Strategy Clinic: Don't forget the users!

What do you feel is the most common - and avoidable - mistake that organisations make when initiating an e-business operation?

What do you feel is the most common - and avoidable - mistake that organisations make when initiating an e-business operation?

Charles Lowe, independent consultant
In my experience, the most common mistake is to believe that implementing an e-business operation is all about getting the technology to work reliably and securely.

It is also to forget that changing the way people behave is where most of the benefit comes from and where most of the real problems arise.

If the main focus of the application is internal, then it is comparatively easy to involve those whose lives will be changed by the technology. People do not usually object to change if they can feel that they remain in control; what people react strongly to is being told to change, and without any options.

Therefore, good consultation is essential; and it must be genuine consultation with a preparedness to make changes to the programme - people very soon realise if they are being duped. A key component of good consultation is good communication, on both sides.

If the focus of the change is external, consultation is harder, but no less achievable, for example through focus groups of potential customers. It might be the smartest piece of technology ever, but if it requires customers to behave very differently, encouraging a change in behaviour takes a lot of skill and patience. Just look at video recorders - it took a long time and a few changes to the interface, before people really started using them extensively.

Kevin Malone, IBM
Business integration affects every industry, every geography, every company of any size. If you've got two or more computer systems, you've got an integration issue - whether it is a question of e-business links to back-end systems, supply chain management or customer relationship management.

The hallmark of any e-business is the ability to handle heavy transaction volumes and integrate data, applications and business processes. However, business integration is not a one-size-fits-all market, and customers require a broad range of capabilities within different industries and operating environments. IDC estimates that software supporting the unique business-process integration requirements of specific industries represents the fastest growing sub-segment of e-business infrastructure - with an annual growth of 25%. It has also estimated that the business integration market will reach $4bn by 2005.

Companies should strive to deliver the broadest integration capabilities with applications and processes on multiple platforms inside and outside the corporate firewall. This ensures better customer service, reduced costs, streamlined operations, and helps automate processes.

Roland Hanbury, Rubus
The most common thing organisations overlook when designing e-business systems is that users have a choice. It is amazing how many companies ignore the needs of users. Whether it's an internal system, or a consumer facing one, more frequent thinking about how the user experience can be made more desirable will greatly contribute to the success of e-business operations.

The rewards for those who do pay attention to this are significant. The error is to assume that you know what end users want. Take time to find out, using interviews, focus groups and observed prototype browsing sessions as part of the design process.

So many websites do not meet consumer expectations because user needs and drivers were not at the forefront of the system design process. Identifying user profiles and interrogating the possible online journeys of these users is the first step. Equally, creating conceptual user interfaces and working prototypes will enable you to test the logic of your assumptions.

The bottom line is that providing a positive user experience, which is about tailored graphic design, navigation and functionality, will help you ensure your e-business venture is a success.

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