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The Internet is Now About More Than Websites-Has Potential to Transform Business for Entire Sectors

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It has been 10 years since Wikipedia began, and 20 years since Gopher became the first common Web browser. The Internet domainname system was established in 1984, and in 1976 Queen Elizabeth II became the first head of state to send an email – a mere 35 years ago.

Clearly, the Internet isn’t new any more. Yet, as Google Canada recently noted, nearly half of Canadian businesses still don’t have a website.

For more and more, however, the Internet isn’t about mere “websites” any more than the post office is about delivering personal letters. The Internet is transforming businesses and entire industries, turning product and services producers into communications and logistics innovators. Consider IBM, which used to make adding machines, and now delivers system-design and consulting services that are almost entirely founded on Internet connectivity (think time-of-day utility billing, or remote-diagnostic healthcare services).

In his recent book, C-Scape: Conquer the Forces Changing Business Today, marketwatch. com founder Larry Kramer writes about how the Internet has changed everything about business. Visa evolved from payment solutions to providing “how-to” content for its small business customers; JetBlue took flight by focusing on Web-enabled customer service not just for reservations, but to solve customer headaches such as refunds and loyalty points.

A century ago, industrialization created a similar turning point. Companies had to decide what business they were really in: did they exist to solve their customers’ problems, or to churn out specific products? Some companies chose the easy route. The railroads, for example, continued to run long, expensive trains over fixed tracks, thereby sealing themselves off from the automotive revolution.

A few companies made the switch. These firms became the architects of business and industrial society for nearly a century – until they too lost their way. Kramer notes that the Internet could have been a much more useful tool for Chrysler, Ford and General Motors, if they had used it to create more interaction with their customers, and listened better, thus becoming better able to foresee changing demand for smaller, more fuelefficient cars. Hindsight may be 20-20, but at least this suggests there’s a digital solution for every business problem, if more entrepreneurs would leverage Internet power rather than avoid it.

A group of expat Canadians trumpet a similar message from their headquarters in Silicon Valley, ground floor of today’s business revolution. Dealmaker Media uses events and conferences to catalyze the digital revolution, mainly on the West Coast. next week it is holding its second annual GROW conference in Vancouver, bringing the best new digital ideas and entrepreneurs from the Valley to connect with some of Canada’s most promising Web evolutionaries.

Calgary-bred Jasmine Antonick, now a consultant with Dealmaker in San Francisco, says the conference is founded on the need for more traditional companies to reinvent their business through Web and mobile technology, which she calls the “next-Gen Entrepreneur” movement. These are just a few of the Canadian next-gen companies that she says GROW 2011 is designed to help:

Toronto Sport & Social Club built its own sports-league management software, and leverages cloud-based Google Docs, as well as Gmail, Twitter and Facebook, to maximize revenue, minimize expenses and create a lean, agile business

Knifewear Inc. of Calgary calls itself “Canada’s awesomest knife shop.” Owner Kevin Kent is a chef with a special love for Japanese cooking knives. Through social media he has become a celebrity, using blogs, Twitter, e-commerce tools and instructional videos on YouTube to cut a swath far beyond a single storefront

Light Leaks Shop is an Ottawa-based online retailer of low-cost, “low-fi” analog cameras for hobbyists and gadget enthusiasts. Owners Michael Barnes and Rachel Morris also publish a magazine called Light Leaks, also sold online. Started as a hobby, Light Leaks exemplifies the Webenabled “long tail” company that exploits a tiny niche on a global scale.

So here’s the transformational power of the Internet: to turn hobbies into small businesses, and small businesses into global categorykillers. Maybe that’s why GROW 2011 includes just one day of full conference presentations. Day 1 is for informal networking and idea sharing, and Day 3 is “Outdoor Adventure Day,” bringing attendees together for kite-boarding, kayaking, mountain-biking and other typical coastal activities. Perhaps the secret of next-Gen Entrepreneurs isn’t just the technology, but the excitement and passion with which they embrace life.

Source: The Edmonton Journal
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