Customer Interface: Building Bridges

The marketing department and the information services department need to bury the hatchet to work together on the Web.

In the begining, the information technology people discovered the Internet. They found it was easy to create a Web site…and they did. Six months later, the marketing people discovered the World Wide Web and were shocked and appalled that the IT people had been representing the company to the world. They responded by snatching control of the Web site and loudly proclaiming ownership.

Soon, however, the marketing people learned that a decent Web site is more than just an online brochure. Marketing needed the help of technology people to turn the Web into an interactive medium. At most companies, this launched a new era.

The IS department has typically reported up the chain through operations or finance. Marketing has typically reported to the president or CEO. The two departments used to cross paths only at the annual company picnic.

Now, thanks to the Web, marketing and IS must work together. They have to make their needs known and create the foundations of a working relationship. It won’t be easy. But it starts with common goals and a willingness for each group to imagine themselves in the other’s shoes.

Memo
Date:       Today
To:          VP of Marketing
From:      CIO
Subject:   Our External Web Site

We’ve learned a lot over the three years that we’ve had a Web site up and running. But if we are to really put the Web to its best uses and work closely together, then there are a few things the marketing team needs to understand about the technology and the process of Web site development. This memo is intended to inform, in order that relations between our two departments can be smoother and more productive.

A Web site is frighteningly easy to create. A little HTML goes a long way and everybody who has a teenager at home knows that a Web site can be created in a couple of hours. But get the least little fancy and the magic fades as the man behind the curtain becomes visible.

The basics behind a sound Web site are the basics of software programming. If you want the site to be bullet proof, collect information properly and dynamically serve personalized pages, we can deliver. But we need help from you.

Think of the IS department as the builders of your home. We have architects, we have foremen, we have people who are good at concrete, framing, electrical, plumbing and wall-boarding. You have an idea of how many rooms you want and where you want them, and you want to be responsible for interior design.

The coordination between all of the people takes split second timing and strong communication skills. If the concrete gets poured before the plumbing is laid, there will be problems. We have established specific procedures for how new content gets hosted on the server to insure we don’t nail up the walls before the electrical conduit has been installed. Adherence to these procedures is paramount to the timely success of each project.

Yes, software is flexible, it can be changed. But it’s like making one small change at the beginning of a thirty page document on a typewriter. You have to re-type the whole thing. Some things can be easily changed and some can take time. We can’t always change things at the drop of a hat.

That’s why we’re so strict about the Functional Specifications Documentation. We need to create architectural drawings to work from and if we don’t have an accurate survey of the land, the resulting building will not stand as it should and the doors will all stick. You won’t be happy living there. The alternative is that it simply takes forever to get it right.

To help make out working relationship better, I pledge that we will:

* Keep you informed as to all changes in our completion estimates.
* Ask sufficient questions so we can go about our work without always interrupting yours.
* Make it clear that what you are asking for is either easy, hard or beyond our reach.
* Stay educated about the best tools and techniques for getting the job done.
* Make it as easy as possible for your people to maintain their own content.
* Create standards and procedures that work best for all members of the Web team.

Together we can create a trustworthy Web site that is a testament to good, solid software engineering techniques and is a communication tool we can count on.

Memo
Date:       Today
To:          CIO
From:      VP of Marketing
Subject:   Our Web Efforts

Thank you for today’s memo. I, too, want to work together and really put the Web to its best uses. For that to happen, it would help if the IS department had a clearer idea of what the marketing department is up against, and why we seem out of control sometimes.

We are building multiple houses for multiple types of customers. It is our job to find out what sort of house each type of customer wants to live in, and then create a description of that house that is so compelling, they’ll fall in love with it.

Like you, we move from project to project with changing requirements and shortening deadlines. But in addition, we work in an arena where the competition is actively out to make our houses fall down. As such, we sometimes have to respond in very short order.

If the marketing team discovers a new market place metric, or is suddenly faced with a new competitive product, the response in this day and age must be swift and sure. A new brochure can be designed, printed and in the hands of tens of thousands of prospective customers in a period of a few weeks if need be. But the moment (the instant) we put out a press release announcing our new strategy/structure/product, the world comes knocking on our Web site. We have to be ready for them.

If we are to remain competitive in this electronic world, we will have to find better and better ways to communicate with the public faster and faster. We have to find ways to educate our front line staff. We have to find ways to publish at a moments notice.

With such a battlefield to compete on, I’m trusting that your department will come up with the ways and the means, the procedures and the tools, the standards and the flexibility to empower the rest of the organization. You are the infrastructure gurus. We need strong beams, a flexible floor plan and movable walls on which to do our interior design.

We also need something that the rest of our methods are not as able to produce as the Web can. We need the numbers: the hits, the pageviews, the sessions, the clickthroughs, the travel paths, the logons- all of those metrics that tell us if we’re doing a good job. We need them daily and we need to be able to drill down and slice and dice them every which way.

On our part, to help this company take best advantage of the Web as a competitive tool, I pledge that the Marketing Department will:

* Stick to regularly scheduled updates to the structure of our site.
* Use the given the tools to make content changes without interrupting you
* Refrain from dabbling in experimental technologies – we’ll leave that to you.
* Outsource only those tasks which will not compromise the integrity of our datacenter.
* Avoid promising new features before they can be delivered.

Together we can create a vibrant, living Web site that is a means of forming an electronic relationship with out customers and prospective customers.

Memo
Date:       Today
To:          CEO
From:      CIO and VP of Marketing
Subject:   Our Web Efforts

While our two departments are working closely together to build a world-class Web site, we look to you and the rest of the Executive Committee for the recognition that we are not just building an electronic brochure and installing an adjunct to our telephone system.

The Web represents new possibilities for reaching new markets, servicing our current customers and, more important, conducting business in whole new ways.

Marketing and Information Systems are finding ways to use the Web for furthering the stated goals of this company. But the more we study the Web phenomenon, the more we realize that it offers this company an opportunity to transform into a new type of organization. At the same time, it represents a real threat that our competitors (and others we don’t think of as competition) are enabled to change before we do, and reset the playing field.

We strongly feel the Internet can dramatically change the orchestration of our industry and we turn to the Executive Committee to seriously consider the impact the Web is gong to have on our company and on the marketplace as a whole. Along with the ability to conduct commerce at the speed of light comes the ability to establish whole new strategic alliances, deliver whole new services and create whole new value chains.

The majority of our efforts to date have been off the books and off the clock. As the time comes to implement our new ideas we require two things from you; a clearly defined statement of corporate direction in this new world, and; a formal commitment in terms of budget and structure.

Yes, the appearance Web is an important enough event to prompt the creation of a new, executive level person or board. Their charge would be to advise and direct the multitude of Web initiatives which are cropping up in every department of this organization.

We are ready to meet with you and the Executive Committee to outline the work we’ve done so far, the actions our competitors have taken, and the many possibilities for the future.

Memo
Date:       Today
To:          CIO and VP of Marketing
From:      CEO
Subject:   Our Web Efforts

The Executive Committee is looking forward to your presentation outlining your views about the Internet. Please understand that some on the Committee are well entrenched in the use of e-mail and the Web, while others have had little time to experience the Internet. Address your comments accordingly.

Please come prepared to discuss specific recommendations, budgets and expected results.