Business is among the activities of humankind that require continuous development and implementation of changes in order to be successful. Sport activities can be compared with business in this matter. Therefore, continuous development is essential for any business, even for a rather conservative and traditional one, like architecture, for example. What could change architecture business in terms of the approach to customers? The advent of the Internet and rapid development of information technologies gave people a direct answer – any business could be improved using these technologies.
The aim of this paper is to explore the appropriateness of website creation for Poughkeepsie Architectural Firm in order to expand the business and move to the next level in the development. The main goal is to present Mr. Gordon, the owner of the company, the rational and understandable reasons and explanations of the entire situation in this area along with recommendations regarding how different issues could be solved. It is necessary to provide Mr. Gordon with a clear vision of the situation, define advantages and disadvantages of different solutions, explain the basics, etc. The results are going to be summarized in the conclusion section.
Background of the Company
Understanding of peculiarities and specifics of any sphere is impossible without basics. In our case, e-commerce and e-business will be defined based on benefits they can provide, and the way these concepts can be used to expand current business online. In addition, SWOT analysis of e-commerce/e-business will be provided in order to show what advantages and disadvantages online commerce could offer to the architectural firm of Mr. Gordon. Since the concepts of e-business and e-commerce are tightly connected, they will be explored as a whole (Westermeier & Plave, 2004).
E-commerce/e-business refers to the application of information technologies of a different kind in order to support activities of a business. As it is already obvious, both of these terms are related to business activities, however, they determine slightly different things to perform. Thus, e-commerce, in particular, tends to add revenue sources to business utilizing information technologies, build new relationships with clients and partners, enhance the existing ones and improve the overall efficiency of business. In other words, e-commerce facilitates the exchange processes between businesses, various groups and individuals that can be called the essence of any business (Westermeier & Plave, 2004).
E-business covers a broader scope of activities and refers more to strategic focus, emphasizing functions that usually emerge when exploiting electronic capabilities. The methods of e-business give companies the opportunities to process their external and internal data in more efficient and flexible ways. It assures closer relationships with suppliers and partners and allows guaranteeing complete satisfaction of needs and expectations of different customers.
As it can be seen from the descriptions, e-business/e-commerce is something that cannot be called “must have” for every business (Westermeier & Plave, 2004). However, it could be very useful for every company that would be capable of implementing these concepts properly. In this case, the number of satisfied clients and the significance of completed projects define the successfulness of the architectural business. It means that the more people are happy with Mr. Gordon’s company, the more clients become regular; the more projects are completed on the high level and the more people know about it, the more potential clients the company may have.
Therefore, the usefulness of the step that Poughkeepsie Architectural Firm and Mr. Gordon might make into the world of e-business is obvious (Westermeier & Plave, 2004). Information technologies would allow the company to serve the clients much better and deliver a higher level of satisfaction. The capabilities of the Internet and related networking technologies in terms of advertising and promotion are exceptional. There are much more advantages in such decision than drawbacks, so it is the chance for Mr. Gordon that should be definitely used.
In order to benefit from new technologies in the field of information, the company is going to need a website. This website should become a place where regular and potential clients would be able to obtain different useful information, make orders online, follow the progress of actual orders, have support from the company’s specialists online, etc. On the other hand, a website would allow the company to substantially increase the number of promotion activities and expand its services worldwide (Westermeier & Plave, 2004).
It is rather clear that a website is the next step in the Poughkeepsie Architectural firm’s development process. Architecture is quite a conservative business focusing on a rather narrow circles of clients so new technologies of promotion and customer satisfaction could bring it to the new level of popularity. Finally, a website is the sign of contemporariness of any business; many companies need a website less than Mr. Gordon’s company does, but they have it. Therefore, the need for a website is on the agenda (Westermeier & Plave, 2004).
Discussion of the Current Business Issues
SWOT analysis for e-business will be used in order to evaluate and explain its advantages and disadvantages for the company. The strengths of e-business for Poughkeepsie Architectural Firm are as follows: it is available twenty-four-seven for every client; business can operate irregardless of time and place; the overall prices for services and promotion activities could be lowered; the need in physical branches to be set up in different countries to go international is absent; the level of customer satisfaction is very high; and it is the proof for the publicity that business continues to develops (Westermeier & Plave, 2004; Ghosh, 2008).
