Sat, Jun 12, 2004 - Page 11 News List

E-commerce enhances business competitiveness

KEY ELEMENT Company representatives were quick to say how electronic management software can pick up business, but a business' core must first be viable

By Joyce Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Electronic commerce is a key element for small- and medium-sized enterprises attempting to expand or beef up competitiveness, local entrepreneurs said at a seminar yesterday.

"After installing a customer relations management [CRM] system, I was surprised to find that revenues increased across our stores by an average of 20 percent," said Sophie Fang (方淑宜), president of Taiwan Dante Coffee (丹堤).

Dante is the nation's second-largest coffee-shop chain, which Fang established around 11 years ago. Starbucks, operated by President Chain Store Corp (統一超商), is the largest.

Electronic management software, however, can be too expensive for business start-ups to take advantage of, Fang said at the seminar, which was organized by the Chinese-language Business Next (數位時代) biweekly.

In the past, Dante Coffee used traditional cashiers in its shops because electronic management software was too expensive and there were few options for technical support, she said.

But when the Seattle-based Starbucks coffee chain entered the Taiwanese market in early 1998, Fang said she didn't hesitate in turning to automation software, such as the POS system that rationalizes costs and the CRM that builds ties with clients, because she expected her larger rival to negatively impact on Dante's business.

Taiwan's Starbucks chain is a joint venture of Uni-President Enterprises Corp (統一企業), President Chain Store and Starbucks Coffee International. The partners hold 45 percent, 50 percent and 5 percent of the company's shares respectively.

Fang did the right thing at just the right time, an IBM Corp e-commerce specialist commented yesterday.

"Using the electronic management system while running a business can go a long way to saving costs while boosting efficiency and revenues," said Jennifer Hwang (黃慧珠), manager of general business at IBM Taiwan.

Hwang said that approximately 340,000 local small- and medium-sized enterprises are equipped with computers, but only 9 percent utilize an electronic management system such as CRM or enterprise resource planning (ERP), which she said leaves a lot of room for growth.

She added that an ERP system helped one of her clients increase sales by 50 percent, while another client, a Sushi bar, using a personal digital assistant to take orders, succeeded in elevating that business' professional image.

Offering a similar view, Simon Teng (鄧學中), former CEO and chairman of Working House (生活工廠), a "lifestyle" retail furniture business, said that information-technology capabilities can be an important facilitator for business development and competitiveness, though they couldn't replace the core competitive elements of a business.

National Youth Commission official Yuan Fang-rong (袁芳榮) yesterday urged prospective small-business operators to identify a niche and draw up an effective business plan before considering electronic management software. The emphasis, Yuan said, should be on differentiation and creativity.

Yuan also urged start-up entrepreneurs to take advantage of government-guaranteed small loans financing working capital under NT$1.5 million.

Yuan said the commission has been offering small loans averaging NT$900,000 per application since 1968, and has granted a total of NT$21.2 billion to young entrepreneurs as of April.

He added that businesses can also seek financial support from the Cabinet's NT$200 million small-loan program launched in January.

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