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Now, about this web thing

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David Bowen

Your corporate website is an investment that is quite likely the biggest element in your communi­cations budget; whose Return on Investment (ROI) you cannot mea­sure; and whose benefits are diffi­cult to describe. And now I would like to explain why you should be spending more on it.

It is easy to say why companies have websites. It is because they grew up for fun (it is fun building a website; you should try). But what purpose does the site serve and why have you just authorized another large cheque to keep it going and growing? Well, if you didn't sign that cheque and the site disappeared, what would happen? In the short term, unless your company actually sells things online, your revenue would not suffer, and your costs would fall; but here are the other effects I predict.

First, your company would see the flow of phone, fax or email enquiries from customers reduce sharply. They use your site, via Google, to find out your details - the most valuable role of any web­site is as a simple contact point.

Second, you would start getting worrying feedback from Human Resources that the staff were won­dering what was going on. About one in ten visitors to your site are likely to be employees. They want to know what is happening in the company, too.

Third, your investor relations team would get irate phone calls from analysts looking for an elu­sive figure from the 1999 annual report. Analysts are used to find­ing historical data on company sites, and you don't want to upset them, do you?

Fourth, journalists would be phoning your press office to con­firm such details as how the presi­dent of your Polish operation spelt his name, or whether you still owned that company in Indonesia.

You may also get calls from careers officers in colleges, won­dering if your company still exist­ed and demanding extra copies of brochures for students. In due course, you would find the quality of recruits was falling, because people had come to rely on the web to get a feeling for a potential employer.

Disastrous though this may be, it does not explain why you should actually be increasing investment in your website. I said earlier that most websites grew up by mistake.

As a result, most large organizations now have web pres­ences that are grossly inefficient, racking up unnecessary 'hosting' costs on dozens or even hundreds of servers. Many large organizations are now looking at these costs, and thinking how much more sensible it would be to bring the sites together. Extra benefits would then tumble forth: further cost savings from sharing words, pictures and interactive tools, and greatly increased quality for the same reason.

But of course this is going to cost money in the short term. So when your corporate affairs direc­tor asks you to approve a project with no apparent ROI, please don't laugh in his face. Ask your fellow CEOs instead; I bet they are get­ting very similar requests.

From the Financial Times

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