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Book review: e-Profit<I> </I>adds up to success and failure

This book review by TechRepublic contributor Thomas Pack looks at Peter Cohan's <I>e-Profit</I>, a detailed account of e-commerce initiatives. The case histories describe success and failure, and Cohan adds checklists for e-commerce success.


By Peter S. CohanAmacom Books, published February 2000269 pp. plus index; hardcoverISBN: 0-8144-0544-4Price: $19.55 at fatbrain.com .
You can’t complain that e-Profit doesn’t provide enough case studies. The book contains several high-profile examples, including:
  • The high ROI of Cisco Systems’ online initiative
  • The management practices at Amazon.com
  • The implementation of an electronic trading system at Charles Schwab
  • The clumsy forays into e-business by Merrill Lynch

There are many, many other online endeavors described—including those at Eastman Chemical, Provident American, Weyerhaeuser, Citigroup, and the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.

E-Profit also offers an abundance of checklists and step-by-step procedures for accomplishing objectives, including:
  • The 10 most important principles for e-commerce success
  • A nine-step methodology for using e-commerce to create competitive advantage
  • A seven-step process financial managers can follow to conduct an e-engineering project analysis
  • The six performance criteria that the architecture for back-office applications must satisfy
  • Five general principles of managing e-commerce-induced change
  • A nine-step methodology for evaluating technology suppliers

And that’s just a sampling. Clearly, e-Profit packs a lot of information into a few hundred pages, but most of it is information that will be more helpful to non-technical executives who are just beginning to explore e-commerce than to experienced IT managers whose companies already have established an online presence.

E-commerce for Luddites
The author of e-Profit, Peter Cohan, is a management consultant who also has written Net Profit: How to Invest and Compete in the Real World of Internet Business. In that book, Cohan defined and analyzed several distinct Internet business segments.

In e-Profit, Cohan points out that although articles about the new economy and dot-com companies dominate the headlines, most organizations have not yet fully explored Net business. “Executives are dipping their toes in the water of e-commerce—not diving in,” Cohan noted. He also said, “Simply put, the vast majority of CEOs are Internet Luddites.”

He explains why executives might want to embrace technology in the first section of the book, “Winning the Economic Case for E-Commerce.” It explores high-payoff e-commerce initiatives and notes that “effective e-commerce applications come from understanding significant sources of organizational and customer pain.” The first section also shows how to perform financial evaluations of e-commerce projects and looks at ways e-commerce creates competitive advantage.

Cohan’s advice is practical and his tone is often cautious. “Despite the overwhelming volume of hype,” he said, “the evidence on e-commerce and competitive advantage suggests that we are still discovering the extent and sustainability of the advantages that e-commerce can offer to companies. Due to the rapid pace of change, all such advantage must realistically be seen as provisional.”

Making the move online
Much of the book also focuses on “Managing the Transition to E-Commerce.” You’ll find advice on getting senior management online and a highly detailed seven-step methodology for evaluating potential e-commerce applications.

One chapter, “Building the E-Commerce Infrastructure,” sounds as if it would offer technical tips, but the information clearly is intended for Luddites—as evinced by the fact that Cohan feels the need to explain that online retailers use “a Web software language called HyperText Markup Language (HTML) to make online stores operate.”

Instead of providing technical details, Cohan offers methodologies for evaluating technology suppliers. A separate chapter focuses on negotiating deals with them and provides an especially effective checklist on best negotiation practices.

The recommendation
Cohan’s prose style tends to be a bit awkward and wordy. Copy editors also fell short by failing to correct several distracting typos. Still, e-Profit may be worthwhile for Cohan’s target audience of CEOs and CFOs at large, traditional companies. The book could help them, as the author wrote, “reposition their companies to compete against Internet-only competitors” and “drive the implementation of the highest payoff e-commerce applications.”

E-Profit will be less valuable to Cohan’s secondary audience of managers at Internet-only or Internet-savvy companies. The author points out that the book provides “insights into the strategies and management approaches,” but most well-read managers will be familiar with the case studies because of extensive reports in the trade journals from which Cohan derived his information.

I’m not saying that reading e-Profit is a waste of time. It’s nice to have all the case studies collected in one place, and some people may find the checklists and step-by-step methodologies genuinely helpful. But if you have time to read only one book on strategies for capturing the e-commerce edge, I would recommend Blown to Bits instead of e-Profit. (To read a review of Blown to Bits, click here.)
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