Webinar Recap: Delivering Successful Enterprise Ecommerce Projects

This is a recap of Elastic Path Software’s April Webinar:Delivering Successful Enterprise Ecommerce Projects. (Click to view the replay or download the presentation on mp4). Why did we choose this topic? Economist Magazine rated the outlook of 15 industries from 1-5 based on their outlook for 2009, considering economic conditions. Only ecommerce had a sunny outlook, and it’s estimated that 1/4 of all retail transactions will occur online by 2012. This drive translates into a lot of ecommerce projects, with an estimated 20-33% of companies replatforming or upgrading their ecommerce solutions each year. IT related projects 30-50% don’t make time spec and budget targets, ecommerce projects are particularly challenging. If we can take that risk down even 5 points for you, this hour-long webinar is time well spent.

Agenda

  • How are eCommerce projects different from other I/T and Marketing projects?
  • What business and project management elements are especially important in eCommerce projects?
  • What technical elements predispose an ecommerce project for success?
  • What are the Top 10 things to do before project kickoff?

Approach

Our approach was to collect experiential data from “hands on” project experiences (10 sample projects from 10 to 200 person-months). We wanted to keep this very close to the metal – so we started by looking at projects Elastic Path and HCL had done, and some that our staff had done prior. We also looked at industry stats, analyst and pundit opinions. Watching for common business and technical characteristics of projects at the high and low ends of success, we put together a Top 10 Checklist and practical tools to help you with your next ecommerce project.

How eCommerce Projects are different from other IT projects

  • Relatively low cost with high business impact and ROI compared to other IT or marketing projects
  • Visibility due to revenue and brand impact, if things don’t look right, it’s not just obvious to your IT staff – visible to competitors, executives, customers etc.
  • Face direct competition from similar applications with peer companies
  • Potentially very complex architecture
    • Need to ensure scalability, security of transactions and data, fault tolerance aspects
    • Need to integrate with specialized products and 3rd party sites/services
    • Need to integrate with existing legacy systems
    • Requires cross channel Support ( Web, Online, In Store etc)
  • High rate of continuous evolution — “ecommerce is like constructing a ship while it’s at sea” due to continual innovation in the industry
  • High production support requirements

Business and project management elements important in ecommerce projects

  1. Commitment from organization leadership
  2. Teamwork and effective, regular communication between business and IT teams
  3. Requirements management during the complete project lifecycle – it’s not realistic to lock down requirements with an iron fist to ensure on-time delivery of the project
  4. Effective change request management
  5. Customer experience focus – when the user’s perspective is considered, success is much higher
  6. Planning and management of integration dependencies between different sub-groups

Commitment From Leadership Who are the executives responsible for the outcomes of the project? Often these are executives from IT, marketing, line of business executive and/or an executive with “Ecommerce” in their title. These executives need to be on the same page, not only behind closed doors but visibly to everyone on the project. They need to send the message of why this project matters to the business, and should do so explicitly and quantitatively. Ideally, project objectives should be translated into CR, AOV, Traffic and other ecommerce-specific goals. This will greatly help prioritize work if/when crunch time hits. A helpful tool is a Project Charter — a brief document in bullet form that includes a message from the top regarding the project’s ecommerce goals. Anyone on the project should be looking at the Project Charter for an introduction to the most critical aspects of the project. It’s important to include a “message from the top,” signed by all the executives involved, laying out the objectives you want to meet. Teamwork Choose a team that ideally has worked together before, that won’t be at each other’s throats a week into the project. If you’ve got 10 soldiers in a trench, they’re not necessarily fighting for the general, they’re fighting for each other. Chemistry is important. You’re better off with a team with 100% chemistry and 80% skills than a team with 80% chemistry and 100% skills. Invest the time and money to bring people together for fun, social activities. Fly in your outsourcing team. Bring in your end users. People have a lot harder time getting testy with someone they’ve gone bowling with than someone they’ve never met face to face. Requirements Management / Customer Experience FocusAn IT organization would never think of deploying a new email system without involving end users, yet many neglect to involve customers or customer proxies in ecommerce project. It’s helpful to have your BAs (Business Analysts) sit and watch marketing and CSR business users work with their current tools, or even train to do the job so they get a real gut-level feel for what user frustrations may be. Consider an Agile methodology. Ecommerce involves a lot of non-IT savvy constituents and a very rapidly changing environment – it is very tough to get the requirements right the first time. Agile is a business and development methodology where the key is not to fix the scope and lock it down, rather start with list of requirements, then on an iteration basis (e.g. every 3 weeks) revisit priorities and establish the work plan for the next iteration.

