Every second counts

You've got to move fast in the new economy. But how do you go to market without falling over on the first day? Helen Beckett...

You've got to move fast in the new economy. But how do you go to market without falling over on the first day? Helen Beckett finds out

The pace of life in the e-economy is now so fast that many refer to it as the "dog years". This does not refer to quality of life so much as the increased amount of business that is packed into one calendar year, seven times as much, according to the canine school of thought. A better known term is the Internet year that consists of three months.

Without quibbling over exact times frames, anyone working in e-business would agree that the pace of decision-making and project roll-out has speeded up. IT people, marketeers and financiers all have to adapt to a pit-stop style of working if they've any chance of delivering their product to market.

Practitioners of e-business agree that intelligent prioritising can deliver 80% of functionality for 20% of the effort. Scient, a US e-business agency that builds market concept plus technology components, stresses it is crucial for sales, marketing and IT to work in parallel. "We take an iterative approach, and put new proof points out into the market place continually," says Charlie Blackburn, vice president of Scient. The agency also looks at the organisational and financial components together. "You can't build an application in isolation. This calls for a broader and deeper set of skills", says Blackburn.

Perhaps even more important in this go-faster world is the re-evaluation of what constitutes a project success or failure. The temptation is to try and roll out projects with the same rigour and processes as traditionally. Anything left out might be deemed a failure, but as Robin Tye, e-business partner of PriceWaterhouseCoopers points out. "The yardstick should be whether or not you've learned from a project".

E-Business Review talked to companies who've all implemented e-business projects in 90 days. This is what they said.

Case study - Bluecycle.com

Blue Cycle, subsidiary of CGU Insurance.

Sean Egan, CEO.

The project scope
Bluecycle was devised to maximise value for CGU, by exploiting the vast stock that the insurer accumulates when customers make claims. CGU decided to adopt one of the most successful Internet business models, the auction, to sell stock online to consumers and traders.

The deadline
Blue Cycle was conceived at a brainstorming meeting last October. Sean Egan, who was previously working at IBM, was hired with a mandate to launch in 90 days. The brief was to create a brand, create a market, define the operational processes and hire individuals and have the whole thing up-and-running in 90 days.

How did you manage time pressures?
The danger of thinking in terms of classical systems implementation is that it leads you towards a mindset of thinking you need specific components and therefore can't deliver before a later deadline. I personally take the view that learning about the market place is more important than spending time on delivering a perfect project. In terms of prioritising, we spent our time getting the customer-facing application right for IT, rather than striving to build a perfect systems architecture. Having a small on-site development team sitting with the creative people made a big difference in turning things round fast.

What would you have done with more time?
We recognise there are some inadequacies - perhaps some of these would have been ironed out before the launch. Some things we had to compromise, like customer accounts, we managed to work around. However, the notion of the big launch doesn't really exist here. You have to be continually delivering incremental improvements to customers. The soft launch in January to customers and friends was vital because we discovered the missing functions that were crucial, such as indicating which items were in stock. We were able to remedy that in a couple of weeks. Conversely, some of the things we'd planned on rolling out in the future, we've been able to do ahead of schedule. Wap has been offered to customers early because it was relatively easy to implement.

Case study - The Buying Agency

The organisation:
The Buying Agency, manages government procurement catalogues

Gerry Grimes, e-business manager.

The business case:
The TBA manages catalogues of items including beds, pots and pans, that are procured by 400-plus customers including prison services, charities and local authorities. Offering online purchasing would increase efficiency by processing orders more quickly. Suppliers would benefit too from being able to see who was viewing their stock.

The deadline:
The White Paper, Modernising Government, had specified a 90% target for low value transactions to be completed electronically by 2001 - for all central government departments. The TBA wanted to offer its customers parity of service. April 1st, 2000 was picked as go-live date to meet the government target.

How did you manage time pressures?
It was an aggressive target but a realistic one. We opted for an incremental approach of introducing functionality. A crucial decision to cope with the limited time frame was to manage customer expectations and not risk a Big Bang introduction of untested technology and processes. We decided to launch with a pilot and limit the number of customers to 25, out of a potential 25,000. We were very clear in working out with ICL what was deliverable. The entire system was developed by ICL in Kidsgrove. Until we could be sure that the system works as reliably as any IT project ever can, we made the hard decision to limit customers.

