In the last year a new game has emerged, e-business, which promises huge returns. Is this a mere bookmaker’s ploy to get us to keep losing money or is there a real case for participating in this gamble?
The B2C (business-to-consumer) model looks a serious non-starter. Consumer spending on the web is failing to take off as forecast and is likely to remain a niche player. With the likes of Amazon announcing staff layoffs, the writing is on the wall.
On the B2B (business-to-business) front the picture looks more interesting.
With virtually all organisations now connected to the web this opens up the means of transmitting documents and information electronically rather than by paper.
In the next five years there will be a huge reduction in manual transaction processing as commercial buying and selling process becomes largely electronic.
Business intelligence will therefore become a key growth area as organisations open up their internal information to business managers, customers and suppliers. Reports by the finance team will be a thing of the past as managers ‘pull’ the information they need as required.
Partnerships will become commonplace as customers focus on the ‘value added’ services they can outsource and control via the internet. Mobile technology will go through a growth spurt as we increasingly wish to have our core information available at our fingertips. Handheld devices will incorporate mobile phone technology and will have high speed internet access.
With the widespread adoption of this technology the incentive will be there for the IT industry to deliver voice recognition software that will outstrip the qwerty keyboard in performance.
Accounts teams will decrease in size as the manual processes disappear altogether. IT skills will become key. Change management resource will become one of the scarcest in an organisation and finance staff can potentially fill this gap. IT will increasingly be represented separately from finance at board level.
Accountants in practice are likely to continue to be in demand for their specialist skills. I suspect these services will be in demand as organisations see the benefits of outsourcing and can use the internet to manage and control this process.
To remain credible, accountants must embrace this change and retrain and retool very quickly. The gamblers among us can hedge our bets where we wish but those who want a real return on our investment will need to play the e-business game very carefully.
- John Tate is chairman of e-business consultancy Tate Bramald.
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