Saturday, November 19, 2011

Create Your Web Strategy

Appeal to Your Market and Your Stakeholders
From experience, I firmly believes the best starting point for determining a website strategy is to understand both the market that an organization operates within and the needs of its key stakeholders. Most organisations operating today are highly complex and political, making the identification and prioritisation of stakeholders a difficult task. There are three key broad stakeholder groups which need to be factored into web strategy planning:

The Board/Shareholders/Business Executives
They understand the vision of the organisation and delivering their needs will clearly support the business but it is essential to have their buy-in and backing.

External Website Users
Understanding the website users is critical and pretty much open-ended. Consider external user needs by refining what type of relationship that they would like to have with the organisation and rationalise this to what is a realistic roadmap of communication dialogue and functionality. Market research is vital as is listening to the needs of the third group.

Internal Website Users
These are Business Units such as HR, Finance, Facilities Management, Research, Branding, Marketing, Sales etc. and for a website strategy to operate effectively, strategists need to understand the needs of each of these groups of users and the potential business impact if their needs are not met.

Take Control of Your Project
Faced with this plethora of issues to consider, many company directors reach for the phone to an IT consultant. However consultancy can be a two-edged sword. Whilst it can ease the web strategy pain and speed up the scoping, evaluation and procurement process, organisations run the risk of being diverted from meeting the needs of their three key stakeholders.

When your web strategy becomes a reality you want to be sure that your web deployment embraces good design principles which are to make the site beautiful, functional and useful (for all three key stakeholder groups). Remove any part of these considerations you will have a tactical nightmare on your hands.

It is our belief that much of this thinking can and should be done in-house in discussion with senior staff that are most familiar with the issues that are holding back the firm and therefore the business requirements of any new web-based systems. Once all this thinking and planning has been done selection of the technology itself begins and consultants within integration or IT services firms have a major role to play in recommending appropriate technology solutions, sourcing and integrating them.

Work Smarter, Not Harder
Web strategies are often best fulfilled through the use of a Web Content Management System (CMS). There are many views surrounding what makes a good CMS. I, personally, think that end-user simplicity and functionality, coupled with the use of standards-based technologies which scale, extend and integrate effectively with other enterprise-wide solutions, is the key to delivering effective web strategies.

Sadly the syndrome of ‘you never got fired for hiring IBM’ has overshadowed the Web Content Management market with vendors offering hugely complicated toolsets that deliver immense power without much consideration for the needs of the non-technical business user. Enterprise Content Management (ECM) vendors have thrived on this syndrome in recent years despite the fact that many of their core systems are built on old technology platforms and use out-of-date proprietary systems.

Organisations should identify Web and Enterprise Content Management Systems vendors during the evaluation process that offer real Return on Investment (ROI) and transparency for the total cost. Selecting a CMS vendor that has a matured standards-based with open source architectures will ensure that your vendor relationship is a partnership rather than a shackle.

Avoid Common Pitfalls
In summary, I believe there are some key requirements to look out for when selecting CMS:

• Ensure that the technology is built on standards-based architecture
• Keep the system as simple as possible to stimulate rapid adoption
• Make sure you are getting near immediate value from any new system
• Ideally look for depth from the vendor through adding new software components when needed by the company
• Get business efficiencies through building workflow in so that it is possible to understand where glitches in adoption are
• Push adoption as hard and as fast as you can largely through selection of an easy-to-use system and ensuring future users get trained on it well before going live
• Keep business requirements in mind at all times

The Price of Failure
The vast majority of ECM system implementations are failing for some of the reasons outlined above and summarised below:

• The early stage scoping of these projects is far too often not being steered by the people inside the organisation that really know what the new web presence(s) needs to achieve and what business deficiency it needs to solve
• There appear to be no hard and fast rules for implementation
• Too many ECM systems have been foisted upon users without good communication and training
• Too many enterprise systems are using old technology ‘under the bonnet’ making integration with enterprise systems very difficult and time consuming and expensive