Marghanita da Cruz
How do you maintain a successful online strategy? Buying in services can help when testing new technical innovations or gathering market intelligence to create short and long term objectives. A successful online strategy requires a blend of organisational input and technical competence, where can external consultants and producers contribute and how do you know when they are doing a good job.
Marghanita is Principal Consultant of Ramin Communications, an independent consultancy. Prior to establishing Ramin Communications, Marghanita worked in the Commonwealth Government sector. In early roles in programming, network and systems management, and later positions she has always been involved in the introduction of innovative uses of technology. From 1982, where she introduced PC's and end user computing to the Industries Assistance Commission, to 1988 where she managed the widespread adoption of Electronic Mail and later the deployment of Digital Audio Editing system throughout the broadcast studios at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). More recently, she has developed and managed the issue of Requests for Quotation, for the purchase of online services at the ABC and University of Technology, Sydney.
An online strategy integrates the Internet into the operations of an organisation.
The Internet Society defines the Internet as a global network of networks enabling computers of all kinds to directly and transparently communicate and share services throughout much of the world. Because the Internet is an enormously valuable, enabling capability for so many people and organisations, it also constitutes a shared global resource of information, knowledge, and means of collaboration, and cooperation among countless diverse communities. (1)
In contrast to the image portrayed in the popular press, the Internet has been evolving over 40 years. The first record of the Internet, is a series of memos dated 1962, in which J.C.R. Licklider of MIT discussed his "Galactic Network" and described the social interactions it would enable.(2)
The Internet is not just a technical challenge, it enables new kinds of social interactions that require new ways of delivering services. It has enabled virtual communities of interest and sources of information which ignore geographical or political borders.
I will illustrate with anecdotes collected while gathering entries for the directory in Annandale on the Web (4), an online diary and directory of businesses and organisations in the inner west Sydney suburb.
The local Yoga centre's international Website facilitated a successful exchange of mail with the Webmaster based in Slovenija and a Sushi Guide, produced in Germany, also had an active mail address.
The local flower shop was represented online through a online flower sales commission based online service operated from Brisbane, the business itself was not online and relied on orders via fax or phone, apparently without noticable results. The Yellow Pages provides telephone and location information online, it does not facilitate an online interaction.
Online strategies which do not directly interact with the business have a tendency to become online debris as they are forgotton and their content gets dated, mail bounces or receives no response. However, it is possible for third parties to be involved in the development of an online strategy but, for the organisation to successfully operate the site.
A good demonstration of the use of E-mail, is the Commonwealth Bank's Web site, (5) The Bank has incorporated Electronic Mail into their online strategy, informing clients of new products and services and responding within 24 hours of receiving EMail from their Guest Book. Holding replies are sent, if necessary, and answers are delivered within 48 hours.
To date, electronic mail and websites have been accepted at face value however, the next phase of the online activities requires a higher level of security and privacy for information delivered over the Internet. The parties at each end of the transaction to be authenticated to each other. The integrity and confidentiality of the information travelling has to be maintained as it passes between them across a public network.
A Digital Signature relies on encryption technology developed by Whitfield Diffie, at Stanford University, in 1976. The message is encrypted prior to transmission using one key and another key is required to decode the message on receipt. In theory such a dual key system would require a secure transmission of the decryption key, but this can be avoided by using a trusted third party to issue the public keys. A Certifying Authority (CA) issues the public key via their own digitally signed certificate.(6)
Australia Post offers Certifying Authority services KeyPOST (7). Certificates are issued to individuals for personal use or on behalf of an organisation (sole trader/partnership/company/trustee) or for a Server. Keypost's published rates in May 98 were:
Other services under development, to enable online sales and transactions. For example Telstra's Surelink (8) facility can be integrated into a Website, in the past a buyer needed to register with the Telstra service, before purchasing items through Surelink. The service has now changed to accepting Credit Cards for payment. The cost of setting up a link to Surelink purchase facilities is around $3000 with an ongoing minimum charge of $100 per month or 3% of transactions.
Major credit card providers, MasterCard and Visa, have release their standard for secure electronic transactions (SET) in collaboration with several software vendors. The intention is to extend the current services provided by these cards to sellers and buyers. These third party financial institutions who authorise and facilitate the financial aspects of a transaction between merchant and customer. The SET specification is widely distributed and can be found on both cards' websites(9).
While the technical issues of online transactions are being addressed, concerns are being raised about the maintaining the privacy of information about individuals' online activities. The Commonwealth Government's GATEKEEPER - PUBLIC KEY TECHNOLOGY STRATEGY (10) report presented in May, has raised concerns of confidentiality of transactions and consumer access from the Privacy Foundation (11)
An online survey of advertising rates, revealed advertising space is available on a range of Webpages. Everyone, from Netscape to the Riverina community network, is trying to sell space on their page.
