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The Report

The body of the report spanned thirty pages alone, perhaps more. Every minute detail, every compromise decision, every last mistake was supposed to be laid bare and spelled out for the entire world, and more importantly those who held the IT and marketing teams accountable, to see. Because the material ventured into highly technical information understood by only a fraction of the people who would read it, an equally lengthy glossary of terms accompanied it, along with an appendix filled with expanded diagrams, graphs, and charts, most of which couldn’t be made to fit properly in the body of the report itself.

Oddly enough, nobody in the chain of people who received the report felt in the least worried about the findings. Even the developers, those poor souls whose work was being dissected and judged, were happy to receive it. No matter what, they could blame the hapless folk in marketing, the ones who had that great idea in the first place. The folks in marketing anticipated personal vindications from the report. In it, they hoped for proof they had the secret sauce, the recipe that would turn a large but middling e-commerce effort into an economic powerhouse capable of fulfilling the oversized ambitions of its owners. And the owners…, well the owners had ponyed up a small fortune on the effort, one they hoped their managers would manage. They hoped to know their investment was going to pay off.

And then they actually read it. Reality is so frequently disappointing, often because it is banal and often because it is expensive but mostly because it’s usually extremely complicated.

Websites are complexities unto themselves. Two different websites built using the exact same platform, WordPress, the exact same set of templates, the exact same array of plug-ins, and housed on the exact same host server are likely to behave somewhat or startling differently. As confusing as that might be to people in the analogue world where one blue widget works exactly the same as another, to a veteran web-worker, what would appear to be an anomaly in any other sector is simply a random but daily occurrence.

People who don’t work on the Internet often think about the Web the same way citizens think about civic workers at a construction site. What you see driving past is five hardhats standing around while a sixth operates a backhoe or swings a pick-axe. What you don’t see is the professional designations each of those workers has and the set of highly specific job-tasks that goes with his or her designation. And why should you? Unless you’re a civic engineer, a health and safety inspector, or a construction worker yourself, why should you be well versed in the process and procedures that go into digging even the simplest hole?

Similarly, what a web developer’s client sees is an electronic representation of his or her business that reads like a book, looks like a pamphlet, acts like a reference library, and is very often treated like a TV commercial. So much attention to something so poorly understood by the people paying for it. The greatest irony is that in the last twenty five years, the website has offered business owners, retailers, marketers, financial experts, and even writers, more empirical data upon which to make decisions than any other medium that has ever existed. The Web is both governed by and a product of the data it creates. Compared to analysing the success of any given television commercial, proving the efficacy of a web based advertising campaign is extremely easy because every action taken on the Web is recordable and thus, recorded.

And that’s why nobody worried about what was in the report until they actually read it. When they did, the truths of the matters dawned on them in a realization things were slightly more complicated for all of them, each for different reasons.

The web development team suddenly had a lot more work to do. So did the people in marketing and this was work stacked on top of the mission critical stuff they worked on every day. Management was taken aback because while the check-up was accounted for, the even the minor changes called for in the report would cost dozens of person hours to accomplish. In some cases one team could be left waiting if another wasn’t able to work collaboratively or deliver their components or assets on time.

The report was, on one hand a work of observational genius that could net the company better sales and make it more efficient, and on the other a potentially super-sized shmozzle of epic proportions that was better submerged and drown in the cesspools of bile that had gathered in the pits of their stomachs. As such things often go, it was a toss-up really and so in the end, the report was somewhat implemented and somewhat ignored with some of the recommendations shelved until the teams could coordinate their efforts.

There are three basic lessons the story means to impart. This story was compiled through dozens of experiences over nearly twenty years as an IT consultant to corporations and small businesses around the world. Each of the perspectives on the report, its impacts, and the impact of its implementation was essentially correct, when viewed through an aggregate lens.

The first lesson is simple. It doesn’t matter if the marketing group had the secret sauce or not. Whatever they’re doing can always be refined and if you hire a consulting company to examine your operations, they will almost always find a way to refine it. This is more often than not a good thing and following their advice will probably be advantageous in the long run. That’s what they do and why they’re in business. It will also most likely be expensive.

That’s the second lesson. Time costs money and today’s money won’t go as far tomorrow as it might today. We’re about to see a sudden and pronounced rise in the cost of virtually everything. Central banks are relaxing their stances on rock-bottom interest rates and the cost of borrowing has increased. Wage costs have been pushed higher through legislation and by the increasingly technical nature of labour in the 21st century.

The third is to appreciate the fiscal impact of the timing of requesting or making recommendations that will cost a business money. This is important for both the consultant and the business. In discussions about the scope of the audit or report, businesses should let consultants know approximately how much they’re prepared to spend implementing recommendations. Consultants need to appreciate where a business is at and what resources it can spare before recommending it bring non-existent resources to bare.

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