1998 was a spectacular time in Internet technology. Businesses like Amazon.com and eBay (rebranded from AuctionWeb just months before) were proving out a promise that those of us on the edge of technology adoption had been making for quite some time. An incredible 8 Billion dollars in annual retail sales were made on the Internet that year, and while very few knew how to create digital commerce storefronts, absolutely everyone wanted one.
For me and many others this was the starting line of the race to develop and perfect a new means of transacting business using the Internet. What has surprised me, and in many ways disappointed me, is how slow and winding of a race it has turned out to be. In the 18 years since, businesses still spend tremendous amounts of money and time on digital commerce solutions that often cover only table stakes, run risks of exceeding budget, overrunning timelines, or missing the mark in terms of revenue growth and customer engagement. The tools, platforms, agencies, and consultants available to buyers in this day and age has expanded, but often does not offer clarity of value - and nearly always focuses on the completion of a project rather than the growth of a business.
"Chrysler builds cars, and has for decades - when they push out a new model it may look different, but the process doesn't change. Why isn't E-commerce like that?"
A few years ago I was presenting in a board room of a well-known luggage manufacturer & retailer discussing a delay in launching their new flagship E-commerce website. The CFO interrupted my detailed explanation of the impending project impacts (something about making a baby in 1 month with nine mothers, if I recall) and asked me:
"David, you and your team have been doing this a long time, and assumedly we are not doing anything here that is much different than what everyone else does - why isn't this type of project like an assembly line? Chrysler builds cars, and has for decades - when they push out a new model it may look different, but the process doesn't change. Why isn't E-commerce like that?"
The answer, of course, is that unlike the new model Corvette, each business is truly unique - and while they all want a fast and sexy car that represents their brand and performs, the process for arriving at each design and development decision that goes into it is anything but "assembly line" in nature. Still, if you really listen and go a layer deeper in to what he is asking, you will start to understand why this race to develop digital commerce has often been disappointing for those on the front-lines. It's not focused on the right outcomes.
The best articulation of this came a few weeks ago when I was interviewing a candidate for a leadership position in my west coast office. As I often do, I asked him to share his thoughts on what is the most significant opportunity for contemporary digital commerce solution providers to offer customers greater value in the market. I have found this to be a reliable interview question because anyone with substantial experience should be easily able to articulate their opinion on the state of our industry, what customers are demanding, and what they want to spend the next ten years of their professional career doing. His answer accurately reflected the ideal at the core of my philosophy. I wrote it down:
"We need to shift to maintain agility in every sense of the word, to continue growing technology and revenue while transitioning the company (our client) to their new platform. Get away from “no new requirements, just re-platform” at all costs because it's never the right investment. Be more agile, and represent that we are prepared to tolerate that level of risk in a project. Continuously provide insight into what’s next to our clients, and maintain a culture of change and excitement about the evolution of their digital commerce experience."
Of course I hired him right away!
Coming full circle to 1998, and to the journey that has lead me to this stage in my career - a career focused on evolving digital commerce. I'm elated to be a part of a truly new way of providing value to clients - a way that is founded on the principals of continuous delivery, innovation, and partnership. In the end, we don't just deliver projects or establish new e-commerce platforms. We partner with our clients to help them achieve growth, customer engagement, and master technology for their ongoing success. We foster a culture of change and excitement in the consultants on our team, and we provide our clients with critical insight into what is next and how they will make the most of it. If I were sitting in that board room today, I would be ecstatic to answer that question because it provides us with an opportunity to talk about how one change or obstacle fits into the big picture of a client's growth and success. And I know they would understand our role, commitment, and passion for that success which we show every single day.
Businesses don't have finish lines, and neither does the evolution of digital commerce.