Hitting the jackpot

Ka-ching! The slots heard 'round the world.

The new global Internet economy has many environmental companies scrambling to get a piece of the action. Yet winning on the Web takes more than just loads of cash. There are few sure things in the sometimes dicey e-commerce world. To have a sporting chance of hitting it big requires understanding how to harness the Internet's revolutionary power to drive business.

E-commerce -- the conduct of financial transactions by electronic means -- has led many U.S. companies to set up online stores at their Web sites. These Cyber stores typically include inventory databases, the means for handling secure credit card or purchase order transactions and arrangements for fulfillment of the delivery of the purchased goods. Environmental companies are also beginning to take the leap into Cyberbusiness world.

This move on the part of environmental companies is part of a larger movement throughout the U.S. economy. Time magazine recently interviewed Garth Saloner, a professor of e-commerce at Stanford's business school, about trends in e-commerce. "What we're seeing" Saloner said, "is the diffusion of technologies that were popularized by the dotcoms into traditional companies."

For example, in Detroit the Big Three automakers are creating a global parts exchange on the Internet. This merging of the old and new economies is altering how we conduct everyday business in fundamental ways and allowing consumers and business customers around the globe to work and shop at Internet speed.

But, as shown by the recent fallout on Wall Street when many overvalued Internet companies became "dotbombs," this transformation can be uneven and sometimes painful. The examples of Cisco or Dell Computer, whose stocks plunged around 50 percent during 2000, remind us that even well established high-tech companies can get mauled by this turbulent market.

In this time of unpredictable change in our economy due to the Internet's growing dominance, we've turned to those who can help us view the developments and make some sense of them. In our cover story, "Plug into e-commerce trends" (page 2), we profile three leaders of successful e-commerce ventures in the environmental industry: Susan Acker, the president of Blue292, Steve Walters, PE, JD, the president of MarketPing and Gary Curtis of Gotrain. They share their insights about what direction the New Economy is headed in and what impact it will have on the environmental industry.

Another observer of the e-commerce world echoes this view about collaborative commerce. In a recent interview in Fast Company magazine, Larraine Segil, JD, an advisor to companies such as Compaq, Sun Microsystems and Synopsys, Inc., explained how the Web has changed the way business alliances are made. According to her, the reasons for partnering, and the capabilities needed to execute those deals, are very different from the motivations and the skills behind traditional business alliances.

"E-customers want information and access," Segil said. "They want to understand their problem better and find a solution. Traditional companies tend to provide information only as it relates to what they are selling. So the need for alliances is greater than ever before. Your company alone cannot fulfill the needs of a customer in the e-business environment."

So what does this e-commerce revolution mean to you environmental professionals who are the e-customers? You stand to become the biggest winners of all. The Internet is empowering customers like nothing else ever has. Harried environmental managers at industrial facilities are turning to the Internet because it's the most efficient place to shop for a wide range of goods and services. Faced with increasing job duties and shrinking time, environmental professionals are finding that searching for products on the Internet minimizes hassles. In this brave new digital world, online buyers of environmental products are getting a big payoff in convenience, speed, ability to comparison shop, price and service.

The newest wave in water and wastewater coverage

This issue we launch a new special section, "Water matters," which starts on page 31. Each month this section will include articles, news updates and other features designed to keep you current on developments in water and wastewater management. For example, this month you can turn to page 33 to check out our 2001 forecast on trends in the U.S. water quality program written by Donald Galya, PE and Mark Gerath of ENSR. We welcome suggestions about topics that you would like for us to cover in the coming months.

Angela Neville, JD, REM, is Editor-in-Chief of Environmental Protection magazine. She can be reached via email at aneville@stevenspublishing.com .

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2001 issue of Environmental Protection.

About the Author

Katy Makeig is president of Waste Science Inc., Rockville, MD.