E-wannabes need to think tough

Companies wanting to invest in becoming an e-business need to break projects down into untraditionally short time frames and hold their web developers in check, summit attendees were told this week.

Companies wanting to invest in becoming an e-business need to break projects down into untraditionally short time frames and hold their web developers in check, summit attendees were told this week.

Several new pieces of research show over 50% of all IT projects fail or run over time and over budget, Les Corder, principal at Auckland accounting and technology firm Brown Woolley Graham Technologies says.

“So you must really understand the project from the outset to stop any surprises,” Corder says. “You must be aware of the need to review the results and reinvent the wheel.”

Small and medium business owners were repeatedly told that old investment formulas such as five year plans and delegating control cannot be used to evaluate and implement e-commerce strategies.

Darryl Larsen, technology and operations manager at building supplies company Carters, told attendees his company had broken its four-pronged e-commerce strategy down into two-month long projects. This broke away from his company’s traditional corporate rule of five-year plans.

“We didn’t want to develop long time frames but to deliver some results in short time phases so our managers could see the results,” Larsen says.

The landscape of e-commerce changes too fast for any longer time frames, he says.

Carters’ project is now nine months old. Its retail site has been live for five months, a trade site which connects users directly into their accounts at Carters for invoicing has been live for two weeks, and around 20 suppliers are trialing a supplier electronic data interchange (EDI) site. Carters is still working on the fourth project, a customer EDI site but says the projects all came in under budget.

Larsen says one key lesson had been to put managers from operations, IT processes, logistics and marketing in charge of the project, not just an IT manager.

E-commerce initiatives have an impact across the whole business, not just in the IT department.

Office Product Depo marketing manager Lynette Lander says the key lesson she found when implementing her company’s e-commerce strategy was to keep a tight rein on her web developers.

They often went in opposite directions to the company’s plan and several times caused development and programming phases to run weeks over time, halting, skipping or changing plans.

Terabyte built her site but Lander says her comments are directed at all web development companies.

Businesses should have an extensive contract, take minutes at all meetings and even record informal conversations, she says.

“We completely underestimated the amount of programming needed on the back end to allow this,” she says. “It’s not like a plug and play Microsoft [product].”

Brown Woolley Graham estimates a fully-e-commerce enabled website for four users, hosted by an ISP and with a web-enabled accounting package would cost a small business approximately $35,000.

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