Joining the Dot-Com World
These days it is hard to find an organization of any significant size that does not conduct at least part of its business over the Web. Yet the World Wide Web did not actually come into being until 1991, when the National Science Foundation lifted its restriction on commercial use of NSFNET, the backbone of the Internet. By 1996 some 40 million people had connected to the Net, and today sales revenues from Web-based businesses have risen to more than $1 billion a year.
Despite the recent tribulations of some dot-com "pioneers," there is little doubt that Web-based commerce is becoming a defining force in the economy and in society at large. In a recent essay in the Atlantic Monthly, Peter Drucker likened the advent of electronic commerce to the introduction of the railroads in the 1830s. Railroads, he noted, transformed society more than any other product of the Industrial Revolution. Things moved rapidly from then on. The introduction of farm machinery and agricultural chemicals drastically reduced the need for human farm laborers, who followed labor demand from country villages to manufacturing towns. In the mid-1900s, factory automation began to displace manufacturing workers, shifting the labor force to the growing service sector of the economy. Now the Web is automating service occupations --- from retail clerks and their supervisors to stockbrokers. Falling transaction costs and access to worldwide markets for products, services, and labor have enabled and in some cases forced firms to drastically revise their business models. And this is just the beginning.
"In the new mental geography created by the railroad," Drucker wrote, "humanity mastered distance. In the mental geography of e-commerce, distance has been eliminated. There is only one economy and only one market."
Keeping Up Is a Tricky Business
To prepare students for careers in our rapidly changing economy, the School of Business undertook one of the quickest "product launches" in our history. We designed and offered our first course in e-commerce in 1999 and followed that with a six-course baccalaureate concentration in e-commerce this past September. Between May and August 2000, we designed and installed an e-commerce classroom in which courses in e-commerce, management information systems, and operations management are taught.
The e-commerce concentration consists of four required courses: Principles of Electronic Commerce, Legal Issues in Electronic Commerce, Marketing on the Internet, and Marketing Research. Students then take an elective of their choosing from an assortment of courses in international business and a second elective from a related field such as computer applications, presentation support media, or interactive multimedia. The concentration is designed to introduce students to all aspects of the Internet economy, including Net-based business models, e-commerce software and hardware requirements, online research and analysis techniques, privacy and security issues, taxation, and international dimensions of electronic commerce.
Our e-commerce room, located in 115 Smiddy Hall, is a facility similar to the trading room, with traditional desks replaced by workstations, each with a floor-mounted 750-MHz CPU, flat-screen monitor, and keyboard. Each workstation is wired for the Internet and networked to the instructor's station, allowing the output of any student's station to be controlled by the instructor and projected for the class to see via a ceiling-mounted projector. Projections are made onto a "smart board," a touch-sensitive projection screen linked to the network. Touching the screen with a finger produces the same effect as clicking on the desktop with a mouse.
The Smiddy computer lab has also been upgraded with furnishings and computing equipment similar to and compatible with that in the e-commerce room. These improvements were funded, in part, with contributions from Don Collins's former students and colleagues. Professor Collins, who taught manufacturing information systems in the business school for many years, passed away last year. The lab was dedicated in his memory at a ceremony held during Homecoming Weekend.