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European firms wake up to Web as business tool

European companies are gradually waking up to the benefits of using the Web as a business tool, according to a recent executive survey.

European companies are gradually waking up to the benefits of using the Web as a business tool, according to a recent executive survey.

The study, to be released today by management consulting firm Andersen Consulting, found that Europe's use of the Web to sell to consumers or do business with suppliers and business partners lags behind the United States. However, the study did find that European executives' attitudes toward e-commerce are changing.

Andersen surveyed 350 senior executives throughout Europe and 60 senior executives in the United States over the past year. About 64 percent of those surveyed said they see the Web as a competitive business tool, up from 51 percent last year.

"The attitude of business execs in Europe is that they are behind the United States in terms of their commitment to e-commerce, but more and more they are beginning to realize that this is something they need to act on with urgency," said Steven Johnson, codirector of Andersen's e-commerce program.

"Surprisingly, a lot more [companies] have done this," he said. "They've not only acted on it, but they've already seen the benefits."

Meta Group analyst Stan Lepeak said Europe's companies are slow to adopt e-commerce strategies, as are many large companies in North America.

"On average, [Europe] is more cautious and the access to capital isn't really there like it is in North America," he said.

In a similar Andersen study released last year, the company found most European companies used the Web almost exclusively for sales and marketing. But this year, more than a third of European executives surveyed expanded their plans, saying they consider the Web crucial for procurement of goods and services from suppliers, logistics, finance, and product development.

Within five years, Andersen predicts 90 percent of Europe's businesses will use e-commerce to help with sales and marketing and 83 percent will use the Internet for procurement.

According to market research firm International Data Corporation, e-commerce revenues in Western Europe are projected to reach $430 billion by 2003, and Europe overall is expected to have 170 million Internet users by that time, close to that forecast for the United States.

That's a wake up call to European companies who could take advantage of the rush to the Net. Johnson said some are already moving forward, including European telecommunications company U.K.'s Cable & Wireless Communications, telephony company Norway's Telenor Mobil, and oil company TotalFina.