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What's Driving Business-to-Consumer Growth?

Convenience, time savings, personalized shopping experiences, learning, career development, and finding jobs are just some of the reasons consumers are adopting the Internet, and in a sense, creating their own e-business strategies. Many companies are using the Internet for communicating who they are and their strengths, with many using online banking and travel sites for handling business and vacation travel. Although the consumer sites, including Amazon.com and others, are generating the majority of media coverage today, business-to-business electronic commerce will far outpace consumer-based e-commerce in the coming years. B2B commerce will ultimately surpass B2C commerce, due to the fact that what gets measured gets better, and B2C commerce is not as amendable to an ROI as B2B commerce is. Consortiums of companies can drive adoption of new technologies faster and with greater force than can consumers.

Eventually, the ASP model will be used throughout the consumer community as well. Yahoo! and its utilities, including a calendar, is just the first phase of what IDC is calling personal productivity ASPs. The implications of this class of ASP are provided in this section. Personal productivity applications are specifically built to replace desktop applications. For example, Microsoft Office Online is a suite of applications that are enabled over the Internet for lease by Microsoft through a series of specially selected VARs. The entire StarOffice initiative is also the same class of ASP-delivered application suite.

Trust and the Internet Experience

The quantification of trust is more pervasive in a B2B e-commerce strategy compared to B2C e-commerce approach as the applications making up the B2B e-commerce arena are differentiating themselves based on the ability to quantify performance and trust. The ability to drive fear out of transactions when a person is skittish about ordering via credit card over the Internet becomes a cultural issue instead of a purely technological one. Just as companies are doing today, the early adopters in the consumer arena are also experimenting with the benefits of being online. The capability to use the Web to secure leisure time is one of the biggest motivations for the early adopters in the consumer arena. As the size and scope of jobs are changing as the economy itself changes, everyone wants greater control over their time. That's one of the most alluring aspects of the personal productivity ASP model: the capability to assist consumers to control their time and complete tasks when they want to. Yet at the basic level of all this change remains the issue of trust. As better authentication programs are developed and as generations embrace e-commerce more than before, the issue of shopping online will become cultural instead of purely a new adopter trait.

ASPs and Delivering a Personalized Shopping Experience

Delivering a personalized shopping experience to both B2B and B2C customers is a competitive advantage you can obtain through the expertise of an ASP. The precedent set by companies such as Amazon.com, American Airlines, Expedia, and others has created the expectation that personalization will be a requirement for Web sites from this point forward. Planning for personalization is a potential differentiator that makes the shopping and use of any Web site more memorable than those sites not offering this feature.

Security of Data at Hosting Centers

Having a secure, trusted server for your information is crucial for the long-range growth of your e-business. As you compare ASPs and their offerings, be sure to drill into the hosting locations and their fault-tolerant features, including their capability to have your data online 24/7 with no interruption of service. Companies such as Exodus Communications have fault tolerance and enhanced security features typically found in the best of hosting centers. Taking on the e-operations aspect of your e-business strategy at times may require you to put your data on a secured server at a remote location. Actually visiting the hosting site is always a good idea and a useful test to see how committed an ASP is to being responsive to you as a customer.

Adoption Rates of Key Applications

Look through the applications an ASP offers to see which are heavily adopted and which aren't; also, investigating the relative success or failure of the application is essential. You must have this honest and frank information to make the right decision on an ASP. Because there isn't a Consumer Reports on ASPs yet, you can first check with the success stories on an ASP's site to see how other companies are using the applications. You can also check in with the ASP Industry Consortium (http://www.aspindustry.org) to see whether the ASP you are considering using is involved with any committees and also whether it has won any industry awards. The ASPire Awards (from the front page of the site http://www.asp.industry.org) from the ASP Industry Consortium recognizes excellence in application delivery to meet customer needs. The awards are a good place to start looking at solutions.

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