One of the least appreciated elements of online success is getting the operations right. Perhaps that’s true because we associate the Web with creative destruction, overnight success stories and a constant hype cycle. But the truth is that any company with online operations stands to benefit from efficient, productive and repeatable processes, not to mention strong teams and partnerships, and quality outputs.
So what does it mean to achieve operational excellence in an online world? There are four specific things on which leaders should focus.
4 Things Company Leaders Should Do to Achieve Online OpEx
1. Think Inputs & Outputs:
Whether you’re looking to keep the corporate Web site up to date or designing your first social media campaign, regular processes should be in place for all online activities. That means input from a defined team of stakeholders, clearly understood roles and responsibilities and production schedules that are adhered to.
For example, to get on a regular cycle for Web site updates, analytics data about traffic and user behavior should be reviewed at specific intervals, discussed by a leadership team and a list of specific action steps prioritized and implemented on a predetermined schedule.
The same patterns suit campaign optimization efforts or development of online even applications. Metrics matter, too, and should be formalized and clearly communicated before work starts. “How will we know when we’ve succeeded?”
Everyone should know the answer before launch, and stick to the measures at performance review time (when the regular process starts all over again).
2. Resource Properly:
Part of the Web’s appeal to businesses is that it’s not very less labor-intensive; you can get more done with fewer people by, for example, letting customers help themselves or automating communications. While the teams may be relatively small, it’s critical that the right people are in place, especially if you’re just getting started or redirecting your Web presence.
Your team may need to include strategists and business analysts to define the big-picture view of your online operations, and set a long-term strategic direction. Marketing and communications staff will likely be involved, particularly for customer-facing sites.
Depending on your situation and objectives, customer service leaders, supply chain staff and/or sales may have valuable input to offer. That’s the business side of things.
On the creative and production side, you may need Web designers, writers and programmers. Whether or not you hire them or outsource to an agency will depend a great deal on the scope and nature of your online operations.
3. Source Strategically:
Because new tools and opportunities emerge so quickly, the vast majority of companies turn to external vendors and service providers to help them optimize online investments. There are many to choose from — digital marketing agencies, analytics specialists, technology providers (for advertising platform providers, content management, etc.) and SEO vendors, to name just a few.
Some providers will claim to be full-service, but, again, the space changes quickly so it’s important to verify expertise, specialties and qualifications. Note their experience in your industry, with different types of online operations, functions, strategies and media platforms.
Understand exactly what you need and are buying from each vendor and the broader context of their role. Don’t be afraid to “test and learn” with vendors, just as you would with different campaigns and content on your site. That is, assign them a small campaign optimization or microsite development job, and see how they do. (This is easier to do if strong policies and formalized processes are in place.)
4. Integrate Technology & Data:
There are lots of interesting widgets and powerful lightweight apps out there today, but baseline integration of customer data warehouses, for instance, or contact management systems may be more important over the long term.
If you’ve Web-enabled applications for order input, sales or customer service, you’ll want to be sure those are linked and synced across all channels. This equates to a consistent user/customer experience, which can really set you apart from competitors.
It can also help reduce system maintenance costs. On the analytics side, ensure your site traffic and campaign performance data are consistent with data from external sources, like ad networks or measurement firms, such as comScore. This will give you a much more accurate gauge of current performance, and better insight to make future improvements.
Sure, there’s a certain irony that these old-school management concepts apply to the online world. To us, it’s a sign that the Web is maturing. There’s an increasing recognition that online operations are synonymous with offline or traditional operations.
Still, while more businesses than ever operate like “dotcoms” (as we used to call them), their org charts and process portfolios don’t necessarily reflect the new reality. Whether you conceive of your Web presence as a business unit, service channel or brand asset, it should managed as a fully integrated part of the business, not some separate entity.
The payoff is a real and sustainable competitive advantage that’s felt across the entire business, not just online.
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