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Chapter 2: The Vision ThingAbout 14 years ago, Apple Computer produced a videotape about the future of computing. There was only one scene: a college professor's office in the year 2011. In it, the professor had a device shaped like a paper notebook that answered his phone, took messages, and communicated with him through a voice-recognition and voice-synthesis "agent."
In the span of a few minutes, the professor was able to prepare a presentation correlating the shrinking of Brazil's Amazon rain forest with an increase in air pollution worldwide. He was also able to share this dynamically edited presentation with a colleague hundreds of miles away, in real time. The information for the presentation was gathered in seconds by searching through a combination of university libraries, and it appeared that he had done all of this wirelessly.
Thus, in 1986, nearly a decade before the Web's "Big Bang," Apple envisioned a world of people connecting, sharing information and using a spoken natural-language interface. Yet, at the time, most computer users had huge desktop machines running command-line (MS DOS) software. Interestingly, though, virtually every one of the technologies featured in that video - voice synthesis, voice recognition, internetworking, active-matrix displays, wireless data networking - had in fact reached technology status and were no longer still within basic research boundaries. Apple's visionaries simply combined them in a way that made sense, after extrapolating where those technologies might be by 2011.
We mention Apple's video because, once again, vision is a key success factor in excelling at e-business. It has been said that "It's not the destination, it's the journey," but for e-business, it's both. You've got to envision what you want to achieve before setting hammer to nail.
It can start with an idea such as buy.com's, claiming to sell products at "the lowest prices on earth." Or it can be a reverse auction idea like Priceline.com's, where buyers state what they are willing to spend for an airline ticket or a few nights at a hotel, then Priceline.com finds an airline or hotel willing to accept that price. An online auction is eBay's vision, while matching automobiles to buyers is the idea behind autobytel.com.
The idea cannot stop there. What does buy.com have to do to ensure it always sells at the lowest prices on earth? What kinds of alliances must it forge? What categories of products should it sell? Does buy.com simply act as a broker, transparently sending order information on to its various vendors, or does it actually acquire, warehouse and ship from its own facilities? These are the kinds of questions that emerge as you look beyond an overarching vision.
SIMILAR VISIONS, DIFFERENT BUSINESS MODELS
It's not unusual for two companies to have similar visions, but it is unlikely that these visions will lead to similar solutions. Take Sears.com and brandwise.com, for example.
In the consumer marketplace, brandwise.com decided to create a business that matches appliances with customers' requirements. Their Web site lets you select appliance categories, search by pre-defined characteristics (such as gas or electric cooktops), then compare prices, sizes and appearances. But the user doesn't purchase from brandwise.com. Instead, brandwise.com merely directs the user to appliance dealers in their vicinities that carry the particular brand and model they have chosen. Guess who pays for the referral?
Sears has a Web site that lets users do the same thing as brandwise.com. Users can select a category, limit the search by characteristics and compare features of selected brands and models. Sears's own brand is always among the choices and users can purchase the appliance online.
Two very similar visions, two distinctly different business models. One is an information aggregator and referrer; the other is an information aggregator and e-tailer. In terms of implementing their e-businesses according to their visions, brandwise.com and Sears.com both succeeded. But anyone who suggests that their playing field is level is mistaken. Sears has significant brand equity, and it offers more than just its own line of Kenmore appliances, from which it likely earns a profit too. Brandwise.com has more of an impartial feel because it doesn't sell anything, however it also does not provide the order and fulfillment steps.
Can you imagine developing a product with no clear idea of its size, shape and function set? Or, can you imagine creating a service without defining its content and scope? Well, you cannot hope to establish a winning e-business without a clear, succinct, statement of vision. To be sure, arriving at that vision is anything but an exact science, and one company's method may not work for another. However, this is a critical first step. Toward that end, visioning can be done in-house or as part of a consulting engagement. We'll take a look at both. ...