Adventures in cyberland

Like a superhero on steroids, the Internet during the past decade has performed some amazing feats. Originally created as a means of communication through the computer language Unix for military and professional colleagues, the Internet has evolved through the use of World Wide Web protocols into a medium that allows the public global access to information via a worldwide system of linked computer networks.

Because of its immense power as a mass communication tool, the Web is profoundly reshaping the world of commerce. Now businesses are scrambling to embrace the Internet. Like other businesses, environmental companies are busy with online experimentation to take advantage of the new e-markets.

Old-line business practices, however, can become threatened when they intersect with the new online world of the Web. One example of this is the trend of some corporate managers developing separate new e-enterprises designed to compete head-on with their mother companies. In "Internet Defense Strategy: Cannibalize Yourself" an article published in Fortune magazine in September 1999, author Jerry Useem states "breakneck change and a raft of Internet upstarts are threatening to overturn long-successful technologies and business models. There are two choices: Yield to your instincts and protect those still-profitable technologies and models. Or preemptively overturn them yourself, even if it means eroding the very revenue streams upon which your company is founded."

Another take on the Web's impact on today's business climate comes from David Siegel. He is the author of the best-selling book on Web design Creating Killer Web Sites and a successful Internet consultant who has advised such companies as Lucent Technologies, Sony, Cisco Systems and Office Depot on their Web strategies. His primary focus is on a different impact of the Web — the empowerment of customers. In a recent interview with Fast Company magazine, Siegel said, "the Internet isn't about incremental tactics; it's about entirely new strategies. It's not about 'keeping up with the Joneses'; it's about thriving in a completely new world. It's not about transactions; it's about communications and relationships. E-commerce is a false god. Focusing on e-commerce is one way to deny the new reality of business — the reality of a more interconnected group of customers, a group of customers with more choices than ever before." According to Siegel, the business world is "in the midst of a customer- led revolution."

How will all these changes impact the environmental industry? SteveWalters, JD, PE, president and CEO of MarketPing.com, pointed out in his article that appeared last month in Environmental Protection that the environmental industry stands to benefit tremendously from e-markets. According to Walters, "The industry is extremely fragmented with thousands of technical products and services supplied by thousands of companies for various environmental media, including air, water and waste....the successful e-market that can bring together into a collective whole these thousands of buyers and sellers will create tremendous value for each user by smoothing out inefficiencies that exist with conventional buy-sell practices."

Nowadays customers are seeking more control in their interactions with companies. In order to stay competitive, companies are increasingly basing their actions on customers' demands. Innovative companies are starting to take steps to improve their customers' purchasing experiences. They are using their Web sites to give customers timely, personalized information about the products they need or about the status of an order or about customization services. Additionally, smart companies are using their Web sites to make it easier for customers to track their shipments and access information 24 hours a day.

Hopefully, strategies like these can aid environmental companies in dealing with the Web-propelled G-forces sweeping through the marketplace. This brave new digital world offers many financial opportunities for the adventurous who are willing to adapt.

Nominations for our 2000 Facilities of the Year competition

Has your facility been formally recognized in 1999 or 2000 for pollution prevention strategies, innovative design or other environmental accomplishments? If so, please let us know and we'll consider it for one of our five 2000 Facilities of the Year, which will be featured in our December 2000 issue. Every year we salute the top industrial plants, wastewater treatment operations, landfills and other types of facilities that have been singled out for outstanding environmental achievements by governmental regulators, trade association or other professional groups. If you're interested, please visit our Web site at www.eponline.com and fill out our questionnaire by Aug. 1, 2000.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2000 issue of Environmental Protection.

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