Tuesday, July 17, 2007

E-business in Belgium

This post ties back to my previous rant about Viking Direct / Office Depot in Belgium. Trying to understand  why this sort of business inefficiencies develop, even though I was never terribly impressed with the adoption of e-business in this corner of the world... The country is not exactly the most advanced nation in e-business, sites
often suck big time and they are virtually impossible to find online
(why optimize for search engines after all?), people do not seem to be
using the web for much more than finding information (very limited
transactional / e-commerce usage) and the adoption of new tools is 5-7 years behind the US (adoption is when a tool or technology becomes routinely used by a majority of the population, like short messages on mobiles today). Here's an excerpt from an
interesting report of the Economist Intelligence Unit about e-commerce in Belgium:

"A survey for the Federation of Enterprises in Belgium in late 2004 (and
not repeated since) showed that 39% of Belgian businesses were using
e-mail marketing, and 32% had extranets. Only 27% had extranets that
could interact with suppliers, only 21% were using electronic invoicing
and only 17% were using electronic purchasing. Using the extranet as a
commercial tool does not necessarily increase sales (only 9% said that
it did), but 20% of companies feel it improved their ability to
innovate and 18% felt it improved their competitive position. However,
only in 15% of companies did management consider that e-business was a

Not to mention the resistance of traditional players e.g. in the media
space to the web: Belgium is where Google was found guilty of
infringing copyright legislation because it indexes the content of the
sites of major local newspapers and the case is being reexamined,
hopefully with a more positive outcome since Google finally opened a
Belgian office.

I find this situation of maximal resistance to e-business quite surprising for a country that is home to a couple of
great enabling infrastructures like SWIFT (international network of
interbank transactions), Proton (electronic petty cash), Isabel
(electronic billing, e-banking, e-government...), Euroclear (securities
clearing & settlement)...

So let's say that there's still a lot of potential in the e-business arena in Belgium. Perhaps too much potential...

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