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A Methodology for E-Business?

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E-business consultant Michelle Johnston wonders why there's so much mystery surrounding e-business, arguing that e-business isn't so different from what we've all been doing for years.
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There are some key differences between the development approach that's appropriate for building e-business systems and the approach that's appropriate for building traditional client/server systems. However, the differences are not as great as many people imagine.

Too many inexperienced e-business project managers think that they're simply "knocking together" a Web site. Faced with ever-tightening deadlines and pressure from ignorant clients or users, these project managers believe that it will be okay to skip key stages in the systems development lifecycle—only to find out later how wrong they were to do so. Such an approach is doomed to failure, because the skipped stages tend to be those that ensure quality in the final product.

In fact, it's arguably even more essential to adhere closely to a systems development methodology when building e-business systems, which can cut across organizational boundaries, across country boundaries, and can involve the integration of a great number of systems.1 Without the correct planning and methodologies applied, an e-business system is likely to fail.

However, implementing a solid methodology doesn't necessarily mean that it will take longer to create a working system; it can actually help improve the chances of meeting tight deadlines. In cases where the chances of meeting such deadlines were nonexistent in the first place, a solid methodology can help the clients or users to understand the reasons that the deadlines are not feasible and can help them to take some ownership for some of the timescale issues.

Strategy

It's important that user/client expectations be managed early on in the process of building an e-business system. Facilitated workshops involving users/clients as well as knowledgeable e-business staff can help. Users/clients need to realize that e-business strategy is still about working out the best mission statement, goals, and objectives to enable a retailer to be an excellent retailer or a financial institution to be an excellent financial services provider. It's not about working out how to be an excellent e-business.2 Encourage clients/users to use e-business systems to carry out their current business better, rather than trying to do something new—there will almost always be someone else who can do the new thing bigger and better because they have more experience or money.

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