While access logs record the domain name, from which the visitor came they do not record how many times a cached version was accessed, or identify whether access to a particular page was by an individual or several people. This lack of demographics about access to Websites and makes it difficult to target web advertising.
A simple site for the early adopters, will reveal valuable information, such as the uptake of the technology and the behaviour of visitors to your site. This can be vital in designing the new business processes necessary for your onine strategy to support wide spread adoption.
Pilot Websites can be hosted at minimal cost with an Internet Service Provider (ISP). Hosting a Website with an ISP eliminates the risk from ownership of obsolete technology; software and hardware costs of establishing a dedicated server; leased lines for network links or firewalls. Your own domain name ensures portability and credibility for the site.
Indicative costs of hosting a site with an ISP are:
A Website is a new kind of shop front, its design will require cooperation from many sections of the organisation. A collaborative project team, will benefit an online strategy. Marketing, Public Relations, Library, Information Management, Information Technology and operational staff can all make a valuable contribution. This team will develop the requirements for the Website and its integration into the organisation.
While the ideas may be available within the organisation, the changes they will bring are threatening and independent specialists facilitators can assist the process and document the brainstorming and other discussions. This documentation should be conceptual rather than detailed process definitions.
Once short term objectives have been identified, their viability can be explored with a Web developer. The preliminary discussion will ensure that the team focuses on business objectives and is not distracted by technological wizardry. The design needs to include the processes, required to integrate the Website into business operations, to maintain the content or to respond to electronic mail.
Concept Testing is vital to assess the usability of the design. A prototype provides a tangible test bed to gather reactions to the proposed system and to test whether the interactivity planned for the website will be used by the target audience.
Jakob Nielsen (16) recently quoted a Danish study and reported that testing a Website took an average of 39 hours and revealed an average of 11 usability catastrophes, 20 serious usability problems and 29 cosmetic problems
The project team needs to develop a test plan and launch strategy in parallel with the development of the Website. The test plan and launch may include formal testing as well as controlled dissemination through a series of soft launches. This is a very cost effective way for the project team to get independent feedback on the usability of the site. Time needs to be allowed to evaluate the information gathered and if necessary adapt the marketing or the site itself.
In addition to a pleasing appearance and correct technical responses a design should also consider:
A formal test procedure in a controlled environment may show up errors in links or other code as well as the performance on different equipment at different locations.
A soft launch provides real information about how the sites users will react to it, and still allows for modifications to the site, before it is launched.
In addition to the launch publicity, registering Webpages in relevant Search engines and directories, for example Altavista and Yahoo, will ensure your site can be located in the future. When listing in directories it is important that links to and from the site are maintained and verified periodically.
Given the interactive nature of Web Browsing, listings in "permanent" directories and co-operative marketing of the directory will be more effective than spot advertising campaigns. Here are some examples of directories which cater for particular interests:
The popularity of a web site can be demonstrated through information in guest books, to Email addresses and Access Logs. However, The following more useful criteria, will determine the performance of your strategy.
Maintaining an online strategy requires a continual assessment of new technologies and the social environment they are creating. Market research and testing into both the technology and expectations and ability of a current and future client base will be the only way to ensure an online strategy remains viable.
The dynamic nature of the online environment make it both impossible to maintain the skills necessary to develop the new products and vital to be able to exploit new ways of operation. By integrating specialist services and products from a variety of locations it will be possible to maintain a timely development of an online strategy.
My thanks goes to K Geiselhart, B Aynsley and T Worthington for their comments.
(1) Internet Society, What is the Internet, http://www.isoc.org/internet/ 31-Mar-1998.
(2 ) B.M.Leiner, V.G.Cerf, D.D.Clark, R.E.Kahn, L.Kleinrock, D.C.Lynch, J.Postel, L.G. Roberts, S. Wolff, "A Brief History of the Internet", Internet Society History, 20 Feb 1998: http://www.isoc.org/internet/history
(3) M.R. Brown, Using Netscape, Que,1996
(4) Annandale on the Web: http://www.ramin.com.au/annandale
(5) Commonwealth Bank Website,http://www.commbank.com.au, May 1998
(6) M. Yesil, "Creating the Virtual Store - taking your Website from browsing to buying" Wiley, 1997
(7) http://www.auspost.com.au/keypost/gen.info.htm, May 1998.
(9) www.mastercard.com or www.visa.com
(10) http://www.ogit.gov.au/gatekeeper/, May 1998.
(11) http://www.anu.edu.au/people/Roger.Clarke/DV/APF980506.html, May 1998
(12) http://www.netscape.com/ad1.html, 1998
(13) http://www.wagga.net.au/advertising.html ,19 March 1996.
(16) Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox for May 3, 1998 http://www.useit.com/alertbox/980503.html
(17) For more information see National Library Metadata Project: http://purl.nla.gov.au/metaweb/home
(18) http://www.agd.nsw.gov.au/standards.html ,19 Oct 97