Is your online operation doing the jobyou want it to?

Doing business online offers the IT department a chance to put itself on the corporate map. Internet-based technologies can add...

Doing business online offers the IT department a chance to put itself on the corporate map. Internet-based technologies can add the Web to existing business channels, growing the customer base and improving our understanding of what customers want. For the IT decision-maker, e-commerce offers a chance to prove that the worth of the IT department extends beyond keeping the corporate network up and running. By Martin Couzins.

One good thing to come out of the dotcom boom and bust was that it brought to the public's attention what was technologically possible, says Andy Tinlin, head of strategy and customer management at KPMG. And now that the dust has settled, Tinlin says it is a good time to look at second and third wave online business operations.

He cites the likes of as an example of best practice for online business. The reason, "An easy experience online for users. The site is clean and quick, which makes it more user-friendly." To this end, banks are reviewing their online offerings. commissioned research firm Taylor Nelson Sofres and consultancy Cap Gemini Ernst & Young to carry out a seven-month e-commerce audit.

The research found that many consumers were rejecting sections of Web sites because of poor service or bad design. In the light of the results, Abbey National removed a large chunk of third-party content and focused on usability rather than whizzy technologies.

This said, there are still inhibitors for online business growth. Tinlin says broadband is still two to three years away, but while it develops, he argues that companies need to align bandwidth. At the moment broadband Web sites are failing because the majority of customers are on narrowband. Security also needs to be addressed as consumers are still wary about disclosing personal data.

Finally, Tinlin says, businesses needs to reduce upload times to keep customers on their sites. This will mean stripping out graphics and any other content that affects upload speed. "These are basic to getting a Web operation working well," he says.

Despite the fact that online business is maturing, business and IT managers in bricks-and-mortar companies still need to get their heads around what contribution the Web can make to the overall business plan. It is crucial for the Web to be seen as a part of an integrated sales channel, not a standalone one, Tinlin says.

This affects the IT director because managing an online business environment is no longer purely an IT issue. Tinlin says historically the IT director had to worry about infrastructure and the marketing director was concerned with how to manage the customers better.

Now the technology can help the business to find out who the customers are and what they want. And it is the IT director who needs to be making this clear to the board. For example, customer relationship management can be a real eye-opener for sales and marketing people, says Tinlin. Technology can help to "simplify the customer relationship process", to find out what customers want.

To convince the board to reassess your online offering, Tinlin suggests:
  • Base all arguments on customer loyalty. By doing this you will also help to bridge the gap between IT and the business

  • Think business benefits, not costs. Tinlin says IT directors are seen as the "cost", always wanting money. It is time to change this and for directors to show how technology will help the business. IT directors should put an end to the "what do you need money for now" syndrome

  • Try to present a view to the board of where things are going with the technology - seek to map it to the business strategy.

    • As business online is maturing, so the role of the IT director is changing. Online business presents an opportunity for the IT department to help to shape and enable business strategy. While IT directors champion this change, Tinlin says, "The challenge is to get the Web better integrated in business and not to worry about the Web as a separate channel."

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