Strategy Clinic

Many e-business initiatives and sites have emerged across my company. While these have served their purpose, we do need to impose...

Many e-business initiatives and sites have emerged across my company. While these have served their purpose, we do need to impose a "house style" and achieve a consistency of approach. What should I do to get some control over standards?

Mike Portlock , Impact
This is a common problem many businesses are facing as e-business initiatives have escalated. Lack of control over such initiatives can be expensive and counter productive. It has been difficult to get a balance between control and a plethora of disparate projects, all of which have local priority.

There are two approaches I would consider. First, get control over content - there are likely to be significant savings to justify this. Many initiatives use the same content and acquiring and managing this on a multiple basis is expensive and fraught with danger. The use of an enterprise content management system will help.

Second, find tools that allow different parts of the organisation to share information and to personalise it. Later generations of portal technology will help here. This enables businesses to establish a network of portals under a common management system. This not only reduces costs but also gives brand protection and increases customer centricity whilst allowing individual initiatives to proceed.

David Roberts , chief executive, Tif
You need to exercise authority and regain control before the organisation is exposed to an unacceptable level of business risk.

Web sites are easy to establish and frequently set up by individual business units without fully undertaking risk or security assessment, or considering the impact on the corporate brand. Sites are information assets and must be controlled by a governance policy just as with any other asset.

1. Carry out a full audit of all sites, identifying all domain names owned using search engines
2. Determine where ownership and control lie
3. Ensure sites are defined in terms of policies - especially those being developed externally, or owned or managed by or on behalf of particular business units - and that this is understood across the business
4. Interfaces are key problem areas. Establish clear roles and responsibilities, both for internal business functions and in terms of third-party and joint-venture boundaries
5. Be tough in your questioning of external providers.

Paul Williams , Arthur Andersen
It is important to ensure, aside from design and content standards, that all e-business initiatives are co-ordinated under an e-business strategy that is aligned with your corporate strategy.

There are four key standards areas that require consideration as part of this co-ordination effort:

1. Devise design and content standards: these will provide direction to your developers and a consistent means of managing your brand. These standards should be consistent with other branding standards your company uses.

Standards could be implemented in the form of a style guide, examples of which can be found at the Yale Web Style Guide and the W3C guidelines. Compare your e-business initiatives against these style guides to ensure your site is pitched at the right level for your customer.

By enforcing a consistent approach to design and content you will reduce the risk of your customers being confused by inconsistent brand messages

2. Communicate the standards: the style guide should be communicated to Web designers and content providers and the message should be continually reinforced. It is surprising how many organisations develop standards, only for them to be ignored or left dormant on a file server

3. Monitor standards adherence: appropriate, clearly defined approval structures should be implemented for changes in content and design across e-business initiatives. This should help to ensure that the standards are consistently applied, and help to mitigate legal risks arising from errors or omissions

4. Review standards regularly: the e-business environment is constantly changing and I would expect the design and content of your e-business initiatives to be equally dynamic. Regular reviews of the standards will ensure they continue to meet your requirements, do not become out-dated and continue to be comprehensive in their coverage.

Roger Marshall , Elite
You have identified the need for a house style and a consistent approach. Few would disagree with this until, that is, they are asked to change their own ways and conform to the corporate standard. Then they will think up any number of reasons why they should be the exception to the otherwise sensible rules.

Machiavelli had something to say about such situations. He would probably tell you to get the new standards approved before the opposition finds out and then with authority on your side, go in for the kill.

As murder is outlawed, another of Machiavelli's recommendations would be to form alliances with those in power. In today's corporate world nothing is more powerful than the brand, and branding of e-commerce operations is just as important as the branding of any other product. So, if your marketing director is not yet involved in this issue, start working on him. This is your most important alliance. Machiavelli would definitely approve.

Peter Boggis , vice-president, Concours Group
In the clamour to create Web sites and "brochureware", many companies put speed above standards when it came to Web site design. As sites proliferated throughout a multi-business unit organisation this rapidly became an unsustainable and costly exercise.

Now, with reflection and the benefit of hindsight new approaches are needed. Emerging best practice from companies that have experienced this suggests the following elements of a solution:

1. Digitisation - requires a balance of top-down direction and standard setting for the things that are non-negotiable - and bottom-up innovation. One of these non-negotiable elements needs to be the portal application software and related customisation or personalisation tools.

Standardising on leading-edge platforms together with personalisation tools can create a win/win of common core and personalised facets

2. Use different parts of the multi-business unit organisation to fulfil the role of centre of excellence for different aspects of digitisation. For example, create one centre of excellence for Web-enabled internal processes, another for customer-facing Web-enabled processes and put mechanisms in place to share best practices and lessons learned

3. Spend a day in the life of your customer. How does a customer experience his or her interaction with your company or business unit? If a customer expects to see a common look and feel, then make sure that is what he or she sees.

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