Feature: How to take control of your website

In the early days of the web, The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.’s domestic and global business units rushed to stake their claim in online territory, launching about 200 websites, each with its own infrastructure and applications. Most companies did the same. Now the Internet land rush is over, and companies are civilizing their online frontiers by consolidating. Today, after a year and a half’s worth of work, 75 per cent of Goodyear’s business units are using a single platform.

Goodyear’s Web consolidation project is part of a corporate strategy to run IT globally, rather than locally. Eric Berg, CIO and vice president of e-commerce, wanted the company to be able to roll out new e-commerce applications worldwide without having to customize them for multiple platforms. That consolidation has cut Goodyear’s cost of operating and upgrading its websites in half. Meanwhile, James Fessel, an equity analyst with PNC Advisors in Philadelphia, notes that the consumer market targeted by those websites individuals or corporate customers who buy new tires for their vehicles is Goodyear’s most profitable group of customers. And efficient e-commerce can only improve the productivity of its dealers.

Taming the online infrastructure of a global company doesn’t require a CIO to come out with guns blazing. Instead, it demands diplomacy, a good grasp of the core business and a rigorous focus on value. Here are some tips from Berg on how to get the job done.

1. Sell the concept companywide.

With support from chairman and CEO Sam Gibara, Berg convened a global e-business team of IT and marketing representatives from the company’s nine strategic business units. Everyone already knew the Web was a strategic sales and marketing tool. But when the e-business team told top managers how much they were spending on redundant hardware and software, it was clear they could save money by sharing an infrastructure.

Sponsorship from the top was critical to rally employees around the goal. “There were many people that were skeptical about whether or not [the project] could be successful,” Berg says. “We were trying to do something complicated on a global basis that cost some money.”

Rui Moreira, Goodyear’s regional e-business manager for Latin America, says high-level support sent the message that executives expected results. To further make the point, most of the funding for the consolidation came from corporate, in contrast to other IT projects, for which the business units shoulder the investment.

2. Put business needs first.

It’s one thing to agree on broad principles. Company managers, especially the marketing and product managers who oversee Goodyear’s seven tire brands, had to be sure they could live with the details. Mainly, they wanted assurance that adopting common technology wouldn’t mean they lost control over the content of their sites too, says Andy Traicoff, the North American tire unit’s general marketing manager. Web content that sells tires in Boston doesn’t do the trick in Buenos Aires. In the United States, the Akron, Ohio-based manufacturer markets the safety and reliability of its products, but in Argentina, it emphasizes performance and technological innovation.

So the e-business team put together its own sales pitch. A live demonstration, in the form of a revamped corporate web page, helped clinch the deal. Managers from 26 countries saw how they could save time and money by deploying a product selector application that was developed and maintained centrally, and use standard content management software to customize it with information about the products they sold locally.

The team also presented its case in terms that would be meaningful to the marketers. Digital Day, the Fairlawn, Ohio-based vendor that designed the site’s template, helped the Goodyear team make the sale by backing up its recommendations with research Goodyear had given the vendor about how consumers buy tires. “When [Digital Day] said, ‘Organize it this way,’ there was a built-in level of confidence. They weren’t just this group of Web heads,” says Traicoff.

There are some holdouts, says Nat Leonard, Goodyear’s director of global e-commerce. A manager in one country, which Leonard didn’t name, insists his logo should stay where it is on his site, and Leonard is letting him have his way. He thinks that once the resistors see that their peers are getting good business results from the project, they won’t want to be left out.

3. Keep everyone informed.

The project team kept marketing and product managers who are in charge of providing content to the sites informed throughout the development process. Moreira, the regional e-business manager for Latin America, says Web consolidation was a regular topic during monthly conference calls or videoconferences with managers from the nine countries in the region.

Those meetings helped the project team identify opportunities and avert mistakes. Moreira knew they would need more than one template for all the Spanish-speaking countries, since you can say tire five different ways in Spanish. If the site were only for internal use, everyone would learn the same vocabulary, says Moreira. But they couldn’t expect consumers to do the same, so the business unit ended up with templates reflecting local vocabulary for each country.

The regular consultations also led the project team to adjust the launch schedule for two business units to coincide with new marketing campaigns. The U.S. site the first major deployment of the new infrastructure launched the same day in September as a new advertising campaign. And the changeover for Latin American sites was timed to coincide with a November product launch.

4. Measure ROI, and report results.

Within a few weeks, Leonard expects operational data to show improvements such as higher uptime for servers and lower expenses for content management. The project should pay for itself in a year and has already shown “the value of economies of scale,” Berg says. “We were able to shift funding away from back-end infrastructure and licensing agreements and spend more on the applications and the presentation.”

The new infrastructure has demonstrated its worth in other ways. Leonard notes that after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, it took about five minutes for the company to post on its U.S. sites a message expressing sorrow about the attacks and explaining Goodyear’s contribution to the rescue and relief effort. “One person in the Web operations group went into our content management system, inserted new content, hit the refresh button, and it was done,” he says. When the sites ran on different servers, they would have had to be updated individually. When it’s time to roll out new e-commerce tools, the same ability to upload an application once and populate multiple sites is expected to save the company money on each deployment.

5. Look for lessons.

Every project has its glitches. Berg notes “a few testy moments” when he wasn’t sure whether some of Goodyear’s software vendors would survive the dotcom crash. From now on, says Leonard, the company is giving more weight to the long-term viability of its technology suppliers.

Meanwhile, Berg says that if he had to do the project over again, he would dig even more deeply for support from employees in the trenches for example, involving product managers directly and enlisting managers at all levels to promote the project to their staffs. The lesson that success is more likely with support from end users is hardly new. However, the e-business team needed credibility with senior executives first, says Leonard. “I think it will be easier every time we have another one of these [companywide] projects because senior management will be more comfortable. They’ll know what we’re doing. And we’ll be able to spend even more time with the people on the street.”

How do you manage your e-commerce infrastructure? E-mail Senior Editor Elana Varon at evaron@cio.com.