What technical elements predispose an ecommerce project for success?

  • Solution Architecture
  • Store Front Design and Architecture
  • Integration
  • Security Considerations
  • Third Party Solutions
  • Search Engine Optimization

Solution ArchitectureIt’s required that the ecommerce solution addresses current and future business needs as cost-effectively as possible. Some tips:

  • Use architecture and design patterns that separate back end activities from storefront for increased performance, flexibility, reusability and scalability.
  • The architecture should not impose tradeoff between performance, scalability and the business controlled flexibility that the system provides
  • Most of the business rules in the system should be business controlled rather than having IT dependency
  • Design to ensure performance, availability and scalability of the solution based upon expected peak load and throughput requirements

Ecommerce also involves a lot of sensitive data transfers. Ensure the system runs with minimal security checks, with managed security across various levels. Store Front Design & Information ArchitectureUsability is key to the successful ecommerce site, many web users never return to a site after a bad experience. Design recommendations include:

  • Content and data targeting to end-users should be business controlled rather than having IT dependency
  • UI Should be intuitive, standard and easy to navigate
  • Checkout process should be straightforward and not ask for too much information
  • Site search should function properly, handle misspellings, synonyms etc.
  • Privacy and security features should be emphasized to build trust
  • Analytics tools should be used to measure the effectiveness of your store’s layout and features
  • Personalization tools may be used for better user experience and higher average order values

When making design decisions, consider industry specific factors like your business brand identity, what is your industry, your target audience etc. IntegrationA typical ecommerce solution requires integration between several disparate applications and systems like ERP, CRM, search, analytics etc. Systems must be interconnected and seamlessly integrated to realize their full potential. When faced with legacy systems and existing code with a variety of languages, It’s important to establish interoperability, both syntactically and semantically. Any existing, loosely coupled services should be made available in the enterprise to address application requirements. Integration techniques include data warehousing, web services (SOAP and REST), SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) and ESB (Enterprise Service Bus) Middleware which supports SOA implementation.

Top 10 Things to Do Before Project Kickoff

1. Form a cross functional core team 2. Define and communicate business-level goals

  • Browser to buyer conversion rate
  • Average order value
  • Targeted traffic to the website
  • Brand penetration generated by marketing
  • Improved time to market
  • Cost savings through more efficient order management
  • Enhance customer satisfaction, loyalty, and trust

3. Decide whether to build, buy or leverage based on requirements and resources Requirements

  • Complexity (Catalog, B2B, B2C, support for multiple channels etc)
  • Time to Market (Urgency)
  • Uniqueness (In Business Model or Solution)
  • Strategic Importance
  • Data security
  • Integration ( with internal and external systems)

Resources

  • Technical capabilities
  • ecommerce capabilities
  • Budget

4. Technology decisions

  • Implementation platform (Java/JEE or .NET)
  • Application server, database server etc.
  • Third party solutions and services
  • Tie up with selected external third party vendors

Decisions should be based on your business requirements. How closely does the technology or product address the requirement? How difficult is it to integrate with existing systems? Most large organizations have existing code written in a variety of languages, and have a number of legacy systems. It is vital that corporations be given an efficient, rapid path to preserve and reuse these investments. Legacy integration often is one of the most challenging tasks to overcome. 5. Solution architecture blueprinting

  • Develop proof of concept / pilot to bring focus to key areas of concern and take decisions
  • Perform capacity planning
  • Hardware and software license procurement

6. Plan for data security and fraud prevention

  • Involve data security team to comply with standards such as PCI

7. In-house implementation vs. outsourcing decision In-House pros

  • Gives full control over the project
  • Knowledge Retention – Keep the talent and knowledge in-house, allowing for future enhancements, modifications and redesigns

In-House cons

  • Limited Expertise – Internal team should have required level of expertise in the required technologies and products

8. Effective transition of business requirements from business to IT teams

  • Continuous involvement of business during the complete project life cycle

9. Project planning and management

  • Create detailed project plan
  • Establish processes for communication, change control, and issue management
  • Gather required engineering and project management tools
  • Involve your cross functional teams
  • Set up development and test environments
  • Ensure availability of trained resources as per the project plan

10. Define roles and responsibilities of all the stake-holders and get their commitment

Tools Mentioned in Webinar*

Project charter Agile software development life cycle Wiki project index Requirements traceability tool Change request tracking tool *Available with the webinar replay

Questions and Answers

What are the main reasons for ecommerce project failure?

