The importance of the Web to most businesses has been greatly exaggerated. Television programs, popular books, and, yes, even magazine articles conspire to convince business owners that if they don't do something anything on the Web, they're going to be dead in the water. Laurie Windham's book, Dead Ahead, exemplifies some of the worst aspects of this trend. Bizarrely, it combines them with clear, sensible advice about how companies that have decided to embrace the Web should go about doing it.
Windham, the president and CEO of Cognitiative, a San Francisco consulting firm, states very clearly her belief that the Web has changed forever the way sellers sell and buyers buy. But she and other pundits often forget that not every company wants to be selling on the Web.
Take, for instance, a manufacturer that has traditionally sold through intermediaries. Windham says its should make changes to sell their own merchandise through its own e-commerce Web site. She uses the example of Levi's pulling its clothes from the Macy's site but the company has since switched strategies and no longer sells jeans at its own site. Levi's sensibly decided it knew more about making jeans than selling them, and left that to others.
This book also doesn't have much to say to anyone whose business is service-based, rather than product-based. And just a few years ago, before e-commerce came along, wasn't everyone talking about a service-based economy?
That said, the second half of Windham's book provides useful suggestions about how companies that want to work the Web need to reorganize themselves. For her, it means a top-to-bottom transformation: appointing a chief Web officer, integrating sales, marketing, and customer service; and, most of all, integrating the Web into every aspect of the business.
In general, the book gets better as it goes along and as the discussion becomes more concrete. Particularly interesting is a section in which Windham runs down a list of jobs "the marketing professional," "the IT professional," and then redefines them in terms of the Web.
But too many of the businesses held up as examples in this book are the same ones we've heard a thousand times, like Dell Computer or Cisco Systems, whose success for various reasons may not be easily imitated. Both were big before they embraced the Web, and both are in the tech business. What exactly can say, a small business selling decorative beads, learn from these behemoths? Windham never makes this clear.
Of course, businesses can learn from them, and from Windham's book, but must decide for themselves what the Web's proper place in their business strategy should be.