Just as email has changed the manner in which you communicate, how you manage your business is about to change as well. Those companies that rapidly seize upon new evolving business tools will have the opportunity to significantly increase market share and profitability.


This is the first in a series of articles that will hopefully prevent you from getting blindsided in the next six to 18 months by a growing group of tech-savvy competitors who are already aware of the advantages of these new business tools. If you grasp whats happening, you have the opportunity to make your company healthier, stronger and more profitable.


What is Web 2.0?

If you recognize the term Web 2.0, youre probably one of the relatively few, and theres possibly a little bit of geek in you. If your first impression is, I didnt even know there was a Web 1.0, youre in good company along with the rest of us.


Web 2.0 is not a new technology, but a buzzword umbrella term to describe how the Internet has changed during the past few years, how those changes affect its users and, most importantly, the direction were heading. It illustrates evolution from a static depository of websites to one which is collaborative, participatory and interactive. In the new participatory Internet, there are two general principles.


The first, social interaction, allows people to collaborate among themselves in blogs and on sites such as MySpace.com and YouTube. A wide range of people with similar interests can communicate among themselves in real time. In essence, they want instant gratification and are saying email is too slow. From a business perspective, it allows you to get closer to your customers.


The second, software interaction, allows you to access software programs that are not on your computer and allows those programs to communicate with each other. This makes the Internet itself a software platform in much the same way as Microsoft Windows is the platform for other Microsoft software products. A bonus to individuals and companies alike is there are no more software updates to be loaded and no high front-end costs. You can access information from anywhere, on any computer and at anytime.


Its important to recognize that Web 2.0 means nothing more than the evolution of the Internet itself. There was never a Web 1.0 and quite possibly there will never be a Web 3.0, although history will make that determination. Its the same Internet youve been using all this time. But the forces driving the Internet are in a constant state of change, and that is what 2.0 is all about. The term identifies the World Wide Web as having evolved into a medium of networked participation.


In the 1990s, those companies that identified the forthcoming shift to networked participation ensured their own existence. The most well-known are Google, Yahoo, Amazon, eBay and the like. Of equal importance is that in embracing the forecasted shift, these companies were able to position themselves beyond the reach of many competitors.


That same shift is now targeting the business community as a whole. When you combine the two driving principles of Web 2.0 in a business environment, they combine to create customer-driven business models based upon consumer wants and needs.


The Business Side of Web 2.0

Until recently, the changes have been non-business related since business applications typically lag behind non-business applications. But companies are seeing many advantages for businesses, and applications are starting to gain a foothold.


Internet social interaction has been alive and well in the retail and consumer products industries for several years now. Individuals rate products, stores and services and share their experiences with others. Many retailers now provide interactive product reviews on their own web sites.


While the business sector has not yet been able to fully functionalize the software interactivity of Web 2.0 as it relates directly to its customers, it is rapidly moving in that direction. The implications are enormous, as it will change the way you do business and the manner in which your customers (and potential customers) view your company. The degree to which you can incorporate social and software interaction into your company will have a significant impact on your future success.


For transportation carriers, pickup and delivery, dispatching, customer interaction and reporting are only some of the areas in which change is inevitable.


The Impact on Regional Carriers

Because of the broad interaction transportation companies have with their customers, the transportation industry is becoming one of the first industries to fully embrace the Web 2.0 concept. A greater number of regional carriers are utilizing the Internet as a software platform, and it can be anticipated that this technological shift will have a significant impact on the industry within the next six to 18 months. Carriers that choose not to adopt the new technology risk becoming the Pan American Airways of the early 21st Century.


Evaluations of specific carriers such as FedEx, UPS and DHL can already be found at sites such as Epinions.com. Its only a matter of time before regional carriers are incorporated into the reviews or until localized reviews and comparisons start appearing. And because regional carriers have a smaller customer base, this interaction will have a significant positive or negative impact on them.


Few industries can brag that they see their customers everyday. Of utmost importance to the carrier industry is that interaction at time of order placement, driver pick-up and driver delivery the times your company is most visible to your customers. Regardless of the amount of money you invest in hi-tech, if you dont appear to be hi-tech and database-driven at these critical points, you might as well be fishing in the desert. What you perceive is not important. What your customer perceives is paramount. And your customers perception is driven primarily by the latest Internet technology that they see everyday.


If you continue to rely on server and PC-based software programs to run your business and to interact with your customers, youre swimming in dangerous waters. You need to switch to a web-connected system that allows you to interact with your customers and one which allows your applications to interact with each other. Youll find that a web-connected platform is not only more cost-effective, but it will help drive new business also. Choose a web-connected, subscription-based service with no software or system upgrades, and you not only have a brain dead way to stay ahead of your competition, but will always being utilizing the latest technology.


Great News: Improved Service & Lower Cost

An Internet-connected platform allows you to provide all the bells and whistles (and then some) to your customers that large carriers such as UPS and FedEx provide. In many cases, you can provide information to your customers that not only arrives faster but that also surpasses the data and information provided by these carriers while simultaneously lowering your own costs.


In its purest sense, a Web 2.0 system could eliminate dispatching and customer service costs, but in the real world, thats something you dont want to do. However, it can significantly reduce those costs to a fraction of what they are now. At a minimum, it provides the opportunity to reduce personnel and improve productivity.


Add to that a reduction in errors, little to no upfront costs, no maintenance costs and the ability to utilize current hardware, and you start to see some real cost efficiencies. You wont find yourself painted into a corner when something better arrives, since web-connected systems are updated automatically at no cost to subscribers. And the better Web 2.0 systems continue to operate even when your Internet connection is down. You seamlessly continue to run your business with an automatic update to the system platform once the connection becomes live again.


And, since you can access or send data to the web-connected system from anywhere there is an Internet connection, the systems work with web-enabled cell phones, allowing your drivers to provide shipment tracking information. With a bit more hardware, they can transmit digital signatures also.


In the next issue of PARCEL, well show you how to determine if systems are truly Web 2.0 enabled, and well also delve more into the various capabilities that web-connected systems offer.


Bob Ferri and Rob Shirley own ExpresShip Inc, a company focused on hi-tech innovations and solutions for carriers and shippers. They can be contacted through the companys website at www.XPship.com.