Since the mid-1990s, Marketing Departments have been responsible for designing web sites. In those days web sites were essentially online brochures, and brochures were the responsibility of Marketing. Marketing outsourced to creative marketing agencies and the new breed of specialist web design companies. The remit was to deliver brands online with style, colour, animation, and imagination.
In 2001, the IT industry had its own personal recession and web site creative design fell out of favour. Many design companies and agencies perished, and the eventual survivors downsized radically. When the web site market recovered, end user requirements had become more sophisticated and more complex. Hence today end users want a range of web site services including e-commerce, analytics, behavioural targeting, Enterprise Social Networking, and links to enterprise databases—CRM, Customer Services records, and the like.
As you can imagine, this all requires a great deal of data management, data integration and systems integration skills. Getting web sites to respond in real time as visitors enter and interact with a web site needs serious depth and breadth of technology skills. This is one good reason why IBM is becoming more visible in this market. Now other large technology vendors are starting to sense the market opportunity. For example, in 2008 the storage giant EMC has acquired Conchango, and Digitus (who specialise in UK government web-based security systems) was acquired by BAe Systems.
So the days of pretty web site design are fast coming to an end. Web site design is commoditising and the specialist web design companies and creative marketing agencies will ‘run out of road' if they continue to solely focus on the creative aspects of web site design. They need to bring on board more technology skills to survive.
Conversely, the enterprise applications vendors need to be aware that web sites are becoming the ‘front office' for their ‘back office' applications, as the most visible piece of the enterprise apps iceberg is now the web site. Enterprise apps and web sites need to co-exist, and cannot be viewed in isolation. Hence enterprise apps vendors need to bring on board creative design skills to thrive in this market.
Collaboration between the techies and the creatives has been tentative to date—many see this as the clash of different cultures, as with the Romans and the barbarians (depending upon whose perspective you take).
More importantly, CEOs are now very interested in their web sites. When customers meet CEOs they comment on their web sites. CEOs are frustrated by this—rarely do web sites reflect the CEOs business strategy and messaging. Web sites are becoming an extension of the CEO's own personal branding, reputation and image, and CEOs want a greater say in their design and functionality, and the frequency of update.
CEOs want real-time updates to web site content, not the traditional 12–18 months big bang approach to corporate web site updates. CEOs want continuously attractive and relevant web sites that link to enterprise databases and offer personalised and enjoyable customer experiences that maximise visitor sales conversions, return visits, and customer loyalty. Such business solutions will gain the support of the CEO even in difficult budget-constrained times.
The web site for most of us today is the visual online external representation of a company. It is all set to become the central hub of the business of tomorrow. Supplier choice for end users is tricky however—in the fragmented and enlarged web site solutions space, the longer-term winning vendor tribes and leaders have yet to be decided.