Book review—Net Ready: Strategies for Success in the E-conomy

While they may be full of Cisco worship, authors Amir Hartman and John Sifonis are also full of good advice and insight in their book Net Ready: Strategies for Success in the E-conomy. Find out what the book offers IT executives.

By Amir Hartman and John Sifonis with John Kador; foreword by John ChambersMcGraw-Hill, published November 1999314 pp.; hardcoverISBN: 0071352422Price: $12.45 at .
Net Ready: Strategies for Success in the E-conomy could be renamed Cisco Systems’ Strategies for Success in the E-conomy.

There’s John Chambers, Cisco’s CEO, writing the foreword. (“We are growing faster than all our key competitors.”) And an entire chapter of the book focuses solely on the Cisco model. (The company “embodies many of the Net readiness lessons prescribed by this book.”)

And the authors, Amir Hartman and John Sifonis? Check the back jacket, and you’ll find they’re managing directors at Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group. So before you crack open Net Ready, know that you should expect the occasional reference to “wildly successful” companies like Cisco Systems.

But don’t let the Cisco worship deter you. This book is well worth your attention. The authors promise to help you “organize your company for success in the E-conomy, plan for E-business initiatives, link Net and business strategies, and identify opportunities for competitive advantage.” For the most part, they deliver on that promise.

Near the end of Net Ready, Hartman and Sifonis (with John Kador) write that the Internet’s most significant impact is “its ability to cut the incremental costs of interaction—the searching, coordinating, and monitoring that customers and organizations take on when they exchange goods, services, or ideas.” In the pages that precede that observation, you’ll learn how to make the Web work more effectively for your business.

Net Ready defines the E-conomy as the virtual arena in which business is conducted. This commerce is independent of activity in the conventional marketplace. Throughout the book, you’ll find assurances that if you aren’t “Net Ready,” you aren’t alone. “The components that make up Net readiness are well developed at a handful of companies,” the authors write, “in their infancies at a few more, practically nonexistent in most.”

So surely there’s hope for your business. An analogy early in the book merits repeating: “The E-conomy is very much like Oklahoma just after the land rush. The land closest to the border has been grubstaked…but most of the territory is still unmapped and there remain enormous opportunities.”

Not that you need reminding, but Net Ready also frequently notes that grasping those opportunities won’t be easy. Expect false starts, frequent stumbles, and few successes early on. Most E-business efforts “are haphazard and poorly integrated with existing value chains…the E-conomy is a harsh environment….However, those who believe that they need not participate, the E-conomy renders irrelevant.”

Included in the book is a list of common questions on e-business that the authors’ clients commonly ask:

Success stories
If you’re lagging far behind a competitor, you may be interested in Net Ready’s examples of companies that managed to nimbly catch up to and race ahead of their rivals. Consider the case of Charles Schwab and E*Trade.

The latter was a pioneer in the Internet discount brokerage industry. But once Schwab decided to challenge E*Trade, it not only equaled but exceeded E*Trade’s success. “By betting the farm on low-cost Web trading and leveraging its existing channels,” Hartman and Sifonis say, “Schwab redefined and took the lead….it accepted the role of rule taker and is now acting as the rule maker.” Net Ready picks apart the processes that make rule makers of rule takers.

The book also details the factors that drive success and forecast failure in the E-conomy. More than anything, speed and a focus on immediacy drive success.

Remember those corny K-Tel TV commercials that urged you to “order before midnight tonight!”? Net Ready would have you innovate before midnight tonight. “If the process can’t be done in say, three to six months,” the authors say your company should move on to something that can be done that quickly.

And don’t hesitate to think big. Thinking too small is one Net Ready example of a barrier to success. “A company cannot increment its way to success,” the authors reason, quoting Nicholas Negroponte, head of MIT’s Media Lab. Negroponte has said “Incrementalism is innovation’s worst enemy.”

Net Ready also does a decent job of dissecting the E-business world and helping the reader understand how it works (so far), and what has helped industry leaders get where they are, even if what worked two or three years ago won’t necessarily work today.

Becoming “Net ready”
What must a business do to become Net ready?

The book defines 11 trends of Net readiness. Here’s one salient example, which focuses on customization: “Mass customization is the organizing principle of business in the E-conomy….Mass customizers take advantage of information technologies that create the type of products and services that cannot be compared to a competitor’s. Why? Because these products and services are unique, the result of an ongoing, one-on-one dialogue with each of a company’s customers.”

Net Ready points to the Dell model. The computer maker builds only PCs that have been ordered by customers. “Customization of interactions in the E-conomy is no longer a luxury or even a nice-to-have. It’s a must-have.”

Another must-have: a willingness to forget “most of what you learned about business and managing.” The E-conomy “destroys those who are faithful to the practices that once made them rich.” In a section about unbundling and outsourcing processes, Net Ready tells you “Destruction is cool. The E-conomy rewards companies that are bold enough to pull apart their most workable processes and reinvent them in harmony with the attributes of the Internet.”
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