So your boss just walked down to your office and asks how your weekend was. You start to tell him about how your youngest child did something so cute and he stops you mid-sentence and says “I just had a chat with Frank and he says we need to get a mobile website up ASAP”. Now you pause for a minute because Frank is the VP of E-Commerce and you don’t think that someone of his caliber would ever use the term “ASAP”. But you shake that off and listen to what will, in hindsight, be called the project requirements.
“Franks says that our customers are just really unhappy with viewing our full website from their smartphones and want something that looks more suitable on the smaller screens. Joe over in the Finance group worked with Frank to create some models and they believe that over the next 1-2 years the traffic from mobile devices is going to be a significant revenue channel for us. We need to be seen as a thought leader in this space, so whatever we do has to work with the leading devices used today by consumers. And it has to display our full product catalog, with customer reviews, so that anyone can buy items like they do on our website today. Also, we need to make sure that people can find the nearest stores to them.” At this point, you grab some paper and start taking notes and Frank waits for you to catch up. You write your last sentence and look back at Frank and then he proceeds to rattle off a few more items that should be a part of the mobile website. “Frank wants a proposal two weeks from today and one more thing…” says Frank. “We need to build or buy something that will allow future growth and enhancements – don’t pull a Lester on this one”.
You had forgotten about Lester who was let go from the company last year for Project Salsa, which to this day is still a goofy name for the project. Project Salsa was designed to allow the company’s computers to securely store documents in a centralized server. It worked very well until it was discovered (too late) that recent updates of the company’s internal content management systems weren’t compatible with the encryption used for securing the documents. The vendor for the core technology behind Project Salsa indicated that their company didn’t specialize in integration with other systems– just securing documents on a server. This meant that a new solution would be needed immediately in order to work with updated content management systems, and at a significant replacement cost to the company. Lester should have checked with the other departments to find out about their upcoming changes and needs, but he was just too focused on the needs of his project instead of the needs of the company.
So you do some research and check with your contacts both inside the company and outside in order to get some information about creating mobile websites. Per one of your coworkers, you decide to check with the internal apps development team and see if they could build something that would satisfy all of the requirements you know about. Stacy heads up the team and her face could not hide the giddiness she felt when you mentioned what your project was about. “I’ve been dying to get into that space,” says Stacy. “My team has built a lot of the internal websites used throughout the company and it wouldn’t be that hard to create a mobile version of our external website.” You quickly remember the vacation, time-tracking internal website that Stacy’s team had built and while it was functional, it was always clunky to use and got numerous complaints. Also, it never got any better because other projects were always in her pipeline and had higher priority. As you leave Stacy’s office, you think of two things: 1) While Stacy is very nice, you just don’t feel confident in having her own the implementation/delivery for this project and 2) You need to log the vacation hours from your recent trip to Cancun where you learned that tequila makes your head hurt.
Your next conversation is with Company X that specializes in creating a replica of the full website on a mobile device. They not only service the industry your company is in, but they also develop mobile websites for five other types of industries. They spout off some big name players in your industry that are customers of theirs and how happy they have been with Company X’s solution. As you learn more, you realize that their solution will definitely meet all of the needs your boss outlined. The bonus is that they can have the mobile website up and running in about 6 weeks. You check their pricing and support models – so far so good. You follow up with some of Company X’s references and they are very happy with their solutions. You start drafting the proposal to buy Company X’s solution – a good 5 days before your deadline.
While in the lunch room, you see your boss and tell him, with a smile on your face, that you are ahead of schedule to have the proposal ready. Your boss give you a big slap on the back and says, “I knew I could count on you.” He then proceeds to pull his meatloaf sandwich out of the microwave and walks back to his office. Why is it that his meatloaf always smells like burnt popcorn? On your way out of the lunch room, you see some folks gathered around Sherman, who runs the IT team for all of your company’s physical store locations. He tends have the latest electronic gadgets and likes to show them off. You peer over some shoulders to see Sherman take a credit card and swipe it through a little device that is attached to his smartphone. “Check this out,” says Sherman who then turns around the phone for all to see the message “Your transaction has been processed.” Sherman says to the crowd – “We’re going to be putting devices like these in all of our stores later this year…cool, huh?” As the crowd disperses, you walk up to Sherman. “Sherman – when did this initiative start for the smartphone devices?” you ask. “It was about a month ago – it has been in the planning stage for a while, but only recently got funded,” he says. “Are you going to be doing anything with mobile websites as part of the initiative?” you ask with a tinge of concern in your voice. “Yep – we are going to arm store associates with a way to view our products so that they can help customers make purchases,” he says.
You had never bothered to check with other parts of the organization when doing your research. You are about to pull a Lester! But wait, there may be hope. You call Company X and ask them about having the mobile website integrate with the smartphone credit card readers. Unfortunately, they don’t support anything like this and it is not on their roadmap. Crap, crap and double crap – what to do? There is one other option – you heard about Company Y when doing your research but never followed up with them after talking with Company X.
Company Y is a competitor to Company X, has been developing mobile websites for a while and focuses on only one industry – your industry. You schedule a call with Company Y for the next day and show up early to the conference call. As Company Y gets on the call, they describe their products and solutions. Yes, they build mobile websites – but it tends to take about 10 weeks because their implementation provides for “expansion joints” that allow additional functionality to be added in over time. It turns out that one of the “expansion joints” they already support is for smartphone credit card readers! Another one is to have differentiated content in the mobile website for a customer vs. a store associate. Things are looking really good! But this time you won’t fooled again by just meeting your immediate requirements – you ask about the product roadmap and future investments. Company Y weaves a compelling story of things to come in your industry and how they will modify the product and solutions to meet those needs. “These guys are on the ball,” you say to yourself.
You immediately send the proposal involving Company X to the trash bin and begin typing up a new one for Company Y. It takes a few more days, but you get the proposal in front of your boss and Frank a day ahead of schedule. Towards the end of the day, you meet with your boss and Frank to go over your proposal and Frank asks you, “What other options did you investigate before making this recommendation?” You tell him about your conversations with Stacy’s group and Company X. “Why didn’t we go with Company X? They can deliver something in 6 weeks!” he says. You describe how the needs of the project would have been satisfied, but not the needs of the company. Frank raises an eyebrow as you describe Sherman’s project – apparently he is hearing about it for the first time. “That’s a great point,” says Frank as he writes down a note to meet with the IT team more often. You walk out of the meeting feeling confident that you’ve accomplished more than you set out to do. “What a great way to end the week,” you think to yourself as you get back to your desk. Your boss peeks his head into your office and says, “I just wanted to let you know that Frank is very happy. Up for a drink?” “Sure – what were you thinking?” you say. “How about some margaritas?”
As Director of Technology at Digby Paresh Suthar helps brands with mobile website and iPhone/Android solutions, with focus on a commerce and promotions.