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Sun 3 Jun 2007 09:39 AM

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Tried and tested

This month I was faced by a stark contrast between the old guard and the new.

This month I was faced by a stark contrast between the old guard and the new. On the one hand there were the Chairmen of super-corporations such as Whitbread and Deutsche Post World Net (DHL's parent company); long-established employers of tens of thousands, with complex and diversified business models crossing international boundaries. On the other there was E*Trade, a relative newcomer but already becoming embedded in the public consciousness (or at least that section of the public with access to the internet).

A group like DHL, and therefore, by extension, DPWN, is firmly fixed in the public eye, with the bright red and yellow logo being synonymous with the company's product and services, and visible on the streets of most countries in the world.

Conversely E*Trade is the perfect example of the new guard. The business operates entirely online, running a multi-platform model, where every service is one click away. The overheads are small as there are no branch offices, even for the banking services, and the system backup is run from offices in the UK.

Although some might find it an unfair comparison to have a hospitality company and a logistics giant facing off against a business that has no tangible end product, it still highlights some intriguing issues. The pivotal question being, is the old business model becoming obsolete?

Obviously the need for the service industry is not likely to ever disappear; people will always need hotels, food outlets, and logistical support. But certain industries are going to have to make radical decisions.

If one were to listen to the hype the old-style of banking, for one, has had its day. With almost instant access to market information, minimal fees and the gains from reduced overheads being passed down in the form of higher interest rates, the internet has, in just over a decade, revolutionised traditions that have stood for centuries.

High street banks all now offer banking services on the web but whether this will be enough of a change to enable them to keep up with the new boys only time will tell.

Conversely, when asked if business has suffered with the advent of internet saturation in everyday life, Klaus Zumwinkel, DWPN's supremo, replied that the reality was, in fact, the direct opposite.

"The Amazons and the like are actually good for us," said Zumwinkel. "Although the numbers of letters may have diminished we are actually carrying a much larger volume of parcels and online orders."

So it seems that for some at least the relentless march of technology, and the need to adapt ever more rapidly, may not be such a terrible thing.

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