Back in September, I attended Networks Expo in Dallas, Texas. The Networks Expo shows always feature very high-quality tutorials, workshops and sessions and I had the privilege of moderating an outstanding session on Internet Business Benefits at the Dallas show. It was the panelists, Andrew Currie, (firstname.lastname@example.org) President and CPU of Cyberspace Development Inc., (http://marketplace.com/) David Lea, (email@example.com) Vice-President of Marketing with PCTravel (http://www.pctravel.com/) and Jerry Neece, (firstname.lastname@example.org) Senior Product Manager for Internet Marketing at Sun Microsystems Computer Company (http://www.sun.com/) who made it such a content-rich experience for the attendees. They each delivered information of value to any LAN professional who needs to understand the issues surrounding an investment in Internet technologies.
Cyberspace Development, Inc.'s product is TIA, (The Internet Adapter) Unix server software which spoofs an IP connection to a dial-in shell session. It allows Internet users with shell accounts (like my Netcom account) to use graphical access tools, such as the Netscape Navigator Web browser, the Eudora email package and the Free Agent newsreader. As Andrew Currie explained, TIA was a natural candidate for virtual marketing: it could be distributed, sold and supported entirely via the Internet.
Andrew's company discovered that email worked better for TIA's technical support than did telephones. They also found that the Internet allowed them to create an inexpensive WAN connection to their marketing partner, Intermind Corporation (http://www.intermind.com/). And, of course, they knew that using the Internet as a distribution mechanism for their product and technical support allowed them to get frequent updates for both out to the customer quickly and with little overhead.
TIA was a product Cyberspace Development knew would sell well, so they were able to start their Internet marketing effort with no formal business plan. Nonetheless, they quickly focused on the importance of communications and marketing. They anticipated high demand, so they had a T1 line installed before they announced TIA's availability. They targeted their PR efforts toward strategic coverage in print publications, as well as in virtual ones, such as Adam Engst's (email@example.com) Macintosh-oriented "Tidbits" (firstname.lastname@example.org). They made sure that their customers could reach them via every Internet service they could think of: the Web, Gopher, (marketplace.com) anonymous FTP (marketplace.com) and email (email@example.com).
Andrew's company learned that it takes more time and money to properly implement an Internet presence than they'd anticipated. They found out that their distribution costs were low, but hardly free. They discovered that their Internet servers swiftly became critical to the success of their business and that downtime cost them dearly. And they discovered that the pace of change on the Net is constantly accelerating: when they started marketing TIA there were no secure Web servers available; now there are half a dozen.
Unlike Cyberspace Development, PCTravel offers a service, rather than a product: it lets Internet users order airline tickets at highly competitive prices and have them delivered via overnight mail. As David Lea explained, PCTravel's strategy has focused on booking tickets online since 1987. They've progressed from modem-only connections through Telnet to the forms-based Web interface they implemented in June of 1995.
PCTravel runs the Netscape Commerce Server on a Pentium LAN which interfaces on the back end to the Apollo airline database. The system is highly scalable. All of their data is absolutely live. They use proprietary software to translate to and from their Apollo gateway via a simplified set of query forms. They've pared the graphical content of their Web pages to an absolute minimum to increase response time. Contrary to the HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol) client-server model, they also hold each Web connection open with a 10-minute timeout, rather than close the connection after each request. This allows them to verify the secure connection only once per session.
David Lea had some surprising revelations about PCTravel's marketing experiences. It was clear why news stories about their service were particularly effective. On the other hand, they found that postings to Usenet, registration with Web search engines and careful placement of links in Web directories were more effective marketing tools than print ads or direct mail.
David's company has over 40,000 registered users worldwide. They've made a long-term strategic committment to using the Internet for commerce, rather than merely exploiting a vogue phenomenon, and they realize that flexibility and the willingness to embrace change are the keys to their Internet success.
Jerry Neece focused on how Sun Microsystems uses the Web for business purposes other than product marketing. Although Sun does use the Internet for marketing-oriented offerings, it's SunWEB, the internal Sun Microsystems Web, and other non-marketing offerings that are making their accountants the happy group of campers that they are. Sun is using the Web to re-engineer the delivery of information inside the corporate firewall, to deliver higher-quality and more timely product support and to increase overall productivity, while substantially reducing costs.
The SunService (http://www.sun.com/sunservice/overview/toc.html) division has directly eliminated an estimated $1,312,000.00 per MONTH in shipping and personnel costs for prepping and delivering software patches to end users by posting them on the Web. Sun also estimates it saves $42,950.00 per month in people costs by posting FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) on their SunSolve (http://sunsolve.sun.com/) server.
Another area of cost reduction is job postings. Sun now posts all new job openings on Career Mosaic (http://www.careermosaic.com) rather than take out traditional newspaper ads. Not only does the cost to post a year's worth of job listings on the Web equal that of a single newspaper ad, but the fact that applicants have to have Internet skills acts as a first-level screen for technical competance.
Finally, there is Sun's savings in transmission and disk storage costs for duplicated large email messages. Where once they might have sent the same 500K message to all Sun employees worldwide, they now send a 2K message with the URL of that 500K file. Sun's MIS department estimates they can save up to $3,734.75 (the cost of a Sparcstation CPU) on each such message.
Now how much would we pay?
(Copyright© 1995 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)