When small isn't necessarily beautiful

New Media
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The Independent Online

It's comforting to know that no matter what the size of your salary or share options, if you've got to go, you've got to go. Last week, Heinz Wermelinger resigned as chairman and chief executive of e-tailer BOL after two years in the post. Apparently he made his decision five months before it was announced, but a leak in the German press let the cat out of the bag.

It's comforting to know that no matter what the size of your salary or share options, if you've got to go, you've got to go. Last week, Heinz Wermelinger resigned as chairman and chief executive of e-tailer BOL after two years in the post. Apparently he made his decision five months before it was announced, but a leak in the German press let the cat out of the bag.

Wermelinger is leaving the AOL Bertelsmann Europe joint venture to join Neuer Market-listed film and DVD licensing firm, Highlight Communications, saying that he wanted to give something back to a Swiss company after years of working for foreign companies. The news followed the surprise resignation of Richard Bowden-Doyle, chief operating officer of Virgin-backed rail ticket e-tailer thetrainline.com, just four months into the job.

Bowden-Doyle joined thetrainline.com in June from his role as managing director of Thomson Holidays. "I have found making the transition from a very large complex group to a small business much more difficult than I anticipated," admitted Bowden-Doyle. Coupled with the challenge of moving from being number one to number two, he decided not to waste any time. Some industry watchers think this is another example of dot-com management structures not being fully thought through, with some warning that people who have been in the traditional corporate environment find it hard to adjust to the stresses and pace of a dot.com environment. Let's hope that Allan Leighton, former chief executive of Wal-Mart Europe, lasts a bit longer in his new role as non-executive chairman at Lastminute.com. Leighton has said he has spoken to 50 or so e-commerce companies and intends to take about six non-executive directorships or chairmanships in the coming weeks.

Who'll be Mr e-commerce?

If moving from corporate comfort to dot.com adrenaline wasn't taxing enough, pity the person who has to turn up on a Monday morning armed with the task of making e-government a reality and the UK a hub of e-commerce activity.

Since Alex Allan quit the post of e-envoy, many a wager has been placed on who will replace him in the role, but what that role entails is still not clear. Okay, he or she will oversee the different strands of government and private industry involved with e-commerce and will co-ordinate the complexity of moving all government services online by 2005. But what most private companies feel is that innovation and better processes are best off in the hands of the private, not public sector.

The Government has made it clear it wants to work with commercial organisations to implement the services. But the new e-envoy must ensure that, with recent hostility from the industry regarding its Regulatory of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Bill, and the taxation of shares issue, he or she will support and co-ordinate but not regulate or enforce, leaving the industry to find its own form of self-regulation. But it's a great opportunity for private enterprise to get a look in, taking the Government's promises and turning them into user friendly services that actually exist.

Digital divide

Manchester seemed a long way to go last week for a training course on e-commerce project management (all in the name of research), I thought, as I sat aboard the 7.53am train from Euston. On arrival I overheard a group of people discussing how, on their Microsoft Word course (yes, they still exist) they were being taught how to use a mouse by playing online solitaire.

Later, on my way home, looking forward to putting my feet up in front of the telly, I was reading about how Gordon Brown is going to bridge the digital divide by providing 100,000 recycled older computers to low income families through the "Computers Within Reach" scheme. Some commentators are warning that the Government, in trying to reach everyone, is neglecting the one thing that is already in everyone's front rooms - the TV - something that major brands such as British Airways, WH Smith, and now Boots have made an integral part of their new media strategies.

Boots last week announced that it is to launch a new interactive TV channel and web site next year under a joint venture with Granada Media, incorporating its entire e-commerce presence at www.boots.co.uk under a new name, "because a TV channel with the word Boots in it is too mundane," said Richard Holmes, joint managing director of the new venture.

The deal demonstrates the company's commitment to digital interactive TV. Exhausted, I have to agree that until people don't have to go on training courses in Manchester to learn how to use "mice", the delivery channel which involves the least amount of effort will get the most people online.

Breaking news

"Are we still in business?" boomed Steve Sutherland, brand manager at NME down the phone to his office, before settling down and showing me NME.com's new site which launches today. "Dangerous old business this internet isn't it," he quipped.

The online spin-off of IPC's New Musical Express has been in existence for four years - the newspaper itself for 49, so doesn't have much to worry about. But unlike other music sites, it claims to focus on what it does best - breaking news. "We don't want to be a record company, retailer, A&R tool and God knows what else."

"Yes we sell CDS but our core competency is news. Dogs can become cats, but not very good ones," he mused.

NME is a prime example of a strong, established brand that has used new media not to become all things to everyone, but to focus on what it's good at.

"We're not going to web cast every gig, because that's boring, but we will sneak into secret gigs, and film fans reactions to an artist because that's newsworthy," said Sutherland. NME has allowed its users to become its eyes and ears, and has shown how the internet can revolutionise the way news breaks. "We had a guy in Atlanta, Georgia, who went to a concert by The Who, and thought it was crap, and wrote us a fantastic review which we put on the site.

"Pete Townsend saw it, hated it and reacted on The Who web site and put up MP3 files of all these supposedly crap songs," said Sutherland, illustrating the sort of dialogue that the internet can instantly stimulate amongst people who would never before have had that voice.

Lisa.Simmons@haynet.com

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