the global aspect of the Internet," Cronin said. "You become an international company as soon you as go on line, but you have to comprehend what that truly means - reaching out to a variety of countries, cultures, societies. It is the difference between accidental use of the Internet and strategic use."

Global Advantage is the latest in a series of publications concerning business and the Internet Cronin has written or edited in the past few years. While Internet-related books have become a growth industry of late, Cronin says she strives to explore the opportunities and challenges present in the evolving computer and telecommunications field.

"Most Internet books tend to deal with the technology itself and how you use it," she explained. "But from the beginning, I've been interested in the Internet's impact on business strategy - how it would affect marketing, communications, customer support. I look at it from the point of view of a corporation; what do they need to do, what should they keep in mind to thrive in this new environment?"

Using interviews and case studies, Cronin identifies some common factors among companies that have established a successful Internet presence. An important characteristic, she said, is that they take "an integrated approach. They invest time in using the Internet internally, not just for outside communication or other purposes. The Internet becomes a tool for guiding information inside the company, and managers and staff on every level are familiar with it."

In fact, Cronin says, the World Wide Web may become the key operating system in business, with companies using an assortment of Web servers for private and public distribution.

Cronin reiterates the importance in recognizing the diversity of clientele accessible through the Internet as another key to success. One California-based company, Virtual Vineyards, was fashioned almost entirely as an Internet site to sell wine, yet subsequently developed partnerships in Germany and Japan to expand its base of customers. Other companies, such as Sun Microsystems, have established "mirror sites" in different countries instead of trying to manage all traffic at one centralized location.

"You cannot operate blindly," Cronin said. "You need to track who is logging on, where the interest is coming from, and respond to these new groups and develop some lasting ties."

One difficulty in publishing Internet-related books, Cronin says, is the rapid advances in technology which offer even more innovations. But developments outside the technological realm are also likely to affect the electronic marketplace, she adds, especially as the current anti-federal trend in American government continues.

Plans for the federal government to take a leadership role in establishing technology throughout America "are being reversed by Congress at a time when other countries are adopting them," Cronin said. "It is not clear to me that the this approach is the best. The Internet is not just about business but also education and research, and to assume that private industry can be the only source of investment just does not seem the best strategy."

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