Industry group forms to revive e-business momentum

TORONTO — The long list of dot-com casualities has not stopped a group of Canadian companies from forming an association to raise awareness and educate enterprises about e-business strategies.

The not-for-profit group, eBiz Toronto,

officially launched Tuesday at an event in the Toronto Design Exchange. IBM Canada president Ed Kilroy delivered a lecture that looked at the online challenges Big Blue has faced and his advice for small and medium enterprises.

Anya Colussi, chair of eBiz Toronto and CEO of Yfactor Inc., said she came up with the idea for the organization after reading the Canadian E-Business Roundtable’s report in early 2000. “”I felt liberated,”” she said. “”Running a business in the e-business space, I had seen a lot of what the report stated.””

Colussi admits that the initial timing of her idea wasn’t perfect, given that many dot-com companies went out of business towards the end of 2000.

“”We had an amazing turnout for our first few meetings. We went from about 25 people to 40 people in the span of two or three months,”” she said. “”Then attention completely dropped. But we hung in there, and we kept pushing it through and we managed to get a couple of initiatives off the ground.””

Most recently an eBiz Toronto delegation with a Toronto trade mission to New York City, where members promoted the city as a potential e-business hub among venture capitalists and exporters.

Colussi said the failure of dot-coms should not blind enterprises to the opportunities whereby e-business tools could help an enterprise offer greater value to their customers. This echoed Kilroy’s lecture, who said he has fielded a lot of anxious questions from customers. “”Some customers would ask us, ‘Is it over?'”” he said. “”Before they were just worried about being disintermediated by new business models.””

Though Colussi and Kilroy said awareness is a problem among smaller organizations, even Big Blue has had challenges getting its act together.

In the late 1990s, for example, IBM had approximately 550,000 Web pages, but the pages were using more than 100 different formats. “”It was a real issue with our brand equity — they were using the logo differently in many cases,”” he said. “”If you went from one area of the site to another, you probably thought you went to a different company.””

IBM has since reduced its content models from 80 to five.

The company has also learned to anticipate demand. During the Nagano Olympics, for example, Kilroy said an IBM-developed Web site received 600 million hits over a two-week period. For the Sydney Olympics last year, the number skyrocketed to 11.5 billion.

Colussi said that IT staff in some organizations continue to struggle to execute the plans of visionary leaders.

“”People in the middle management people are the ones with the ideas,”” she said. “”They are the ones trying to push it past that wall to the decision makers. But the wall is strong, but once it starts to crumble you get some unrealistic expectations. There is definitely a gap there still.””

Despite the amount of e-business activity in Toronto, Colussi said it makes sense to focus locally.

“”The E-Business Roundtable already existed — they were already working on a national basis,”” she said. “”We thought we could have more impact on more of a micro basis.””

In May, eBiz Toronto will offer a two-day e-business fair in partnership with Centennial College, with a keynote speech from Don Tapscott and more than a dozen workshops. The group has also applied for a grant from the provincial government which could go towards the development of e-business mentorship programs, Colussi added.

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