Forrester maps out Euro Internet futures

Graham analyses the analysts

At an Executive Strategy Forum such as the one arranged by Forrester Research that has just concluded in Amsterdam, executives and dotcom practitioners should have been briefed on the event of the moment - the collapse of the world's tech stock markets. There were no charts analysing what had happened or how the collapse had varied regionally; no comparison with previous bear markets; no thoughts about what the possible outcomes might be, and how strategies should change as a result. It was a missed opportunity to produce an analysis of significant value in the 70 hours after the close of NASDAQ on Friday and the beginning of the presentations. Quite a few interesting ideas were presented, but with Forrester describing itself as "Europe's leading Internet research firm" the audience was entitled to expect an analysis of the lessons to be learnt. Once again, we saw a market analyst firm showing that business models that presumed that past was prelude would not work, and that a fundamental reassessment of customer relationship and corporate organisation was necessary for success. That's true, but Forrester had omitted to turn the spotlight on itself and realise that it would have to react faster than stock-market speed if it were to gain respect as an analyst rather than as a passenger looking out of the window. At the Forum, Forrester announced its intention to expand its research activity four-fold this year (its European HQ is in Amsterdam) in order to give an overview of Europe's wired customers. MD Emily Nagle Green commented that eCommerce "is evolving in ways very different from the US". Research director Cliff Condon pointed to free ISPs, WAP and interactive TV - and the fact that Europe is not a single market, giving daunting challenges for business. It is highly desirable that there is more research on national and regional differences in European online behaviour, and European online shopping preferences. The results will be frustrating for American companies that had hoped that Europe was going to be homogeneous, with one currency and one mind set, even if European consumers couldn't manage to work in one language. Of course, there's no reason to suppose that there isn't as much variation in North America, but we don't seem to hear much about the regional and ethnic variations there, so far as the IT market is concerned. Crisis? What Crisis The somewhat lacklustre presentations by speakers were complemented by the opportunity of seeing state-of-the-art products and services from some 18 invited exhibitors. We talked to some of those invited by Forrester to exhibit and found no signs of panic in the range of pre- or post-IPO players. There was a general feeling that venture capital market would be tougher, with the VCs looking much more closely at the propositions. A speaker aptly quoted Art Fry of 3M: "You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince - but remember, one prince can pay for a lot of frogs". So far as future IPOs are concerned, the expectation was that it may take longer before going to market, and that making a loss wasn't compulsory any more. The fear that drives this type of conference is on the one hand the threat to traditional businesses, where incumbents could lose significant value, while on the other hand there is the opportunity for new e-entrants to gain market share and immense value for minimal investment. There were differing views on the future importance of brands. John Holme of Dutch startup Tridion, a specialist in managing constellations of websites, stresses the importance of brand management - the company helpsK LM ensure that its image is consistent across all its websites. Bruce Temkin of Forrester however considered that branding will not matter in five to seven years when e-business networks are fully formed. Temkin drew attention to Cisco's role as an online product manager - more than 50 per cent of the orders that it receives via the Internet are passed to partners for supply - so this is clearly a case of where the Cisco brand is important. Whether badging products will ultimately help users is another issue of course - certainly code-sharing by airlines does not work in the interest of passengers, where the same flight having three or even more flight numbers is a pain in the neck, because they each need a line on arrival and departure boards or screens, which take longer to scroll. Forrester's analyses suggest that consumer preference does not correlate with website traffic. Younger Internet users are not looking at famous brand sites so much as cool sites that have "utility and speed" - adding games, chat and sweepstakes do not help much, it seems. Indeed, banner ads and sponsorship may be more effective. SAP vp Peter Graf talked about what SAP is calling c-Business - (the "c" is collaboration), and he had in mind the 13th century Hanseatic League, a German-based trading association which had some similarities to the European Union, but that failed after trade wars with England. He gave a present-day example of the South African car assembly business: competitive firms have an interest in collaborating over the delivery of parts to South Africa, since this business process is non-competitive. As a consequence, SAP is setting up a collaborative system it calls Graf says SAP has 400 implementations of collaborations of this type. Didier Benchimol, CEO of iMediation, continued the collaboration theme and suggested that "digital collaborations between trading partners across marketplaces will fuel the new economy." He sees each partner in the chain being a value-added node, contributing content, knowledge and specialised services in a channel that was transparent and responsive to market conditions. Customer relationship management fails if old applications are used, said Forrester analyst Bob Chartham, because marketing, sales and service have different objectives, while business processes are narrowly defined: the consequence would be chaos. Chatham's approach was to deconstruct (build a consistent customer view to achieve data synchronisation), to reinvent (create customer-centric behaviour by behaviour synchronisation), and to breakaway (build continuous relationship management). Analyst Andrew Parker discussed how enterprises should set up a Dot Corp as an independent business to incubate net-based business models, or extend an existing business. He estimated a typical cost at 10 million euros. There is a serious need for some intellectual insight into trends and new strategic approaches, but the market analysts generally - not just Forrester - have become very obsessed with marketing themselves to the extent that timely analysis is wanting. ®

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