Intended Audience: Business Owners, IT Directors and Managers, Finance Directors and Managers, Marketing Directors and Managers, Customer Service Directors and Managers, Sales Directors and Managers.
Also Known As: Web-enabling business processes, web technology in business, e-Business, online strategy, etc.
It’s important to look, first of all, at the anatomy of a business before you try to understand the relevance of using the web in your day to day business.
The Anatomy of a Business
Businesses in general do not differ as much as one would think. They produce a product or service that is in demand and communicate with groups of people to let them know that the product or service is available. They sell the product or service, record the transactions, provide invoices, provide after–sale-service and repeat this cycle again and again. This may be simplifying things a bit, but the basics remain the same even if the end results differ substantially from company to company.
Keep that thought in mind while we reflect a bit on a technology that also impacted business in a large way. The Telephone! When these devices were popularized one can just imagine it would have been a status symbol to have a telephone in your house, but focus on the impact on business.
At first businesses might have resisted, perhaps not seeing the benefits. But when they discover that Mrs. Pennington is calling their competitor on this device to find out if they have stock, before wasting time and coming down to the store, the attitude changed somewhat quickly.
Up until that point, sales were made by communicating in a one to one conversation between salesmen and customer in person. Now customers were calling in their orders yet still there was a one to one conversation albeit over a piece of copper wire. (And to think, Alexander Graham Bell discovered this little gem when he was trying to improve the telegraph system.)
Take a moment and picture your business without telephones for the next month! (And no e-mail)
As we know, technology continues to evolve and we certainly didn’t stop with a mere telephone in 1876! The arrival of the web changes the dynamics significantly, but has a similar affect on business just the way that the telephone did in that it became a pivotal part of operating a business (How else did you expect customers to make a booking at a restaurant or hotel in advance).
Again communication is affected by this new medium where now you are able to communicate with more than one person at a time without renting out the local town hall. So now you’re presenting your sales pitch to groups of people instead of one at a time.
Add to this the fact that other parts of your business find their way onto the web like sales, finances, support, market research, training, corporate communication, etc.
As with the telephone customers slowly adopt these new ways of interacting with business and over time they become the preferred method. Soon you find yourself at the point where customers ‘expect’ your business to incorporate web into its infrastructure.
Take another moment and imagine your business without e-mail for the next month!
It’s important to realize that the Web is made up of many different components including e-mail, websites, search engines, mobile websites, communal sites, etc. and that each one can be used in your business. What you want to consider is whether or not your customers will want to use it. When you answer that question think about how banking has changed in the last decade, or how passenger flights have changed, heck even your local stationary store has changed significantly because they can all interact with you now via the Web in one way or another.
Back to the Anatomy of a Business
So as you can see business hasn’t changed much at all, only the way they get the job done has changed.
Consider a small business that has just finished putting together a price list for specials for a specific season. What would be the best way to communicate this new information with your customers? The web or e-mail of course! Yes, you could phone them, or you could print 10 000 fliers and have them handed out at the local traffic lights, but you’ll have to decide which is the more efficient strategy. By publishing this information on your website you’re able share this information with a large audience again and again.
Consider a larger business with different departments. The marketing department would want to web-enable their department by publishing all their marketing material on their website. The finance department would want to web-enable their department by providing account information to their existing customers online via a secured login. The sales department could sell the company’s product online. The service department could improve efficiency by developing a service booking and tracking feature on the website.
In fact, just about every function of just about any size business can benefit from web enablement.
By using the web, businesses make themselves more accessible to customers because it puts the customer in the driver seat. You don’t ‘have’ to go into the bank anymore for basic transactions, the web brought that facility right into you’re the customer’s own office where it’s almost as though the business’s financial transaction requirements is taken care of by their own internal systems as apposed to that of the bank.
The fundamental question then becomes “How will my customers use the web in future?” rather than “How does the web play a role in my business?”.