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 Revamp Your Web Site to Improve Its Return on Investment

 by Bob MacNeil


If you're like many small- to medium-sized businesses, your Web site was launched out of necessity.  Your competitors were going online, so you needed a Web presence to keep pace.  You probably designed your site as a ``portfolio" site–an online showplace of your products and services.  Your site explains who you are and why you're in business.

That may have been sufficient in the past.  But, the evolution of the Web has created a plethora of opportunities and if you're not capitalizing on those opportunities, you're not getting a return on investment from your Web site.

If you haven't done a complete redesign of your site in the past six to eight months, you're long overdue from both a design standpoint, as well as from a business perspective.  In order for it to be successful, your site must be an integral part of your overall business strategy.

When redesigning your site for return on investment, integrating ``landlocked" legacy databases is one avenue to explore.  There are several ways to use your company's databases to either make or save money on the Web.


E-commerce is the most obvious example.  Let's suppose that you have a retail business that sends catalogs to its customers through the mail, and takes orders and information requests via a toll-free number.  The elements of the catalog currently reside as a database of product information, photos, illustrations, etc., that are accessible only by selected individuals within your company.

By Web enabling that database into an online storefront, you allow your customers to view its contents, as well as to purchase online.  You not only save printing and mailing costs, you also save 800-number toll charges and labor costs to staff the phones, and create an additional sales channel for your products. 

When you calculate the savings in printing, postage, toll charges and labor, plus the potential revenue gains, compared to the cost to build your site, it's difficult to find an argument against Web-enabling your catalog.

Online support

 Online support is another area that can benefit from Web-enabling a database.   One Fortune 500 company experienced a 300% return on investment when it placed its database of parts online.  The company had 2,500 franchised repair facilities worldwide and more than 50 people taking repair part orders via toll free lines 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. By placing the database of more than 90,000 parts online, including detailed instructions for their installation, the company reduced its tele-support center to a staff of 12.

Similarly, Dell transformed its tech-support system into an online self-serve facility.  Dell once relied on its tech support staff to help customers get their new machines up and running. Now nearly 40% of all customer queries are answered on Dell's Web site. Analysts estimate each question that's answered online saves Dell more than $25. About 220,000 self-service help requests come in per week on the site, effectively saving the company millions of dollars.  The company's online tech-support effort was initially built to serve employees' technical information needs.  But its popularity with employees prompted the company to take about 90% of the content (minus proprietary information) and deliver it online to corporate customers.  The Web has helped Dell provide consistent answers to questions by giving customers access to the same knowledge base.

Traditional telephone customer service can't cost-effectively address the steep demand for technical help. The average support call can cost $10 to $50 to answer, depending on the industry involved and the length of the phone call, according to estimates from Giga Information Group . Web enabling technical support information to allow your customers to help themselves can substantially reduce your company's tech-support costs.

File sharing

 Sharing computer files over the Internet saves time, improves efficiency, reduces labor costs and reduces wasted paper, especially in industries that generate massive documents that must be equally shared among all parties, such as in the legal profession.

            A San Francisco law firm recently recognized the logic of turning to the Web for sharing files among legal teams.  The firm specializes in ``complex litigation"– epic fights over toxic pollution, tobacco and other issues that involve dozens of lawyers and millions of documents.

To manage the paperwork nightmare, the firm now shares files over the Web.  Many of the firm's complex cases can generate up to five million pieces of paper and involve up to 20 law firms.  Using one master database for everyone to work from is much more convenient, especially in these multi-party cases.

In the past, the defense team would hire a litigation support company to collect the documents and have them scanned and coded into a database or stored on CD-ROMs. When the law firm needed a set of documents, they'd call the support firm to print and deliver the documents.  If co-counsel on the case also wanted a set of documents, a separate request was required.  The firm's clients were billed for the cost every time the documents were duplicated and delivered.

These litigation-support companies are now creating online document repositories, enabling legal teams to access and share files.  Now, all attorneys on a case can log on, do a search and see the document online. In addition to the cost savings, placing the documents online gives the attorneys the flexibility to view the documents at home, in the courtroom or through a cellular modem.

