There is no doubt that the Internet is becoming more central to the way we live, work and play.
A scant eight years ago, fewer than 100,000 people worldwide used the Internet on a regular basis. Today, more than 300 million people around the world go online for business, research, shopping, correspondence or entertainment, according to the U.S. Internet Council's 2000 State of the Internet report. By 2005, the number of Internet users is expected to surpass 1 billion.
The web has grown at an incredible rate, doubling in size in the first six months of 2000. There are an estimated 1 billion unique, indexable pages and nearly 10 million "dot-com" domain names have been registered.
For business and industry, the Internet provides an entirely new way of conducting business, offering a direct portal to millions of users and potential customers. "E-commerce has exploded with online retailing and industry marketplaces," the report said. "Business-to-consumer and business-to-business e-commerce promise to continue seizing an increasingly larger share of the goods and services market in the coming years."
B2B e-commerce, the online purchase of products and services between companies, is the fastest-growing segment of e-commerce activity, the U.S.I.C. report said. B2B revenues could reach U.S.$10 trillion by 2003.
For those of us in the grain and grain processing industry, the Internet is a valuable tool for communication, information and, increasingly, business transactions.
A recent Internet usage survey conducted for World Grain by Sosland Publishing Co.'s Research Services Department shows that 82% of respondents have access to the Internet at their company. An overwhelming majority of those people are involved in company or operations management.
The survey was mailed to all World Grain subscribers and received 562 responses.
Of those who do not have access to the Internet, more than half said there were no plans to provide access while about one-third expected to be online in a year or less than a year.
How are we using the Internet? While a substantial portion of time is spent visiting industry-related web sites, gathering company information or reading industry news, most of us are using the Internet to send or receive e-mail. According to the survey, 64% of online business activities in our industry involves e-mail.
This is true outside the grain industry as well. According to a report in eMarketer, 84% of all Internet users send and receive e-mail on a regular basis. Another 1999 study indicates that e-mail is becoming the dominant mode of business communication, and is becoming even more important as a business tool than the telephone.
Only 17% of our survey respondents are using the Internet to conduct business or for e-commerce, but that number will grow rapidly, experts say.
Alan Wood, vice-president of ICEcorp.com, an Internet cash grain exchange in the U.S., said everyone thought the industry would be further along in terms of e-commerce. "We're comfortable and content with the growth in e-commerce," he said. "But we're thrilled with the response we've seen, in terms of actual traded bushels, since we've begun focusing on the private network model."
Steve Dunn, president of A2B, Inc., a U.S.-based application service provider for the bulk transportation market, said the reduction of transactional costs is the value-driver in e-commerce. "Web applications are being built that address those issues, and within a short amount of time, the industry will be pushing data via the web rather than using the postal service or fax machine," he said.
World Grain's Internet usage survey also showed that nearly half of the respondents who are online live in the U.S. or Canada, with the next highest region being Europe.
This mirrors overall Internet usage worldwide. The U.S.I.C.'s 2000 State of the Internet report showed that the greatest number of Internet users live in the U.S., and that the Internet continues to be heavily influenced by American culture. Still, the diversity of users is growing. Personal use and e-commerce initiatives in the Asia-Pacific region and Latin America have "surpassed expectations," the report said, and India and China are quickly coming online.
The outlook for continued Internet usage worldwide is bright, despite a significant "global digital divide" between developed and developing nations, the latter of which are still hampered by poverty and an inadequate telecommunications infrastructure.
Interestingly, our survey found that when the number of respondents living in North America are excluded, the Internet access percentage remains similar, with 81% of respondents in all other regions having access to the Internet in their companies.
Trends show the ability of business and consumers to connect to the Internet is expanding rapidly, and the choices of access, content and e-commerce are growing every day. All data suggest that this growth will continue, and in many cases accelerate, well into the next century.