A Duke University study has concluded that more than half of American companies will be selling products online within the year. If that level is achieved, it will more than double the number in cyber-selling just last year.

Such an expectation makes it easy to understand why more high-tech coverage was requested by so many readers of the Business Examiner in our most recent reader survey. (Our most recent effort to meet that demand begins on page 8.)

The Internet and e-commerce are a way of commercial life for many business-to-business (B2B) participants. Indeed, the evidence is clear that this segment was already down the blazing trail by the time Amazon.com, eBay, Priceline and the ever-expanding consumer on-line world took off. Yet because of the difference in size between the B2B and consumer markets, the measure of gross revenues (and profits or losses) recorded in virtual marketplaces will differ by many digits.

Duke researchers, in coordination with the Financial Executives Institute, expect online business will account for an average of 8 percent of a company’s total revenues by 2000, compared to 5 percent last year. The figures are higher for high-tech industries (11.1 and 6.5 percent respectively) and businesses in the Pacific region will mirror these U.S. numbers.

Not surprisingly, the survey conducted in mid-March also found companies expecting to increase their own online spending to follow the same trendline; two-thirds plan to buy up to 8 percent of their supply purchases electronically within the year, again double the figures from 1998.

Yet another set of data passed along by Nua Ltd., a leading Internet strategy and services company that publishes exclusively online, shows a sharp rise in the use of the global connection at work.

MediaMetrix spies found workers on the job viewing on average 409.9 Internet pages per month, a 69 percent jump over 1998 habits. Managers and staff employees spent an average of seven hours online as part of their jobs this past February.

This is significantly more time browsing the Net at work than they spend online at home, probably because of faster connections in the office or shop. And the likelihood is that they can’t get to their computer or phone line at home if they have children beyond the diaper stage.

The most popular Web sites viewed at work were news, information and entertainment pages. Workers spend an average of 45 minutes a month using the Internet to shop and 46 minutes downloading pornography.

All of this work (and play) online is leading new communications providers into service areas right here in the South Sound. Work is progressing in downtown Tacoma and Olympia on regional office and headquarters locations for new telephone and data service providers.

Alternative dial tone telephone service by copper wires and even speedier data service via dsl modems, fiber optic or cable links are available at your front door or soon will be. It’s going to be up to you to figure out how they change the way your company services its customers this year, next year and beyond.

More than likely, this new, faster world will require continual replacements and upgrades for your computer equipment, and that has other vendors excited. Even small and home offices, which account for just one quarter of all high-tech spending in the U.S., will be spending $71 billion in this category per year over the next three annual budgets.

The government number-crunchers estimate there were 5.7 million American companies with fewer than 10 employees last year and up to 22.2 million home offices, a number that is growing steadily.

Three main factors driving this expansion to work smaller and closer to home are: the growth of computer technology, which has increased the competitiveness of small companies; corporate restructuring that leads to greater outsourcing of projects to increase productivity and improve bottom-line shareholder value; and the American society is now placing greater value on the work and contributions of entrepreneurs.

For big companies and small, the Internet can be most useful for business-to-business transactions. When companies need operating resources, they’re buyers, not shoppers—just another way B2B differs from the consumer marketplace.

If you can supply the product or service the business needs, but it is one that requires some product education first (technical specifics, for example) it makes good dollars-sense for you to provide this on the Web, rather than tying up your time and the customer’s in endless games of telephone tag.

After all, that’s why you paid to create that website, isn’t it?

By Jeff Rounce, Business Examiner staff