Wherever I go, CIO’s and other business leaders tell me they are in the process of a “Web site redesign.” Site redesign is a good thing but it may obfuscate more important issues. The motivation behind site redesign is typically a desire to increase traffic, make things easier to find, provide better organization of information, or improve the visual attractiveness of the site. These are all good things to do but my experience has been that the reason the traffic is less than desired is not because of the design of the site. It is not the look and feel, nor is it the lack of sophisticated information retrieval. I believe that the most important drivers of traffic are the availability of on demand, integrated, useful transactions and, secondly, the availability of access to expertise.
Integrated transactions are what people are looking for. It is not sufficient to have a great looking “site redesign” but not have products for sale because of concerns over channel conflicts. Or, to have products for sale but only a subset of the full product line. Or, to offer everything for sale but have an unwieldy returns or support processes. Fully integrated transactions are vastly more important than how the site looks and feels. Some of today’s most profitable and successful e-businesses are not particularly attractive, but they offer simple, integrated transactions. Tomorrow’s most profitable and successful e-businesses will be on demand e-businesses which deliver value-added results to their customers via integrated processes that present one face to the customer.
Buy it online and return it to the store. Buy at the store and return it via an online request and then ship to a centralized location. Download support materials or place a service call on line – regardless of how you made the purchase. On demand e-businesses are not just “click here to buy”. They enable click here to initiate a chat session or video window with a real live person. If you call an on demand e-business by phone and ask them something about the web site they don’t say “that’s a different department”. On demand e-businesses do not have the words “fax this form” or “call Monday – Friday, 9 to 5” in their vocabulary. They don’t say they are a global business and then say to call a 1-800 number “9-5 Central Standard Time”. They don’t say click here or call our “inside sales desk” for the “location of a store near you”. On demand e-businesses offer a people-oriented and user-friendly experience for all their constituencies – suppliers, customers, partners, analysts, prospective constituents, and employees on the intranet.
The other major challenge today is finding expertise. On the Web you can find almost anything if you have the patience, but in the enterprise it is a different story. Finding expertise is the Holy Grail of knowledge management. KM is an old term that has renewed value because expertise is so hard to find.
Web documents have become the legacy. The simplicity of creating or converting documents has resulted in millions upon millions of them being added to what is now becoming a “data dumpster”. Many of the documents have nice format but no context – many of them are plain text with no formatting or pagination. The relevant documents are not only hard to find but many of them are out of date. The key to knowledge in the enterprise is to find the expert. The challenge is that many of the experts are not good communicators — some of them do not even like to or want to communicate. Enter blogging.
Blogging is revolutionizing how information gets published and shared. A good blogger loves to communicate and uses blogging tools to write a “column” full of links to experts and sources of information. The blogger may or may not be the expert in a particular area but if not she knows who the expert is and acts as an intermediary and translator, thereby leveraging the available knowledge and expertise. A good enterprise blogger knows everything going on in a particular domain — the key people, the key projects, the key resources, etc. Blogging is not an index of information or a database — it is a living breathing dynamic “diary” of the blogger’s conscious. A blog can include comments from readers, moderated discussion, or an open discussion forum but for enterprise purposes, the simpler the better. The idea is not to reproduce the “bulletin boards” and “news groups” of the past. Blogging is more of a way to get to the experts than to have a free-for-all discussion group.
An enterprise has many domains of information and activities. One way to use blogging to leverage expertise would be to set up a “Blog Central” web site which includes a list of many blogs organized by business unit, geographic area, or subject. The bloggers who write at “Blog Central” would have been carefully chosen; partially for their knowledge but more so because of their great ability to communicate, to share, to be well connected and feel rewarded by connecting the dots for others. Blogs are not static. An effective enterprise blogger writes something everyday; perhaps multiple times per day. Employees seeking knowledge won’t search the intranet as much anymore, nor will they send as many groping emails. Instead, they will visit “Blog Central” and see what is being discussed by the company bloggers.
One of the by-products of a blogger posting a story to a weblog is that the blogging software automatically creates an updated “news feed”. The news feed uses a protocol called RSS which you can think of as a table of contents of everything the blogger has written including date, topic, and category or categories. The RSS file is “tagged” using XML so that the content of the blog is easily searched. People interested in reading blogs can use “blog readers” to read a blog much like a web browser is used to read a web page. The difference is that it is possible to input the RSS feed into the blog reader and thereby become subscribed to the blog. Whenever the blogger writes something new, everyone who has subscribed automatically has their blog reader updated. There is no central administration and no subscription process controlled by the blogger. Just like the Internet and the Web, blogging syndication works because it is based on standards and is highly decentralized. This will increasingly be the way knowledge will be shared.