  • Missing alignment of organization functions toward the objective, concrete business, marketing and operational plans, should be available
  • Missing strong leadership and clear decision making
  • Improper handover of requirements from business to IT team, requirements not well understood by IT
  • Having the right skill set and a commitment towards the goal essential
  • Having integration points very well defined between internal and external systems is key so you don’t discover unknown problems during integration

What are some critical success factors when integrating your ecommerce site with social media sites such as Youtube, Facebook etc? We see this in almost 100% of Elastic Path projects, people want to know how to leverage social media. The first thing you need to do before you start looking at the social media technologies is be clear about the customer experience — what are you and your customers trying to accomplish? Let the tools fill in capabilities that relates to your business goals. That being said, there’s also room for experimentation, especially if your brand / strategy revolves around innovation. Understand the tools in context to your goals. If it’s a complex purchase decision, maybe Twitter is not the right tool. Facebook could be the right choice if you have a strong community. Don’t think only about how to get people to buy stuff, you can also leverage them for customer research and awareness. How difficult or easy is it to freeze requirements for an ecommerce project and why? It depends on the relationship between the people doing the implementing and the end users. Does it translate to positive or negative energy? Because flux is the norm in ecommerce, everybody needs to agree it’s difficult and agree you will try to accommodate as much change as you can while committing to untouchable, must-do requirements. There’s a balance between iron fisted requirements management and anarchy. In addition to capturing requirements correctly and communicating them between IT and business departments, using requirements stability tools can help you track requirements through the project without missing anything. When evaluating vendors for ecommerce solutions, what are the top 3 things we should be looking for? We do have a full webinar on that topic, check out The New Ecommerce Dilemma: Build, Buy or Leverage? Certainly features and functionality should meet your requirements, but assuming your solution will be in place for 5 or 10 years, it’s very important you don’t paint yourself into a box by looking solely at today’s features and functionality. Look for flexibility – can you get skills quickly or are they all proprietary? Is the tool well architected so I can make extensions down the road? Linda’s comment: Features, Functionality and Flexibility – the 3 Fs? How important is it to understand target customer behavior before we think of designing an ecommerce solution, and how to proceed with that? It’s very important to understand customer behavior and focus on success factors IT when designing the site, branding, site should represent the business plan. You should also understand your industry type and competitive environment. In terms of how you proceed, one approach is to look at your web analytics tools and look for pages where people are dropping off. If you can organize a focus group and have them use your site and get into their heads, that’s also good. There are also other technologies using Javascript-tagging that can collect on-site user data including A/B split testing. How Important is to involve testing team from delivering a “defect free ecommerce project” perspective? Very important. You should involve a testing team from early on in the requirements process, using business cases and performing continuous testing through the integration phases. After integration you still need several rounds of testing end-to-end, taking all scenarios and business processes. Performance and load testing are also important to ensure you can support a large number of sessions at one time. How best can you combine the efforts of a “brand” agency with a “technical” implementation team?The first thing your question assumes is that they are a team! Creatives and IT folks sometimes live in different worlds. It’s important to get at least one or two of your creative people (Flash, Flex, AJAX or whatever the site is going to use) in the room to build rapport together. When technical people go back to say they can’t do it, you can have an intelligent, friendly discussion. Both need a lingua franca that relates back to the customer experience and business outcomes, not designing for the sake of artistic merit but for business results.

Next Webinar

Multichannel 2.0: Are you ready for the next generation of commerce channels? While the retail store, call center, print catalog and website (Multichannel 1.0) still play key parts in multichannel retail, a new generation of shopping channels is emerging. Advancements in mobile, interactive digital TV, and in-store digital signage (Multichannel 2.0) will change the face of shopping as we know it – and could even mean the death of POS systems, making commerce platforms even more important to retailers. Play futurist with Elastic Path Ecommerce Analyst Linda Bustos and Product Manager Peter Sheldon and explore the emerging technologies of mobile, interactive digital TV, digital signage and other Internet-enabled devices. This one-hour webinar will cover the possibilities and challenges for both IT and marketing professionals: * How are retailers and shoppers already using Multichannel 2.0? * What are technology vendors building to enable Multichannel 2.0? * What are the technological barriers and how can you bypass them? * How will you prepare for the next wave of shopping channels? Sign up to attend Date: Wednesday, May 20, 2009 Time: 9am Pacific / 12pm Eastern Presenters: Linda Bustos, ecommerce analyst, Elastic Path Software & Peter Sheldon, product manager, Elastic Path Software

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