The cost for a law firm to purchase the technology for this Internet solution ranges between $15,000 and $20,000–a cost that law firms' corporate clients are pushing because of the cost savings to them.

            This same type of database sharing is rapidly taking root in the medical profession as well.  Online medical records could potentially improve the quality of health care and cut its cost by giving doctors and their staff instant patient information.

            Moving massive databases of information online has the potential to improve efficiencies, save time and reduce labor costs.  These professional services examples are just two industries in which file sharing can prove beneficial, but its application is universal to the business community at large.


 Intranets represent a specific type of file sharing–usually within a company to its employees.  Creating a browser-based LAN/WAN can produce cost savings in almost every department, as well as greatly improve production and employee communication.

            For example, take a company with hundreds or thousands of employees, many of whom work remotely–either from home or on the road. All of these employees need immediate access to new sales information, ever-changing telephone lists, 401K tracking, facility locations and addresses, company news, etc.  Intranets are the ideal solution to provide these employees password-protected access to this information. The intranet can also be designed to offer levels of access depending upon the employee's position within the company.


 Another form of file sharing is an extranet.  An extranet is similar to an intranet, but it allows people outside the firewall to see secure data as if they were on the local area network. This type of file sharing usually occurs between a company and its customers and/or its partners  (i.e, distributors, resellers, strategic partners, etc.).

Companies that want to remain at the forefront of their industries must make investments in extranet solutions that facilitate resource sharing with their partners and customers. This results in wider reach, improved processes, faster time-to-market, increased partner and customer loyalty–all resulting in a direct return on investment in the technology.

            Probably the easiest way to tie hard numbers to an extranet is to start by identifying each business unit that might benefit from using an extranet. The business unit can then decide on a clearly focused business goal, such as to increase revenue or the number of customers.  Then, they must decide what functionality the extranet must provide. In industries such as manufacturing, the emphasis might be placed on operational efficiencies, i.e., automating the supply chain, while industries such as insurance or financial services might be more concerned with immediate impact on revenue.


 Web-enabling your calendar can also lead to efficiencies.  The law firm discussed earlier places a continuously updated calendar that tracks court appearances, deadlines and witnesses on its Web site.  Previously, every change to the litigation schedule required that a fax be sent to notify each attorney.

            In a more pleasurable application, a minister who performs marriage ceremonies and runs a vacation villa in the Caribbean uses an online calendar to cut down on office time (and increase beach time).  Vacationers and couples-to-be used to have to call the minister's 800 number to make reservations.  Now, they can check the calendar over the Web to find out which dates and times are available. The minister now gets five to 20 fewer calls a day on his 800 line, calls that typically cost him between 11 and 31 cents each.  But he claims that the greatest advantage to Web enabling his calendar is not having to stop what he's doing to answer a simple question.

Project management

 Project management is another application that can benefit by the improved efficiencies of placing a legacy database online.

Locating multiple files to execute a project can be difficult if the owner of the information is unknown or unavailable, or the owner of the information must refresh his/her memory as to what directory within the workstation the information was stored.

            NASA recently solved this problem by employing an online project management system that includes a library for document tracking; conference capabilities, including a group calendar; a mail station to facilitate communication between and among project team members and a directory of all project members, including members' phone numbers, email addresses and company affiliations.

Moving your legacy database to the Web is one way to get a return on the investment you make to build your site.  But the key to realizing an investment return is to make your site an integral part of your business strategy.  By planning your site deployment around a well-defined, strategic business plan, you will increase the opportunity to improve your return.  Create the opportunity to measure the results of your Web site investment by clearly identifying your objectives and expectations in advance. 


Bob MacNeil is director of iSchraff, the interactive services division of Schraff Group, a fully integrated Internet marketing communications firm with a successful 22-year history. The firm leverages its expertise in advertising, public relations, Internet application development and Internet business consulting to offer truly integrated business and marketing support for hot ramp Internet start-ups and established Internet ventures. iSchraff specializes in html code, database programming, e-commerce, secure transactions, user tracking, order fulfillment and back end data integration.


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