This seemingly fictitious picture could become reality very soon. The technology for offering electronic communication services, continuing education, professional reference materials, and much more is readily available to on-line subscribers every day. So imagine yourself during a typical week sometime during the year 2000. You're managing your business, but with a new twist: your business is on the electronic superhighway, reachable within a matter of seconds, and available to help you meet a wide variety of business needs.
Here's what your typical week might be like.
8 a.m. -- After a relaxing weekend away from home, you want to catch up on business news from around the world and news affecting your profession. So with the aid of your terminal, you dial up your news service. Brief summaries quickly appear on the screen. Five news items especially interest you and, with a few keystrokes, you call up in-depth news and analysis on each. You print two of these articles for distribution to employees.
10 a.m. -- You've set aside two hours to experiment with some new inventory management software. But you don't have to prowl the aisles of computer stores anymore. Now, you establish an electronic link with a software demonstration library and within minutes demo software is downloaded over the network. You begin to test it, hands on.
3:30 p.m. -- This is the time you set aside for bill paying and purchasing chores. But you rarely use your company checkbook or bulky order form books anymore. Now, a special computerized menu developed for you by your accountant allows you to enter the invoices you wish to pay, and the payments are automatically deducted from your checking account.
When you're done paying bills, you select the journal information from the program's menu, and a complete check register and accounts payable journal is printed out.
9:15 a.m. -- You haven't checked you e-mail lately. So you dial into e-mail and find a dozen letters waiting for you, along with an assortment of advertising pieces. You're delighted to hear from your cousin, currently traveling in Europe, and from a freelance consultant in a nearby city. You take the time to answer a few pieces of pressing correspondence and, with a flick of your finger, transmit the replies by satellite across the nation and beyond.
Noon -- It's time for a meeting with your regional sales people. Yes, you still gather at a local restaurant for lunch and a presentation of new products or sales figures once a month. But brief electronic meetings also are scheduled on your company's network every Tuesday at noon for about 30 minutes.
You log on and find the four sales representatives present. The topic today: add-on sales.
1 p.m. -- The noon meeting was so important you stayed on-line to chat one-on-one with each sales person. One of the sales staff mentioned an article on workplace diversity. You would like to learn more about the topic, so you log-on to your electronic library and call up articles on workplace diversity recently appearing in six well-known business journals. It turns out that several are written by people just like yourself. You download these articles for later reference.
4 p.m. -- The trade association you belong to sponsors an electronic networking event at the same time twice a month. It's an opportunity for people from every aspect of the window coverings business to discuss topics of interest and to distribute electronic business cards without leaving their offices.
With a little time to spare, you decide to scout around for some new customers on your own. You scan a few of the hundreds of community directories maintained on-line and settle on one in particular: a register of newly granted residential building permits. You download the names, addresses and telephone numbers of key prospects, as well as any information that might be helpful when you approach them.
8 a.m. -- You're enrolled in a continuing education class. The subject: effective business communication. Twenty-three other individuals are enrolled and easily communicate with each other and the instructor on-line. Each week, you load assignments into the instructor's e-mail box and, after critiquing them, she returns them.
When the class is over, you remain on-line with five other class members. You've started your own informal discussion group on business communication, and you usually exchange ideas for a half-hour after class.
11:30 a.m. -- One of your employees mentions that he's heard about a sales downturn for a particular window coverings product in many parts of the country. He wonders: Is this true? How will it affect us? You log-on to your network and access a database of industrial trends. Drawing from U.S. Department of Commerce statistics, census data and private databases, the on-line source keeps tabs on sales volume, customer satisfaction, new products and much more.
After scanning recent data, you find that a sales downturn has occurred in certain geographical areas, but experts are attributing the downturn to localized economic conditions. Nevertheless, you have a few questions about the statistics, so you leave an e-mail message for one of the experts.
8 a.m. -- You've been meaning to put together some advertising for the last few weeks, but you've put it off. Now it's time to get the job done. You refine a few of your existing ads to targeted markets right on the screen. Then, after logging-on, you access several mailing lists stored there and send your message electronically to 225 prospective customers. After making a few more refinements you distribute it to the prospect list you compiled yesterday while scanning the network's community directories.
11 a.m. -- Your screen is flashing. You already have responses to your ads from five prospective customers. Two definitely want to buy. Three have questions. Using e-mail, you respond to the questions and hope that by the end of the day, you'll have even more buyers.
11:45 a.m. -- Two more responses come in. You're so pleased with the results you decide to make a few more refinements to the ad and place it in two electronic magazines distributed over various networks. You proofread the material on the screen and send the ads off by 12:15 p.m. They'll appear in the electronic journals by day's end and with any luck readers will see them tomorrow morning.
8:30 a.m. -- Yesterday was the day for selling. Now it's time to do some buying. After calling up your on-line personal and business shopping guide, you select and view a series of brief info-mercials describing several items you're thinking about purchasing. You select two items, paying on-line with your credit card.
You have a few questions about another product -- a piece of fabricating equipment -- so you send quick e-mail inquiries to the two companies offering the items in questions. You'll likely have a response within the hour.
11:30 a.m. -- You've just received an e-mail bulletin from your trade association's legislative committee about a bill pending in your state legislature that might affect the sale of one of your product lines. You dash off a personal e-mail message to your state representative, and ask that she keep you posted on the progress of the legislation and to notify you of any hearings that might be called.
2 p.m. -- A student, recently graduated from college, drops by to see you. She's interested in working in the interior decorating field and is hoping for some job guidance. Again, you turn to your network. Calling up an on-line job bank, you pull out a complete list of entry-level job openings in your region, print it and hand it to the student. You invite the student to enter her resumé into the network's database where a prospective employer might notice it.
2:45 p.m. -- You've received replies to the questions you asked about the fabricating equipment this morning. Now, you're interested in talking with some users of the equipment before you decide to buy. Your network maintains a variety of electronic bulletin boards, including one on manufacturing technology. You enter the board and find dozens of comments from users of the items you're thinking about. After scanning the comments, you decide to buy.
4 p.m. -- Your trade association has arranged an open forum with an official of the U.S. Commerce Department. You log-on. After providing you with an update of small business services, he offers the opportunity to participate in an on-line dialogue over the network.
And then the week ends, but not before you leave electronic messages for two customers you weren't able to reach in the last few days. They both work odd hours, and might call you on the network tomorrow or Sunday.
Richard G. Ensman Jr. is a syndicated freelance writer based in Rochester, NY.