This week the Exceptional Web Experience Conference has highlighted IBM’s push into a new territory. Back in January the message was clear – social software is here and we’re going after it. At this conference this was pushed further and further, but this time the extent of their vision has become clear, so much so that I am left wondering what will happen to how we currently conduct business.
Today most people live in their inboxes. Most people collaborate through the exchange of documents. I start a report, send it to you for comments, you comment and send it back – and so on. While technology has solved this problem many times over with wikis, discussion databases, email archiving and other such technology they have only been offered by the major IT vendors as options.
Back in the bad old days when these options were offered by Lotus and latterly Microsoft, companies were still computerising themselves. They still worked in a very document-centric manner. Most transactions, although increasingly performed via computers, were shuffling electronic equivalents of pieces of paper around. The rise of the PDF is testament to this. Now though, handling documents like this – either electronic or paper – is becoming difficult for organisations.
Its difficult because there is so much of it. Organisations can’t find documents they know they have – or should have – because they have either lacked the investment, rigour, or both to put in place electronic filing solutions which they can maintain. I have lost count of the number of organisations I have spoken to who are struggling with a six-to-twelve deep set of folders which contains all their knowledge. No-one knows where a file is and the search facilities afforded by their operating system is not up to scratch.
What’s needed then is a review of how we are working and a re-appraisal of the models which are being run. Email was an electronic memorandum. Word, Excel and other documents are electronic pieces of paper. I am not advocating that we abandon our spreadsheets for some new moral high ground, however. I am proposing that how we handle such information needs to change in order for us all to be able to continue to work as the data explosion moves from gigabytes to terabytes for everyone.
The IBM conference this week has shown that customers expect any web presence to be “exceptional” – or I would say “competent”. A bad website is worse than no website. Jazzy flash animations merely show that you were fleeced out of a large amount of money by a web design company. What any customer wants is functionality and relevance to them over animations.
To drive custom through a website it must change often, remain relevant and engaging, and above all allow people to actually do something. Any organisation can have a “contact us” form which engages the user in providing some information. Providing some value for this transaction such as a download, voucher code or something else means they will feel gratified to have taken their action to reach out. Prompt handling of an enquiry shows that you’re not just a facade.
However we must move beyond this to provide a compelling reason for visitors to return. More and more we should look to engage our customers directly in the business processes which serve them. Why not offer an order-taking system on your website? Why not enable it to show what status their order is at? How about offering automated help, personalisation, social facilities and the ability for them to use their Facebook ID to create a profile in your organisation which lets your system adapt itself for them.
This kind of functionality is what will set apart organisations who will succeed in these tough times from those who still think emailing documents to each other is collaboration.