Book Of The Week: Online warriors will be taking no prisoners

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The Independent Online

By Bruce Judson with Kate Kelly

(HarperCollins, pounds 14.99)

TOWARDS THE end of its principal author, Bruce Judson, reveals that he spent his teens reading "endless texts about how the Pentagon planned against enemy attack of all sorts". (In comparison my own adolescence seems so much grubbier, but much more fun.) Judson is now a successful marketeer and Internet consultant in the US, and his teenage paranoia has matured to the extent that it underpins the central themes of .

He describes real-life scenarios and strategies adopted by upstart online businesses which are threatening the very existence of traditional, "brick and mortar" companies. So if, like Judson, you have no problem with a management skill set that endorses paranoia as "an important and valuable part of the approach to business", then this is the book for you. And in truth all MDs, running any size of business, anywhere in the world, ignore this book at their peril.

is absolutely not about how the Internet might influence the way businesses operate, but an illustration of how fundamentally (in the US at least) it is already challenging and changing everything, root and branch.

is a valuable how-to guide relevant to conglomerates and micro businesses who recognise that the Internet, and doing business online, involves great opportunities (like stealing someone's entire business area) and major threats (like not retaliating until it is too late). So if you're a David planning to slay corporate Goliaths or Goliaths who have no intention of being felled by a pip-squeak - read on.

It's a straightforward, highly readable book (though, like most management texts, repetitive and no literary gem) setting out "11 strategies for survival and profit in the era of online business". All the examples are American, and Judson presents high profile and convincing examples showing that it's all-out (hyper) war.

The battlefield and tactics are determined by the nature of the Internet. It's an ideal location for business guerrilla warfare, where nimble, inventive and ruthless entrepreneurs can outwit and ambush the slow-moving, and slow-witted. Corporate armies should no longer feel secure when the opposition, armed with cheap and lethal hyper-weapons, is able to devise, implement and change tactics in a matter of hours. But Judson maintains that such guerrilla tactics are exactly what lumbering corporates need to adopt.

Judson's American perspective will make any Brit reading this book realise that what is being described is the future rather than the present so far as the UK is concerned. Some Net gurus position us up to two years behind the online business activities of the US, (they're wrong) and the likes of Rupert Murdoch see major opportunities sooner rather than later.

From my own point of view, running a company which trains businesses in Internet software tools and techniques, the number of businesses asking us for training in building web-based interactive databases and creating online forms is increasing fast. These companies already recognise that the days when an information-only website could be considered effective are numbered.

Judson thinks that entrepreneurial Internet-related activities "may be the greatest single rush of entrepreneurial effort in history", and he is not short of evidence. He describes online devices like "bots" (intelligent software shopping agents) - rare in this country but common in the US, which toddle off into hyperspace to seek out and compare the price and benefits of similar goods then come back and set out the results to the Internet user. This kind of online price comparison is largely a manual process in the UK, but not for much longer - and when it arrives the pressure on British companies to lower their prices inexorably will be enormous, as it is already in the US.

He describes how companies are increasingly able, and willing, to leapfrog parts of the supply chain, like middlemen, in-store sales staff and retailers, and sell direct to their customers.

He's honest about the thorny problem of how to make money via online business (the costs of set up and maintenance of a sophisticated online company can be enormous) by making it clear that it is more about taking cost out of an organisation to protect margins, than creating new profit. However, new online businesses can prosper quickly on the Net, unencumbered by the costs of an established business, and are unlikely to acquire those costs in the future (unless they are of course, whose escalating operating costs and losses are breathtaking).

is at least 50 pages too long, but it's one of very few books about e-commerce that feels grounded in reality. It underpins its 11 strategies on basic business principles, generally qualified with the words fast, faster and fastest.

Ultimately, is a way of planning against attack. Provided all their British rivals don't read it first, UK businesses can use the book's ideas to their advantage. Alternatively they can ignore it, probably to find themselves later alone in a business wilderness.

Judson's final sentences reveal the extent to which he believes no established business can afford to be complacent. "Keep asking yourself questions that start with `What if?' about potential competitors. This should be followed by `Am I doing all I can to ensure that, if that threat emerges, my business can still thrive?'." Paranoid? Maybe. Smart? Absolutely.

Nick Crombie

The reviewer is the director of Metro New Media, an Internet and multimedia training centre