Danger-filled Visions

A cursory scan of promotional chaff from consultants and management training companies makes one thing perfectly clear: you need an e-vision and the sooner the better. Before you plunk down all that money to get your management team up to speed, you’ll want to take some time to understand what sort of vision you need. Unless you’re careful, you could end up in the dumpster.

Let’s look at some of the major elements of a successful e-vision and some of the nonsense you’ll want to avoid.

Scope of the Vision

A successful e-vision will provide a high-level map of the transformation of your company. Its development requires a holistic approach to your company, its Internet-based opportunities and your capacity to realize those opportunities. A successful e-vision is one that will replace the current vision guiding your company. It is, above all, a strategic vision.

Many of the companies that run into trouble with their e-vision do so as this stage. Such companies still have a limited view of the Internet as simply a new medium for marketing or a new sales channel or both. They want a vision that will enhance the realization of their sales and marketing objectives, period. The danger of such shortsightedness arises only if they believe the marketing and sales strategy is their e-vision. That’s when they ignore things like Web-enabling the rest of their supply chain or the logistical challenges behind fast-cycle fulfilment.

Business Before Technology

The first step in preparing your e-vision is to get very clear about your business. No fuzziness about the customers you’re going after, no waffling on your mission and the strategic objectives you’ve chosen to deliver it. Developing an e-vision that will guide the transformation of your company is a profound undertaking. The last thing you want to be doing while developing such a vision is second-guessing the business you’re in.

But that is not to say a successful e-vision is achieved by simply Web-enabling your previous strategic vision. Many companies get into trouble because they don’t question the basics of their business as they develop their e-vision. They proceed in ways that make it impossible for their e-vision to reflect the strategic business opportunities the Internet can deliver. Such companies are still caught in the old “IT as tools” mindset that first sets business goals and objectives in some surreal, timeless space and only afterwards looks to IT or the Internet to provide some of the tools to execute these.

The Web is a Business Asset

An e-vision, whatever else it does, must firmly establish in the organization, and especially the management team, a shared understanding of the value of the Web as a business asset. It must also establish agreement on how this value is to be measured.

Companies that don’t incorporate this sort of discipline in their e-vision risk wasting a great deal of money. Without a shared understanding of the business value of their Web, there will be no business basis for deciding whether to increase, decrease or leave untouched their current level of investment in this technology.

Managing Your Web Site

If your e-vision reflects agreement on the business value of your site and how to measure that value, it is also important that it establishes a management regime. Who’s responsible for site content? Who’s responsible for the organization of that content? Is there a shared understanding on how to manage the Web more effectively to advance specific business objectives? Does the site reflect a managed approach with a common look and feel or a pastiche of diverse departmental objectives?

Companies that appoint their IT managers to exercise overall responsibility for their sites are courting disaster. The Web site is first and foremost a business asset, one to be managed by business managers. Sure, it is also a technology asset but so is your elevator. Both need constant care and attention but don’t confuse technology support with business management.

Developing an e-vision is a necessary preoccupation these days for senior managers. Some prudence is appropriate as you move into what is for most companies very unfamiliar terrain.

Chuck Belford is president of Management Smarts Inc., a Nepean, Ontario-based management consulting and training company. He can be reached via e-mail atcbelford@managementsmarts.com.