Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Internal Politics Limit Global Websites

Every FT 2000 corporation has a website. But very few of these sites make major contributions to the business or to the communications objectives of the firm.

Why not?

The three biggest reasons have to do with governance, strategy and process; all topics that are political hot potatoes.

1. Everybody or Nobody is in Charge. In typical matrixed organization IT owns the plumbing and Marketing owns the content of the corporate website. Often they spend their time fighting with each other. Rarely is there a clear leader. So rather than advance the cause, they squabble over resources and over who gets to make each internal decision. IT fights using technology to enable or block each move. Marketing uses budgets to the same ends.

This is unresolved civil war is often compounded by the fact that few customers do business globally. The real action takes place on local or country websites. Here too governance is often not clear even when a set of global design, interface and technical standards exist. Global players lay down the rules but local players, asserting their rights allegedly based on local P&Ls, skirt them. The net result is an on-going battle for control that nets out very little progress in terms of impacting the business.

2. No Clear Objectives. Websites are beautiful things. They can hold and display mountains of material. And they can address and engage multiple target audiences simultaneously. But too many global firms have a website for its own sake and cannot articulate what the site is supposed to do or where it fits into a selling, a communications or a messaging strategy. As a result it becomes a White Elephant thrashing around consuming time, money and resources in search of a mission.

The best sights prioritize audiences in their interface design and create well-marked pathways for each target audience to see and get what they need quickly. They regulate how much gets published on the site, use content management tools and carefully assess how many bells and whistles are needed. The also-rans present a Chinese menu of stuff, turn the website into a great repository of blab, get distracted by the technical parlor trick of the week and hope that whoever lands on the site will either find their way or forgive them.

3. No Process Integration. Websites can play distinct and effective roles in selling things, generating leads, raising awareness, addressing legislative and regulatory issues, providing service to customers, cataloging or demonstrating products, collecting information or opinions and in interacting with people. Many sites have built-in the functionality to accomplish these tasks.

Far fewer have placed the website into a sequence of events or a contact strategy designed to leverage the strengths of the digital medium and link them to pre or post human-to-human interactions (in-person or by phone) or connect them to the natural steps in a deal flow. This short changes both the website and the corporation because it minimizes the chance to leverage combined assets to achieve company goals.

Genuinely leveraging the web means thinking carefully about how each task gets done and breaking each task into its natural steps and then assigning part of the effort to the website. It requires a plan to get people to and through the web and/or follow-up tactics to use the digital interaction to advance a sale, solve a problem, deliver information or build a relationship. It’s about placing the unique capabilities of a web site into the context of discrete business processes, then measuring the web’s ability to expedite and accelerate the process of accomplishing key tasks.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

It's Always About the People

People subvert every brilliant system.


Because we are creatures of habit. We are set in our ways and resistant to change.

Another reason is that the people who think up great systems and stunning software innovations rarely think about them from a ground-level perspective or design them to suit the mechanics of daily work life.

Exclusive attention to top-down perspective breads bottom-up rebellion. It’s a formula as old as mankind and one that is frequently ignored. If you doubt me, ask Louis XIV, Tsar Nicholas II or George the Third.

That in a nutshell is the story of CRM and very well could become the story of business process innovation. The guy who thinks up and builds the system never talks to the guy who really uses the system. Too often this oversight manifests itself in an interface that is hard to use and hardly intuitive.

Forrester reported August 3 that the market is “rife” with dissatisfied customers who will spend $3.2 billion on CRM licenses over the next year even though only 29% are satisfied with the integration of applications and only 1 in 3 are happy with the ease of working with their chosen software vendor.

As a result the user benefits accrue on a macro level, where C level executives calculate the reduced time, costs and complexity, instead of at the user level where working stiffs buy-into and implement systems that will make them happier, more productive and reduce the repetitive drudge work. Yet with a little effort, insight and attention everyone can be made happy.

Consultants call the process of imposing solutions that do not account for real people as end users “change management.” But in real life these complex, jargon-filled methodologies and so-called techniques are nothing more than ways to coerce reluctant workers to use a system that was bought for them. Like Mary Poppins, the mercenary consultants fashion a “spoonful of sugar” to make the medicine go down.

But it doesn’t have to be so. Change management should begin with initial concepting and design. Software thinkers need to get closer to where the rubber meets the road. in terms of understanding specifically who will be using the system and how they see themselves.

Consider the CRM example. Top management wants visibility into marketing. They want to know what they are getting for dollars invested and they want to see if costs can be tightened and reduced. It’s a noble objective.

Marketers see themselves as creative idea people. They are the guys who make magic. They come up with the big ideas that move markets. The very notion of CRM forces them to confront long held beliefs and self-images. In the mind of the average corporate marketer, bean counters embrace CRM not marketers.

Unfortunately the makers of CRM applications have fallen short in addressing this concern and in demonstrating to the likely user base that the systematic collection of campaign data can provoke more big ideas and potentially separate the big ideas from the also-ran ideas. Add to the attitudinal issues the difficulty and drudgery of the data entry process or the arduous process for creating reports and it’s not a surprise that marketers don’t see CRM as a gift or a tool but rather see it as an added burden.
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