Electronic business is no different from conventional types of businesses; only that, it heavily relies on the use of information technology (IT) to carry out business transactions. IT tools are often used to facilitate the exchange of information between businesses and external or internal parties such as suppliers, creditors and the likes (for external business communication) or departmental heads (for internal communications).
Managers have often attributed the success of their business to the adoption of IT and many more say that IT has helped their businesses grow and become more efficient because it integrates their data processing systems to provide better goods and services to their customers (Li 2007, p. 1).
Often times, e-business has been substituted with the term ‘e-commerce’ but the term e-business is broader than e-commerce because e-commerce is only a fragment of the overall e-business strategy. For instance, e-commerce has often been used by many companies to boost their sales because it works through the worldwide web where business relationships between organizations, customers and shareholders are enhanced through knowledge management systems.
In this light, when e-commerce is compared to e-business, we can see that the scope of e-business is much wider than e-commerce because e-business spans through all value chain systems including purchasing management, supply chain management, electronic order processing, customer service processes, cooperation with external partners (and the likes); moreover, special technical standards are normally needed for e-business operations to be materialized (for instance, the use of e-business software enables the synchrony of intra and inter business communications) (Li 2007, p. 1).
E-business communications works through the use of several modes including the web, internet, intranets and extranets (but in some cases, two or more of these modes can be combined together to make e-business a reality).
This study will focus on the concept of e-business and how it works in organizations today. Emphasis will be made on communication between businesses to customers, businesses to businesses and how businesses benefit from adopting the use of the worldwide web. These three elements will collectively provide an analysis of the nature of e-business.
In the final part of this study, an analysis of how messages are transferred through the internet will be done and a more critical analysis will be done on the languages used when communicating through the worldwide web, including how the HTML (which is commonly used in e business communications) works. Comprehensively, this study will conclude by describing the different modes of e-business including intranet, extranet and internet.
Nature of E-business Communication
E-Business communication has been known to create a lot of buzz in the corporate world, probably because it is not regulated (E-articles 2010). The deregulated nature of e-business communication is the basic framework through which e-business communication derives the nature of its other qualities. However, this excludes the lack of face-to-face communication between businesses and customers, or between the communicating parties.
E-business is different from other conventional corporate communication approaches because it lacks the ‘trust’ element between two people and evidently, there is very little ethical concern among communicating parties. The fact that someone cannot put a face to the communicator also gives e-business communication the aspect of being an impersonal form of communication which is coupled with many ethical concerns.
Ethical concerns are at the centre-stage of e-business communications because it is very easy to falsify information, impersonate a person or company (and such like vices) because one cannot prove the authenticity of a given piece of information. Close to ethical concerns are security concerns which have been voiced as some of the major problems of e-business communications (E-articles 2010).
E-business communications are deemed insecure because they lack the sense of privacy, especially where an unauthorized person hacks into a company’s system and extracts confidential information. However, companies and internet security experts have recently come up with security solutions such as access and data integrity, encryption, digital certificates (and the likes) to improve the security of business information in e-business (E-articles 2010).
Business-Business and Business-Customer Communications
Businesses to customer transactions are usually defined by the exchange of goods and services between a business and its customers (Carroll 2008, p. 357). This can be explained by a person buying a car from a car sales man.
However, a business-to-business transaction normally occurs when there is an exchange of goods and services between a business and another business (Kurtz 2009, p. 1). For instance, in the above example, when the car sales representative buys several cars from the car manufacture, it constitutes a business-to-business transaction.
In e-business, these transactions are facilitated by ICT tools. For instance, in a business-to-business transaction, the car seller may import a given car from a car manufacturer using online means and have the car shipped to his location. The same situation is also evidenced in a business to customer relation where a customer orders for goods, say from a grocery shop, and have them delivered to his or her doorstep.
