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To be successful in e-commerce, Chen says, companies need to view it as more than an add-on to their present systems. “If they realize the potential impact of this, companies have to put e-commerce or web-related operations into their total business program, consider the overall picture of the company,” he says. “Their whole business process has to be revised. E-commerce is only part of this information technology revolution—the entire decision-making process now is different. CEOs can easily look at the whole picture. They have a database that is continuously updated all over the world. They have e-mail and teleconferencing. Their decisions are global.” Chen adds, however, that such fundamental issues as resource allocation still come down to good business sense. “This technology cannot replace a wise business decision,” he says. “But with this, the business environment will become much more efficient. We still need to train our managers well, even though we have better tools, because all these tools cannot substitute for a better managerial decision.”
      Wigand also believes businesses must look at the big picture when considering their dealings with the Internet. “In conjunction with its traditional forms, marketing has to have some kind of link to the World Wide Web,” he says. “For that matter if you teach marketing today, you can no longer cover that topic with a textbook that was written three or four years ago. The same principles apply, but the execution is totally different.”

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Center for Digital Commerce Helps Companies Connect with Cyber-Customers

You won’t find a door marked “Center for Digital Commerce” at the School of Information Studies. The center—established in August to help resolve issues of management, strategy, economics, and policy in the area of electronic commerce—exists for the most part in cyberspace (istweb.syr.edu/~digital/). But its work in the rapidly changing field is very real, says center director Rolf Wigand. “We want the center to be research-focused, but we also like to involve students,” he says. “They get hands-on experience dealing with real-life problems.”
      A major project at the center involves a look at the impact of electronic commerce on the real estate industry. Wigand and colleagues Kevin Crowston and Steve Sawyer began the work under a National Science Foundation research grant, and the center will expand upon their findings. “We know there are more than three million homes advertised on the World Wide Web. Is it possible that buyer and seller can find each other without the real estate agent?” Wigand says. “We can go to a real estate web site by Microsoft right now and search for available homes in almost any city in the United States. You could search for a home in Denver, let’s say, that is in your particular price range, specify characteristics of the home, and find one within a three-mile radius of a particular police station, church, or school.”
      Many real estate agents have adapted to the changes, even taken advantage of the new technology, Wigand says. “Agents now use e-mail extensively. They have their own web sites listing properties that are available. In the past, houses were listed exclusively in multiple listing services, which real estate agents carefully guarded. Since the World Wide Web became prevalent, agents freely give that information away. They post it on their own web sites, on Microsoft’s web site, and on the National Association of Realtors site.”
      Another project involved establishing an Internet presence for upscale Corning subsidiary Steuben Glass. “The company makes glass art pieces, handcrafted and handblown in Corning, New York,” Wigand explains. “The least expensive item costs $250. Other pieces go into tens of thousands of dollars, and many have become gifts for heads of state.” The company has stores in Manhattan, Washington, D.C., and Corning, as well as a mail-order catalog. “Steuben wanted to know: Might there be an opportunity for a luxury product like that on the World Wide Web? So we had a student team research that area, looking at customer profiles in specific categories and demographic information in general. Then we looked at similar luxury products and tried to see what those companies do in regard to the web.”
      After seeing how companies like Tiffany and Godiva Chocolates presented themselves electronically, Wigand’s team developed and presented a web site concept to Steuben Glass. “They loved it, and took it under advisement,” Wigand says, adding that he’d like to see similar projects started. “It’s the kind of thing I think will be exciting for the center to do.”                               —GARY PALLASSINO



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