Fribble Wednesday, January 5, 2000

The Business End of a "Business Solution"

By John Finger (Johnf@journalpub.com)

I'm stumped. Bamboozled, if you will. Within the expanse of my gray matter, the little mouse that runs around in the spinning wheel has taken a lunch break.

Yeah, it's that dramatic.

I just can't figure out what an e-commerce business solution is. And I figure this is something I ought to know, seeing that I'm the tech reporter for the Central Penn Business Journal.

It's advertised all over TV, with that guy who played J. Peterman on Seinfeld talking about "savvy business solutions for e-commerce" so matter-of-factly that I feel like a jackass for not knowing what Mr. Peterman is talking about.

Oh, business solutions for e-commerce. Of course, I should have known.

Other ad campaigns and prospectus sheets for budding Web-based start-up companies don't even bat an eye when they state what they offer clients. In fact, they put it on the first sentence: "Our customers are looking for a one-stop provider able to deliver a full range of e-commerce business solutions." Or: "We offer a variety of e-commerce business solutions to our clients using."

Suddenly I feel un-hip and out-of-it, like I showed up dateless to the prom wearing platform shoes and an aqua tux with ruffles.

I asked what an e-commerce business solution was here at in the newsroom of the Journal. Nobody else seemed to know either, although a few acted like they did but stammered after thinking for a while, "I don't really know exactly how to say it, but I think I know what it is when I see it."

And these are people who probably went to the prom wearing the latest fashions that all the kids were talking about.

Either way, I wanted to find out if the people who offer the solutions know the answers. Intrepid and smart-alecky, I asked around.

Jeff Poet, president of Quality Copy and Computer Products in York, Pennsylvania implements e-commerce business strategies, to paraphrase a press release from the company. Perhaps he could help out.

"What is an e-commerce business solution?"

"Geez," Poet said between laughs. "It could mean just about anything."

But what does it mean?

"It mostly has to do with consultive help or taking a small- to medium-sized business and helping them to compete with bigger businesses," he said succinctly. "It's pretty difficult to define because it is such an overused term.

"I'm sure you could find a lot of people who use the term without actually knowing what it means," Poet said and then started laughing again.

"Can picking up your computer and throwing it out the window be an e-commerce business solution?" Now I started laughing.

"What?"

Still not satisfied, I made some more phone calls. I wanted a definite definition answer for this buzzword that seems to be perched on the lips of everyone in the tech game.

Rob Teeple, owner of his euphoniously named Internet company Teeple Graphics in Grantville, Pennsylvania kind of nailed it down. Almost.

"E-commerce business solutions is just a fancy way for a company to say it can set it up so another business can sell things on the Web," Teeple said succinctly. "It's a catchall phrase that could mean a whole lot of different things."

Can it mean different things to different businesses?

"It shouldn't, but it does," Teeple said. "'E-commerce business solutions' is as much a marketing ploy as it is a service for some companies." Teeple is a pretty bright guy, so I decided to ask the question that caught other people off-guard:

"Is picking a computer up and tossing it out of a window an e-commerce business solution?" I asked with a tongue planted deep into my cheek.

"Yeah, if you are a computer salesman and you want to sell someone a new computer, it is," Teeple said.

Touch�!

Teeple scored the endpoint after the next question.

"So, I'm not a total idiot for not knowing what e-commerce business solutions are?"

"Not totally."

Ouch.