Opinion

Who should control e-commerce - the board room or the IT mananger?

If you find yourself suddenly in charge of an e-commerce site with responsibility for establishing your firm's e-business strategy should you open the champagne or run away and hide. Our panel discusses the issues

I've just taken up the post of IT director in an organisation where the IT department seized control of the corporate Web presence some time ago. I am a strong believer in the need for the business to take control of e-business, and am not comfortable with the state of affairs I have inherited. How can I offload ownership onto the business without denting my credibility?

The solution

Discuss strategy with colleagues

Colin Palmer

Impact

Of course the business needs to take control of e-business initiatives. The question I suspect you are trying to resolve is about roles and responsibilities.

IS may have a role in educating the business in the relevant use of e-business and its wider impact on business strategy. You can have an immediate discussion with key business colleagues on what they intend and you can support them. You will certainly need to maintain some control over infrastructure, technology policy and security.

Your credibility will remain intact if you get into the business and agree how the organisation can best direct and run e-business.

Assert your own ideas

Roger Marshall

Elite

As a new IT director this is a chance to assert your own ideas about your proper role - running the Web presence rather than business management. If your ideas are soundly based, as they seem to be, and if you can put them across effectively, there is no reason for you to lose credibility. Rather the opposite in fact.

You may have more of a problem with your own staff than the rest of the business. If they originally fought to get the case for a Web site accepted then they may be disappointed to see you give it up just when it has become fashionable and capable of giving the owner some kudos. You will need to explain the evolving Web presence, from promotional site to e-business hub, and the importance of it being owned by the business. Of course, IT still has a vital role to play, but a different one.

How you go about transferring this responsibility is the key question. Whoever takes it over must be an effective champion. They must understand the potential and have the energy to see it realised. They must not be seen as partial or promote the interests of one particular department.

Such a person may not be readily available, so you will need to find someone with potential and help them to grow into the role. They will need to be given formal authority by the board and be backed up by an inter-departmental steering group that brings together the various skills and interests needed to make e-business a success. If you can help to facilitate all of this, while the organisation keeps up with its competitors, then your credibility can only be enhanced.

Get board-level buy-in

Roger Rawlinson

NCC

Fighting between the marketing department and IT department over the company's Web site is a common scenario being played out up and down the country. You are correct in identifying that the Web site is part of e-business and therefore is a business issue.

I have seen Web sites controlled by the IT department that have been a failure - technically they are fine, but they fail to tackle issues such as corporate branding and content management. Equally, I have seen disastrous Web sites controlled by marketing. For example, I recently visited a site which had serious security faults.

Primarily, your company's Web site needs to have board-level buy-in or else its provision will suffer. You need to identify a board-level champion who will take overall responsibility for the Web site and then, depending on the size of your company, it would be a good idea to appoint people to the different roles involved in the maintenance of the site. For example, you need someone to take technical responsibility and a person to take responsibility for the information content on the Web site.

As far as your credibility goes, you need to explain the issues to the IT department and alert employees to their importance in the whole technical management role of the company's Web site.

Celebrate and make it a success

Hugh Macken

Certus

Become a facilitator for e-business within your organisation. E-business should ultimately be owned by you as IT leader. If you do not want to own this - the most important aspect of your future - what do you want to own?

I don't remember the finance or marketing departments rushing to own the year 2000 project, and yet these people are now trying to "take over" all aspects of the e-world. E-business is the IT director's saviour, it will enable you to redefine your role, your influence and power base in your company, and the importance of your department.

It is also a ticket to the boardroom. I know of many IT leaders who are crying out to "own" e-business but are unable to, so the first thing I would say is stop whingeing about it, celebrate and make it a huge success.

However ownership is very different from control. The most successful IT projects in e-business are where the IT leader becomes a facilitator for such projects. While retaining ownership, you should ensure that you bring together all of the key players and departments around the e-business theme. This is hugely powerful - you retain ownership without doing all the work, other departments are involved in the exciting new world of e-business, and your reputation, and that of your people, grows. This is the role and method needed to master and own the future - enjoy!

Correct your predecessor's mistake

Professor Dan Remenyi

Why should transferring the control of e-business from the IT department to the business unit dent your credibility? The question of control of e-business is entirely one for business managers and the IT department can only, at best, act as the deliverer of the technology mechanisms necessary to ensure that the business process functions correctly.

If your predecessor took over control of your organisation's e-business, this was a bad mistake, and all you need to do to boost your credibility is to come out front and say that you are in the business of putting this mistake right.

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This was first published in May 2000

 

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