11 Oct Institute Helps Industries Enhance Business Strategies
The Internet has changed the ways companies do business.
MADISON, WI- From online customer service to remote diagnostics, the World Wide Web and all it offers can equip businesses with tools that enhance production, sales, customer satisfaction and, as a result, profits. It has created the world of e-commerce, or e-business, where companies use Internet-enabled technologies to exchange goods, services or information and to deliver value to customers in entirely new ways.
To help companies reap the benefits of this new world, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has partnered with industries in the state to develop a better understanding of how Internet-enabled technologies and practices can improve business strategies, potentially increasing a company’s competitive edge in fierce global markets.
This effort has led to the founding of the Wisconsin E-Business Institute, which will be formally announced on Thursday, Oct. 16, at the E-Business Best Practices and Emerging Technologies conference, an annual meeting hosted by UW-Madison’s Consortium for Global E-Commerce (UW CGEC).
The institute, a campus-wide effort, builds on the successful partnership between the university and industry that exists through UW CGEC, soon to be renamed the Wisconsin E-Business Consortium. It will complement the consortium’s collaborative learning activities by conducting multidisciplinary research and by leading outreach efforts that enhance e-business practices among the state’s core industries, including manufacturing, plastics, printing, paper and dairy.
“E-business is not just about buying some piece of technology and plugging it in,” says Raj Veeramani, professor of engineering and business, and director of the consortium and the new institute. “It encourages companies to rethink their business strategies, and it helps them redefine their competitive value to customers.”
With the aid of the Internet and collaboration tools, manufacturing companies, for example, can assist the customer in using their products in the most appropriate way and can respond to customer needs quickly and cost effectively. Through web sites, food companies, such as Wisconsin’s Sargento Foods, can dish out recipes and cooking tips that enhance a diner’s enjoyment of the edible merchandise.
Through these efforts, explains Veeramani, “companies, as well as their customers, can maximize the return on investment.”
With the growing success of Internet companies in the mid-1990s, Veeramani says many researchers on campus and companies throughout the state took an interest in this new way of doing business. Curious about the role UW-Madison could play in helping Wisconsin businesses maintain and enhance their competitive edge through e-commerce, the university brought senior executives from companies across the state to campus. “We asked, ‘What can the university do to help your business gain a competitive edge?'” recalls Veeramani.
The answers led to the founding principles of the UW CGEC: to create a holistic, non-commercial center that fosters collaboration and experiential learning not only between a particular company and the university, but also among companies. Since its creation in 1998, the consortium has served as a hub for more than 50 Wisconsin companies and a multidisciplinary team of UW-Madison faculty. This is the sixth year the consortium has hosted the best practices conference.
Veeramani notes that the consortium’s experience in addressing the needs and concerns of individual companies has provided valuable preparation to address issues at the industry level. In other words, it has laid the foundation for the new institute.
“The institute,” explains Veeramani, “will focus on issues that transcend individual companies and benefit entire industries.”
One of the institute’s first efforts centers on the Wisconsin plastics industry, whose growth rate in the last five years ranks among the highest in the country. With a two-year, $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, the institute and the UW Polymer Engineering Center, along with other Wisconsin universities and technical colleges, will partner with the state’s plastics companies. Together, they will drive innovative product development and enhance industrial competitiveness through technology transfer of new plastics materials, processes and tools. In addition, they will develop curricula to train future leaders in this field.
In collaboration with the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, the institute also has initiated a pilot program called “E-Business Journey for Wisconsin Manufacturers” that will equip the state’s small manufacturing companies with the concepts and tools needed to develop and enhance e-business strategies and to strengthen ties with customers.
Another new initiative has brought together an industry workgroup on radio frequency identification tags – a wireless technology that enables companies to track, trace and manage their assets. “Major Wisconsin companies from a variety of industries are involved in this workgroup,” says Veeramani. “This technology will have a profound impact on several industries, including manufacturing, distribution, retail, food, healthcare and pharmaceuticals.”
At a time when many U.S. companies outsource their production operations to companies overseas – where material, labor and overhead costs are cheaper – Veeramani says it is critical to bolster the competitiveness of industries here, particularly in Wisconsin, where manufacturing comprises 23 percent of the workforce.
“The institute will add another dimension to what we’re currently doing,” says Veeramani. “It will serve as a statewide hub for industry and university collaboration that helps the state’s industries maintain their competitive edge, potentially enhancing Wisconsin’s economic development.”