What would you have done with more time?
Like any project, you can always do with more time or resources. We involved suppliers from the start and held a seminar to explain the service in early March. A short project focussed everyone on the work that had to be delivered - any longer and inertia would have crept in. No matter how much longer we'd had, the technology wouldn't have looked that different - although it might have made for a slightly less jittery project manager.

Case study - Alliant Foods

Alliant Foods, a US distributor of non-perishable goods

Andrew Robinson, European managing partner, Diamond Technology Partners

The business case:
Alliant spotted a window of opportunity to take the burden of administration away from big food chains and independent restauranteurs. The business plan was designed to provide a single point of delivery for a range of services spanning inventory management, equipment provision and financial services.

The deadline
The market was wide open - but not for long. We conceived of the project in a two month period - and the actual roll-out of stage one - FlyInTheSoup.com followed within 45 days. This was a community site for waiting staff that encouraged them to interact with each other through a competition. Once the data on staff had been collected it was possible to offer functions to the restaurant business, and TheSauce.com followed in another 90 days.

How did you manage the time pressures?
The most difficult thing is that you're having to build and integrate a business and the techie components when the fulfillment process does not yet exist - all these things have to happen concurrently and it is immensely complex. The advantage of limited time is that it forces you to get something to market. The short time frame forces people to work together closely - and engenders integration by default. The project did not necessarily go how I expected - and I never engineered anything to be absolutely correct. As long as quality didn't suffer, then the technology we produced was OK.

What would you have done with more time?
Believe it or not, if we'd had another month it wouldn't have made any difference to the technology. Our techie guys stayed awake three nights in a row. However the marketing would have been more comprehensive, and maybe we'd have launched with more partners. It's the business case that is the defining element.

Cost for 90 days project - $4million

  • $1.3 million - hardware, software and package applications

  • $1.3 million - development costs

  • $1.3 million - operations

    Case study - CAVOTEC UK

    The company
    Cavotec UK is one of 18 sales companies worldwide operating on behalf of a Dutch parent group that owns six manufacturing companies globally. Cavotec manufactures components for cranes and automotive industries.

    The Interview:
    Alex Rangolam, MD

    Project scope
    Cavotec found that half of the sales volume were repeat orders. The company decided it made sense to offer these products over the Internet and that it was also sensible to build the e-business in the UK. As MD Alex xx explains: The UK company has two FTSE listed companies, Premier Farnell and Electro Components and has become experienced in concepts like just-in-time distribution. We thought we should take this experience and offer it to all customers globally.

    The deadline
    It was without doubt the fastest project I've ever worked on. There were two directors making the decision and we decided that it would be beneficial for us and our customers to have a new company up and running as quickly as possible. We were making management changes in the company and 1 May was the deadline that was set in stone.

    How did you manage time pressures?
    The team members consisted of me, the group marketing director and vice president, and an external Web consultant. We went outside for the IT because we didn't the relevant experience in-house. Our VP is based in Stockholm and he selected a Web consultant located in the same building. This close proximity proved crucial to the rapid roll-out. Three times a week the three of us would teleconference to review progress, plus, there were two physical visits, one in Stockholm and one in our offices in Peterborough. We're an international company and I'm used to working closely with colleagues in 18 different countries.

    What would you have done with more time ?
    More time would not have helped us achieve our objective any better. The key thing was focus and we had a main benchmark for delivery: Our CEO had ordered a set of suitcases from the Lufthansa Web site at the beginning of our project and had been very impressed with the look and the navigation of the site. However, the suitcases he ordered back in February still hadn't arrived in June - and nor had he received any kind of acknowledgement of the order. So Lufthansa became a different kind of benchmark - for ensuring that we delivered the goods and that customers received an acknowledgement of their order. We therefore use manual intervention to generate a unique customer account number, and then again to inform customers that their goods are on the way.

  • Read more on Business applications