Too many SMEs (the large majority) believe that their role in the e-Economy is simply to have a Web Site.
And that's where their e-project stops.
A Web Site is not a Web Brochure.
Today's Web Sites must be "useful", "serving a purpose", "usable", "traceable", interactive, dynamic, filled with "live" contents.
Without those features, a Web Site is condemned to stagnation and failure - dead from day 1.
Moreover, a Web Site is always dedicated to e-monsters (called users). Users include enterprise's clients, potential clients, suppliers, employees, other support-groups, the local community, a potential or existing e-community, the general public.
Today's users are real monstrous: their favourite food is information and service. And they want food fast. They are not interested at all in a web brochure, stating how good the enterprise is, how successful, how dedicated, how committed, how beautiful....
To avoid this risk, enterprises need to have an e-strategy and develop an e-project. This is true and necessary in real-world business initiatives. It is even more true and necessary for e-world initiatives.
There are major steps in the development of an e-presence and in its implementation via an e-project. The most critical ones are the first two:
The INCEPTION STAGE.
This is the most important one, the starting point of everything, the "Big-Bang"....
The Web is full of Web Sites that appear to be there "by accident", without a scope, without clear purposes.
When this is the case, there is an open door to a complete failure of the e-Project.
A good e-Project must be fully clear from the beginning. It makes no difference if it relates to an Organisation that in the real world is a commercial business entity, or a non-commercial enterprise, or a charitable institution.
In all cases, the typical questions requiring an answer (as clear as possible) are the following:
- Who are we in the real-world? What are we doing in the real-world? Why do we want an e-Presence? Just because enterprises similar to ours have a Web Site? Or rather to respond to a specific purpose? What is the correlation between our real-world-presence and our e-presence? Is there a link? Or no link at all? Are we going to be active only through our e-presence? Or what else?
- What is the main purpose of the e-Project? Can it be summarised in a simple and significant sentence? What is our vision about this e-Project? What are the values we see in it? Can we define our target Audience? Can it be described with a simple, significant sentence? What makes us think that our e-Presence will be of interest to our target Audience? How do we plan to make our e-Presence beneficial and valuable to our target Audience?
- What are our points of strength (in our e-Project)? What are our points of weakness? How do we plan to emphasise the former and minimise the latter? Have we discovered, on the Web, some e-Presence similar to ours? Are they competing with us? Can we identify a strategy behind their Web Site? Can we identify the nature of their e-Presence? Any hint we can get from them? Any possible improvement? How do we intend to make our e-Presence "different" (and more appealing, more valuable, more beneficial...), compared to that of our competitors? Do we plan to go "low profile" or "high profile"? What is better and more suited to us?
- Is this e-Project economically feasible? What are the costs associated? And the expected returns? Is the overall investment justified? When should our e-Project materialise and take-off? Is there any time constraint? Can we set a target date for launch? In synthesis, what is the nature of our e-Project? Why and how should we pursue it? What are the main parameters of our strategy?
Far from being exhaustive, the list above should make enterprises' people think and understand that "it's not just a matter of building a Web Site and publishing it" !
There must be a vision, a strategy, an "area of purpose" and clear objectives. Like there are business plans in the real-world there must be a project plan in the e-world.
The DEFINITION STAGE.
Since a Web Site is the final output of the overall e-Project, there must be a solid continuity and congruence between the two.
In fact, a Web Site is always the operational arm of an e-Presence and, as such, it must have a well identified and well defined scope (or purpose).
This is always true: irrespective of its nature (business, social, scientific, entertaining, etc.), every Web Site is there for a purpose.
As a consequence, every Web Site should have clear objectives.
While a purpose is not measurable, objectives are.
Objectives are measurable through a measurement of the results achieved by the Web Site, the operational arm of the e-Presence.
If objectives are set and clear, the associated results can be defined and measured.
The above implies that the SMEs need to invent a new "role", generally un-understood and/or mis-understood in small and medium enterprises: the role of webmaster.
What is a webmaster?
A webmaster is the person who manages the inception, the definition, the editorial content, the overall development, and the overall operation and maintenance of a Web Site - and monitors the associated e-performance
This is what most SMEs fail to understand. Believing that a Web Site is just an enterprise brochure to be technically and artistically developed by an external entity, they hammer to death their e-presence from day 1.
World-class SMEs have a far different view of the state of affairs. Far from believing that a webmaster is only a technical person with high programming skills and web knowledge, they grow internally such a role from the very beginning (or as soon as they realise its importance) and nominate such person Project Manager of the e-project. He or she covers the role part-time or full-time, as required.
The webmaster is the secret and makes the difference between failure and success of the enterprise's e-project.
Besides being deeply involved in the first two major steps of the e-project (Inception and Definition), the webmaster has a number of strategic actions to co-ordinate thereafter:
- Co-ordinates the definition of the Web Site contents (especially the core content message)
- Plans the Web Site overall architecture and supervises/co-ordinates the design. Co-ordinates the selection of the correct domain and hosting solution.
- Supervises the Web Site uploading/launching, co-ordinating real-world and e-world marketing and promotion initiatives
- Is in charge of operation and maintenance of the Web Site
- Co-ordinates all marketing initiatives subsequent to initial launch and monitors/measures results.
- Sets up all necessary actions to develop and grow a loyal e-community
- Through traffic monitoring, e-metrics and data mining techniques analyses and gets to know as much as possible about users' behaviour
- Co-ordinates all users' support/interface actions
- Ensures Web Site visibility and traceability through a number of technical and relational initiatives
- Manages all legal, privacy and copyright issues
- Manages all aspects of enterprise's e-brand identity (generation, growth, support)
- Co-ordinates technically and organisationally all B2C and/or B2B strategies and tools
- Administers each and every aspect of the e-project on an ongoing basis: monitoring results against set objectives, and changing/updating objectives on a regular basis
- When the nature and entity of the e-project is such to require a project team (internal/external), the webmaster co-ordinates all members of the team
The webmaster is (must be) a good project manager, planner, co-ordinator and administrator, skilled in modern marketing principles, and knowledgeable sufficiently about the web technical aspects (including some basic knowledge of Web languages, programming languages, protocols, etc.).
Without an internal webmaster, the SME should not even embark in any sort of e-project: the result might be more harmful than beneficial......
e-performance can be measured, like any other component of enterprise's performance (more »).
In the new millennium, it is an essential ingredient of the overall enterprise's performance.