In both scenarios, we can therefore establish that the exchange of goods and services is done online for both business-to-business transactions and business-to-customer transactions. In a practical set up, business-to-customer transactions have been evidenced through platforms such as Amazon but recent times have seen the growth of electronic business-to-business transactions through online banking, online travel, online auctions and the likes.
Business-to-business transactions are normally evidenced when businesses intend to collaborate in a given venture or when they want to communicate among themselves (this includes the most recent trend in corporate circles – outsourcing) (Kurtz 2009, p. 1). Communication between one employee and another is also referred to as a business-to-business transaction because employees are fragments of the entire business.
Conventionally, sales and marketing companies have relied on business-to-business operations and though many service oriented customers are focused on business-to-customer interaction, it is estimated that the volumes of business-to-business transaction is more than business-to-customers (Kurtz 2009, p. 1).
How Businesses Benefit from Websites
Many businesses have in the recent past adopted the use of websites in their businesses because of the growing advantages associated with websites. Top among the list of the benefits businesses enjoy when they have a website is the fact that websites are cheaper and more flexible to use when compared to other conventional modes of communication such as print media (Web World directory 2005, p. 1).
The difference is exposed by the fact that getting a space to advertise or communicate to business stakeholders in a website is cheap when compared to print media. Moreover, a company’s advertisement can be accessible by a wide audience for a longer period of time and the content of the advertisement is easy to change without necessarily having to contact a given authority, say a newspaper company.
Some researchers have however noted that other forms of communication such as print, television and radio should not be shunned for websites because it would be more beneficial for businesses to use conventional media channels to entice people to visit their websites because in this manner, they can reach a wide audience (Web World directory 2005, p. 1).
Businesses can also benefit from websites because websites help them easily break geographical barriers and access these markets from whichever country they are in (so long as they have an internet connection). Companies which have deeply explored the benefits of websites know that a website is not only a tool to represent the company because it can also be used to increase a company’s revenue stream by selling advertising space. Web World directory (2005) affirms that:
“A recent trend has risen where businesses feature their very own directory of complimentary services, where the visitor can search for information on a business that will enhance the use of their service. The business sells complimentary business listing in their directory. A good example is a catering company featuring a directory with businesses such as event co-coordinators, electronic equipment rental companies, and the likes” (p. 6).
Websites can also be beneficial to businesses because they can be accessed by customers any time of the day, week or year because they are not subject to closing business hours, like conventional business environments.
This means that customers can be able to get information or communicate with the company at whatever time they please. Websites also offer businesses an opportunity to add value to their services and products since they give businesses the chance to offer convenience where customers can access information, thereby making a great majority feel satisfied with the services offered by the company (Web World directory 2005, p. 1).
Businesses can also add value to their customers through websites because they allow businesses to entertain, give tips and offer free advice to their customers regarding various company contents (Web World directory 2005, p. 4).
Marketing and sales companies can also find websites very useful in using the highest pitch to interact with their customers instead of training its sales force to attain a high pitch all over again (Web World directory 2005, p. 4). In a more general platform, studies have shown that companies which have a website fare better than their counterparts who do not (in terms of company credibility).
This is true because websites are a platform for companies to introduce themselves and explain to their customers what value can they bring to the customers’ businesses or lives. Some researchers have even associated websites to viral marketing, whereby, if one customer becomes satisfied with a company or trusts a given company through its web content, he or she is likely to spread the word to other customers (Web World directory 2005, p. 11).
Websites are also noted to increase a company’s brick and mortar presence because they accommodate the publishing of a dummy map to their premises or locations and customers can in turn print these maps and use them to trace the brick and mortar premises of such companies (Web World directory 2005, p. 11).
Most companies usually include this provision as an advertisement in their websites, enticing their customers to visit a specific branch as brick and mortar premise. This advantage is usually compared to a directory because if a directory is used and a business changes location, it will have to wait for the next edition of the directory to change its address accordingly; however, websites provide an opportunity for businesses to change their locations instantly.
