Veitch speaks: Expect a Net profit

It's fashionable to criticise the Internet and mock its failures, but clever IT departments know just how central it is to their future, argues Martin Veitch.

I read something the other day that made me laugh. The article kicked off by saying that the bankruptcy of electronic cash vendor Digicash made it "time to assemble the definitive list of underperforming Internet technologies". The piece went on to criticise the assumption that the rise of the Net was at the heart of an unprecedented era of technical change and provides a litany of Net technology sob stories. These aren't new criticisms and they certainly merit a response.

So what about those hyped Net-related technologies that refused to soar? The author lists virtual reality markup language (VRML) and push technology as two examples. Both to my mind are in a settling-in phase. It wasn't Silicon Graphics' fault that lots of pundits predicted VRML would be all things to all men. The technology is sound and useful. The new version of Platinum's Forest & Trees enterprise reporting tool with 3D views of data is evidence enough.

It is a similar situation with push technology. It may not be an universal panacea, but it can be useful for disseminating news, software updates and more when applied with care. The same goes for any number of Web-related developments that initially got a big hand and then a big stick -- e-commerce, agents, application outsourcing and the rest are all finding a home in the real world today.

All the quibbles over whether the Web is leading an industrial revolution -- as the spinning jenny and Gutenberg were -- should not delay us too long. When the world's largest companies use Internet protocols through the public Net, intranets or extranets to inform staff, create messaging platforms, market to the world, or expose inventory and price lists, that's a pretty amazing business benefit. And it's happening all over the world right now.

Another Web gripe is that it hasn't directly helped create a boom for many big companies. Except for those that sell the Web-related -- carriers, Internet service providers, Netscape, Cisco and the like. The classic example that's trotted out here is a tired one indeed. In any conversation about the Web you'll hear Amazon.com, followed by a comment about unprofitability. Well, I don't suppose Microsoft made much money on Windows 1.0 or 2.0 either but Windows 3.0 and later versions didn't too badly for it. Amazon has built up such a strong brand and has such a great front-end and service to match that it is cast in gold. It won't be the last success story either, as travel companies, directory services and others demonstrate that the Web is an ideal medium for browsing and ordering.

As for me, I'm not losing any sleep about the progress of the Web; it's already built into the fabric of the vast majority of smart organisations. It will be woven in deeper and deeper and may eventually become the core of many companies. In fact, huge companies will arise that will owe their success to the Web. There'll be Web-based developments that push forward our goals and expectations of what we can achieve in enterprise computing.

That's not bad for a new-ish business phenomenon.

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