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John Patrick at e-biz Summit 2002
by Oliver Lewis at World Trade Group’s e-biz summit, London, June 2002

When it comes to the future of e-business and the Internet you don’t have to look very far to find a sceptic these days. So when someone comes along bubbling with the kind of optimistic fervour rarely seen since the pre-dot com crash, you can’t help but listen.John Patrick is the kind of man who looks on the bright side of life. In his own words, he tends to “think in terms of an opportunity more so than a problem “the glass being half full, not half empty.” Patrick is the former Vice President of Internet Technology at IBM and served as the Chief Internet Technology Officer. He is also the author of Net Attitude, a book about the value of adopting the correct mindset in shaping a successful corporate Internet strategy.
His technical and business credentials are impressive, but it is his willingness to stick his neck out at a time where “internet” has becomes a dirty word for many executives that define his current role. An alternative title for Patrick’s book might have been “Internet: you ain’t seen nothing yet,” because he is a believer that we have only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of the power and reach of the online medium. He explains: “I think it is fair to say that we’re at the very beginning and I believe that we’re two per cent of the way into it, and you can measure that in a lot of different ways. “For example, look at the percentage of the world’s population that’s actually doing something on the Internet right this minute, or the percentage of devices that are attached to the Internet, or the percentage of the available bandwidth that the average person uses. There are many metrics, but I think the most important one is what percentage of the things that would make your life simpler can you actually do on the Internet.
“That’s a very small percentage. And the reason is because institutions of the world all have the Internet in some way – I mean not being in e-business would be like not having a fax machine “but how much can you really do on some of these “e-businesses”? And, in many cases, it’s not much. It’s brochure-wear or maybe a catalogue, but not all the products are available online.” How much of the blame for a lack on investment in e-enabling companies lies with the perception of a lack of customer demand?
“I don’t believe that there is a basic reticence or hesitation on the part of the users. Are some people concerned about credit card fraud? Yes, sure, some people are, but that’s not generally an issue. “There are always the followers, but I believe there are a large number of people that are intimidated not out of fear but out of frustration, having used the Internet and found that, you know, they click here to buy and the shopping cart doesn’t work or it’s so complicated they can’t figure it out, or they get a message saying ‘We’re down for maintenance’, or they say ‘Well, you want to do that, you have to call 9 to 5 Monday to Friday’.
Patrick perceives consumer trust to be “the most important issue” that directly affects the user’s willingness to transact online.
“In the old days we trusted companies based on a perception of their logo, and today we will trust a company based on what their Web site does for us “is it there for us when we need it? And do they respect our privacy? “The thing about the web is that if you have any hesitation at any point, in terms of your trust in a particular organisation, you go to the Google search bar and you’re .24 seconds away from finding their competitor, so it’s very short lived. That doesn’t mean loyalty cannot be achieved. The number of follow-on buyers at Amazon is very high. The number of follow-on customers at E-Bay is extraordinary – it’s almost a cult, and they’re loyal because E-Bay earned that trust.”
Earning trust is one goal that Web marketers must aspire towards, but how can companies convince users to try them in the first place, in an increasingly competitive and crowded online environment? Patrick explains: “There are various techniques. I think a lot of it has to do with traditional media. Television is still a very major driver of activity of people, and television is something that drives people to Web sites. Something I learned very early on in the evolution of the Web was to print a URL on everything that you print, whether it’s a book, owner’s manual, business card, a printed advertisement. Any place that you print anything, include a URL.
“That’s very obvious today, but it was not so obvious at the very beginning, and even today many companies don’t do it. You get on Web sites, you can find Web sites, but you can’t find the phone number or you can’t find their email address. That makes it very difficult for somebody to set up a permission-based marketing relationship. It’s quite surprising because it’s proven to be the least cost way of retaining communicating with a customer.”
While Patrick acknowledges that there is a long way to go before most companies can truly call themselves an e-business, he remains convinced that the evolution is will underway. “There’s a lot to look forward to. The speed of connection will be dramatically different and the ability to be connected wherever you are will be radically improved over the next few years. “The web is evolving in a form that’s making it a much more application-oriented medium as opposed to just a document-oriented medium. And it is evolving in context, because new standards such as XML allow for information to be more easily identified, tagged with meaning, with context, so that people don’t search on something and get eight million hits. Eight would be fine.”
**** John Patrick was speaking with Oliver Lewis at World Trade Group’s e-biz summit, June 2002. His book, Net Attitude: What It Is, How To Get It and Why Your Company Can’t Survive Without It, was published by Nicholas Brealey Publishing.