Finally, websites enable companies to receive instant feedback regarding their products or services and therefore they can easily improve their products accordingly. An associated benefit is the fact that businesses can also use websites to carry out cheap market research through customer feedback as opposed to going out into the field and getting such information (or through hiring a research agency to do the job on their behalf).
Messages are transferred via the internet through a number of ways. The most common way of transferring messages is through electronic mail where businesses and customers instantly send mails to each other, electronically. However, there are a number of concerns voiced over this communication tool (emails) and one of them is the fact that emails have the potential threat of bearing harmful viruses and spyware (Laganà 2004, p. 867).
Another disadvantage is the fact that emails lead to slow response in communication, especially when the respondent is not online. However, this disadvantage has led to the invention of the chat feature, where two businesses (or businesses and customers) talk in real-time. The internet also provides open discussion forums through discussion boards, blogs, video conferencing and the likes. New mediums are still invented to date and some are being rendered redundant as well.
The Hypertext markup language (HTML) is one of the basic forms of web languages used in online communication (Hayes 2001, p. 1). This markup language is normally written in the form of opening and ending tags and is synonymous with the symbols ‘<’ ‘>’.
HTML works in collaboration with the internet protocol, which relays messages via the internet, or in simpler terms, it is used to deliver datagrams from the source to destination hosts (Mustell 2009). Their HTML addresses define the channel of communication using the internet protocol.
Intranet, Extranet and Internet
The most significant difference between the intranet, extranet and internet is evidenced between the intranet and extranet (MWS 2004, p. 1). The intranet is used as an information portal designed for internal communication between employees working for any organizational size or sophistication (or between businesses or institutions of any kind).
Usually, intranets can be designed to suit the needs of the employees, businesses or institutions but in conventional business setups, main users have been identified to be members of the executive team, accounting, order billing, managers, directors, sales people, support staff, customer services, help desk and such like departments or individuals (MWS 2004, p. 1).
An extranet on the other hand bears close similarity to the intranet, only that it is designed for external access of a company’s computer files, information and systems (MWS 2004, p. 1). Normally, such sort of information is released to individuals or groups such as exclusive business customers, selected industry partners, specific suppliers, subcontractors and the likes.
Carefully designed extranet connections are likely to increase a business’s operations but both intranets and extranets are known to: use secured internet access to external parties, significantly reduce company costs associated with company communication and use identification codes and passwords to access or control company information, or systems (MWS 2004, p. 1).
The major distinction between the intranet and internet is the fact that the internet is meant for public communication while the intranet is strictly meant for private communication (Newman 2009, p. 117). However, the intranet is normally accessible through the internet, but with the administration of passwords and identification codes, it is almost impossible to access such information. In other words, only authorized users are allowed to access information on the intranet.
If the intranet is accessed within a company, it is much faster in response when compared to how a website would be accessed from the internet. Normally, it is assumed that the internet responds in this manner because it is quite vulnerable to traffic spikes, server breakdowns and other problems that are likely to slow down internet speeds (Newman 2009).
The basic advantage of the intranet over the internet is the fact that within a company context, users have more bandwidth while the network hardware maybe more reliable when compared to the internet, making it easier to serve higher bandwidth content (including audio and video content) over the intranet (Newman 2009).
Most intranets block the access of videos, social networking sites or any other content that may be deemed “fun” because it derails employee performance. Contrary to what most people believe, the extranet is only apart of the intranet and it is only a medium to enable authorized, external business partners to access company information (but not the entire company information).
This study explains the scope of e-business through an understanding of the fact that e-business works in the context of business-to-business communication or through business-to-customer communication. The main channel through which e-business operates is though websites and through this medium, businesses can endlessly gain a lot of advantages in the corporate world.
However, in comprehensively analyzing how the internet works, it should be understood that each company needs to know whether to use the intranet, extranet or the internet in undertaking its activities, depending on the nature of its activities. Regardless of the advantages e-business brings to the corporate environment, companies should take caution of the risk associated with e-business communications.
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