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A Piece of String Question – How Can the Web Help My Business?

How multi-dimensional is the question, “How long is a piece of string?” Well “How can the Web help my business?” is as multi-dimensional as is possible…ok I know a few astro-physicists and the like may disagree with me on that.

This may be made more difficult in my case as when I talk about Web, I am talking about what I call the Royal Web – internet, intranet, extranet, website, forums, blogs, social networking and the technology behind them.

Whether I am at an exhibition, a business networking event or a dinner party, and I have explained that I help businesses make the web work for them, the question will always follow. Normally the person asking it will stand more upright, often cross their arms and raise their voice “How can the Web help my business?”

My first response is normally to ask what their business is in as much detail as possible to identify a specific response to their question, which satisfies them. It could mean the conversation is then continued in a better business environment.

This isn’t always possible, so my response is often “That’s a piece of string question, but I can say with confidence it can do one or all of the following: save money, make money, improve staff/customer/supplier relationships, and streamline operations… and more. The web will improve your business, making it a better place to work. Now where does your business need help?”

The response to this is sometimes a disbelieving “Humph”, an about turn and an aggressive march away.

However, frequently enough it makes the questioner want to know more, often saying “That is too good to be true.” I will normally give an example that explains why this is not the case, such as:

In 2000, my company delivered a web based solution to an international engineering organisation at a cost of less than 1% of their turnover. Only a couple of years earlier the infrastructure alone would have cost more than 50 times that. Live globally within a couple of months, it saved over 10% of their direct costs.

When the operations director told the board they should accept our proposal, he basically said “If we don’t, we may as well keep our heads in the sand!” That was over 10 years ago. Unfortunately I would say that the majority of businesses prefer not to look at the depth of possibilities, presented by the web.

The web is not just the website, although this can be an important part of what it offers. The web is a serious business tool and should be viewed as such.

Here is a statistic. Corporate IT spend has grown as a percentage of turnover until recently. With the economic downturn organisations are trying to reduce this by a few points. Those not increasing their use of the Web are finding this difficult. On the other hand those embracing the Web are decreasing IT spend by more than this, with additional business benefits.

Firstly, I ask businesses to take the Web seriously as a business tool. Then step back and see what their business needs with an open mind. Remember there is no right or wrong. Many organisations are guilty of spending more time and money on selecting between a shortlist of three, than effectively sticking in a pin and getting on with it. Web solutions can be implemented in days and weeks, not years and months. The cost of rectifying errors is also very low.

So ask me again, “How can the Web help my business?” Well what does your business need?

• Reduce IT costs
• Reduce operations costs
• Sell more cars, houses, finance, equipment, services, stationery, ice cream…
• Streamline operations
• Reduce errors
• Improve relationships
• Improve customer service
• Improve staff morale
• Make the business international
• Make the business more focussed

… Improve the weather (well, maybe not).

I will be so bold as to say, “The Web is for every business, just not for everything!”