Amazon.com. eBay. Facebook. LinkedIn. Many of us rely on these online communities to manage our personal commerce, relationships and finances. Now, with increasing frequency, companies are demanding similar tools to manage their business.
A decade ago, the Internet was viewed primarily as a consumer application, with limited viability for critical business processes. Today, nearly every company is using it to help run their business in some significant way.
What brought about the shift?
Certainly, the Internet has evolved — it’s faster, more secure and proven. But the business world is also a much different place today. As business has become more global, the traditional enterprise as we know it has morphed into something new called the extraprise.
In the extraprise, it’s not just about executing a process within a company, but also across the entire value chain — especially outside the four walls of the enterprise. It’s not just about the intelligence within an organization, but also the extended intelligence networks that are developed through communities.
This new approach to business commerce won’t be driven by enterprise applications. Companies have invested billions in such technologies to simplify tasks like developing proposals or taking orders. Why? Because commerce happens between companies. And the closed systems and processes that have long been the domain of installed enterprise applications aren’t designed to accommodate this fluid company-to-company, extraprise activity.
How do you build the cloud community?
So what does it take to build these networks and communities to drive and support collaborative commerce? A whole new way of thinking and operating. Performing as a cloud commerce community requires a whole new set of rules:
Break down application silos: Participants in business commerce networks want to acquire capabilities – not purchase tools or application models as they did in the legacy software era. To enable this, vendors must break down product-oriented boundaries among applications and make development a more intertwined process.
Make innovation a constant: Innovation and capabilities are now expected as part of business commerce networks, not as a product tool to be purchased and installed. The concept of innovation extends to reporting, hosting, monitoring and security and must be frequently streamed.
Focus on quality: While innovation is key, quality trumps all other considerations when it comes to business networks. Remember the Golden Rule: “Thou shall not break anything.” And when it comes to business commerce, buyers and sellers demand greater integrity. They expect to be able to conduct complete transactions without disruption or any compromise of their data. This also means scrapping traditional notions of software availability in favor of a more comprehensive definition of business commerce availability.
Stay agile: Constantly evolving needs and shifting priorities, dictated by a more connected, globally engaged business environment, have made speed the new market requirement for success. And this means organizing to operate in a more nimble and flexible manner than ever before.
Overhaul customer support: Participants in business commerce communities have outsourced much of what used to be the function of their internal IT departments to the network provider. As a result, assistance with software and non-software challenges as well as process enablement to drive more efficient and effective business commerce is not only expected, but required. And in an always-on community, customers demand immediate, proactive responses.
Redefine customer relationships: In the legacy software product world, customer relationships were episodic. Upon “go-live,” the relationship was essentially considered complete. In a network-driven cloud community, customers and other participants require more continuous, ongoing assistance.
Lots of companies are reaching for the cloud. It’s a more scalable, efficient way to do business on a global basis. It requires no software, hardware or resources to deploy. Time to value is near immediate, and results can be astounding.
But to reap these rewards, organizations must transform in ways that enable them to deliver products and services that meet a completely new set of business challenges and customer needs. Otherwise, the benefit of the cloud will remain nothing more than a dream.
Kent Parker is chief operating officer of Ariba. He submitted this story to VentureBeat.
[Image via Jozsef Bagota/Shutterstock]