What’s wrong with this picture? How did it get like this?
Outsourcing of IT and the User eXperience (UX) plays a big part. Outsourcing’s not a new development – years before the wave of IT work heading for India starting making the headlines, companies have been giving away core competences for years, to their detriment. Looks like the lessons haven’t yet been learned.
Advertising: almost exclusively at a handful of agencies.
After a priod of growth driven by innovative internal experts, advertising was outsourced. Ad formats were quickly standardized (30 seconds TV, ad units press), messages were time-bound (day for direct response, night for brand) and innovation all but went. A generation later, managers haven’t known anything different and are happy to keep trading off quality for comfort, trading in standard products -adverts- that are easy to buy, manage and measure. This advertising often fails to deliver results, but today there is no option than buying from this market -in-house now seen as outmoded and, due to market consolidation around volume business, expensive and inefficient.
Agencies sometimes surprise us with great stuff. But look underneath the hype and you’ll see this global advertising phenomenon in an ad is simply more of the same, just a little longer. If adding 60 seconds to a standard format can create waves that resonate worldwide, what could real innovation do for advertising?
Back to eBusiness and a look at where things are going.
Some time ago technology was exciting and the browser wars meant that full control of the HTML sent to the browser was crucial. Web development was an art and access to the best made or broke a company’s chances of making it big online. Then along came Microsoft: their near-monopoly on the desktop set up a de facto standard for browsers and their server-side development, modelled around windows-like user controls rather than HTML, introducing ease of use and putting Web development at every Windows programmer’s reach at the cost of control and craftmanship. The premise was simple: give people a limited set of easy to use options to choose from and they’ll all be able to do something with it. The system will take care of turning the Windows-inspired code into HTML presentation and you won’t need to worry about it.
But what if you do want to worry about it? What if you want to gain a competitive advantage over your competitiors, all using the same tools and therefore getting the same result? What if you understand usability, accessibility and the user experience and want to ffer your customers an exceptional experience on your site?
In other markets the answer is simple. From choosing a different platform (PHP, Java, other proprietary options) to discarding the default controls and implementing your own presentation layer using an alternative plugin, examples abound of leading eBusinesses (Google, Expedia, Amazon) that have achieved success by avoiding the pull of the easy option and going through the pain of creating the best experience for their audience.
The UK is a different kettle of fish altogether. One would struggle to find any eBusiness not completely commited to Microsft’s .NET and their standard controls. And where it is found, there’s pressure from the developers to turn away from it and settle on the easy life of the standard platform. This is not only bad news for the current generation of consumers -force-fed a standard experience, devoid of any interest. It is worse news for future business managers, who will find it impossible to pull away from the way it’s done a generation hence. As in advertising, the market is likely to wrap itself around the standard. Developers today, like advertisers yesterday, are taught only the way to do Web development, different options referred to as historical oddities destined to die away. In a generation, the self-fulfilling prophecy will have materialised and the UK’s eBusiness landscape will be one of sameness and boredom.
Consumers shun advertising and move online looking for a fresh space. Will we succeed there, or will our practices make online rigid and irrelevant?
Resisting the urge to outsource design and development to an agency goes a long way. Empowered employees genuinely care about a company’s success through customer delight. They understand that the easy option is rarely the best, that options must be considered, that differentiation and innovation are key. Internal people are motivated by their own development and their contribution to your success. Suppliers, understandably, are motivated by their own success as measured on their ability to get new deals with as many clients other than you as possible. Innovation, for them, tends to get in the way.