The weaknesses of e-business in this particular case are less obvious than strengths but are still present. They are as follows: there is no direct interaction between the company and its clients, which is rather important for such kind of business; virtual presentation of a project cannot overweigh the value of a real model in front of client’s eyes; and architecture online is something very new for clients since it is a rather traditional area of business so it might be rather difficult to attract new clients via the website at the beginning (Ghosh, 2008).
The opportunities of e-business are tremendous but mostly in terms of business promotion for this case. It is obvious that the major opportunity for Poughkeepsie Architectural Firm with e-business is the ability to provide its services worldwide without substantial investments into branches development and promotion campaigns in different countries. In addition, the usability of the company should be substantially increased, as well (Ghosh, 2008).
The biggest threat for the company in terms of e-business is the perception of architectural business as traditional, the one that should be performed according to the conservative rules of business (personal meetings, for example). In other words, potential clients might not be able to evaluate the value of a website for their convenience properly. However, the effects of the threat should be at least mitigated after a while, when the company becomes known online, as well (Westermeier & Plave, 2004; Ghosh, 2008).
Research Findings on the Topic
Since Mr. Gordon is now aware of what a website could offer to his firm. It is time to detail the major challenges and the benefits/drawbacks of taking the business into a virtual world and to summarize and explain to Mr. Gordon Internet protocols, TCP/IP, IP addressing, domain names, email, mark-up protocols and HTML and XML editors. Understanding the way they will be utilized will help Poughkeepsie Architectural to build/create an online presence (website). It is also crucial to discuss different trust, cultural, governmental and language issues that he may encounter once he enters the virtual world of e-commerce and how this small rural enterprise will accommodate those challenges while doing business internationally via the Internet and a website presence (Westermeier & Plave, 2004).
First, an explanation of what a website is should be given. Typically, a website is the set of pages, filled with text and graphics that are interconnected and represent one major idea or concept. In this case, it would be architectural services. Websites can be very different, from simple business card with contact information and basic explanations what a company or organization does to highly sophisticated and complex systems that would allow visitors use a variety of tools to reach different goals (Westermeier & Plave, 2004).
What does it give to Mr. Gordon and his architectural firm? It is possible that Poughkeepsie Architectural is going to face different challenges on its way to success in the virtual world. There are two major obstacles that can be outlined: lack of experience in this area and utter conservatism of the business, considering not only the area but also the timing of the activities initiated by Mr. Gordon. First challenge is not that serious with the appropriate specialist “on board” of the project. The second one is more serious and needs proper attitude from the executives of the company. They should explain to the employees why going online is advantageous and what drawbacks this process has (Westermeier & Plave, 2004).
The first and the most substantial advantage, of course, is the promotion of the company’s services. The capabilities of the Internet in terms of advertising products and services are almost unlimited. Then, it is rather simple to set up new offices around the world in the virtual medium that would provide the company with the presence on numerous markets. It should be a very good background for further development into a serious international company (Westermeier & Plave, 2004). Finally, the company would be able to improve customer service and thus, increase the level of customer satisfaction. It, it turn, should attract new customers and make the present ones more active in terms of using the company’s services. This objective can be reached using social networks, blogs, and other advantaged Web 2.0 technologies can provide a business with.
Among the disadvantages, the following issues can be outlined: the cost of the project’s implementation could be rather substantial at the first stage since the website should be created, hardware and software purchased, and personnel trained. The personnel are going to express opposition to the new incentives of the management. Going online would require development of new methods of work with clients over the Internet, which could be costly and might take some time (Westermeier & Plave, 2004).
In order to realize the project, the following technologies are going to be utilized to help Poughkeepsie Architectural to build/create an online presence (website). They include, for instance, different internet protocols from TCP/IP stack that assure proper functioning of the Internet (send/receive/routing/control of the packets vie the Internet). IP addressing and domain names are going to be used to connect actual addresses of the Internet nods (servers and clients) with their names (domains). E-mail (electronic mail) is going to be exploited as one of the major tools in any business; different mark-up protocols (HTML, DHTML, XML, etc.) are going to be used in HTML and XML editors that are necessary to create hypertext layouts of website pages on various platforms, including mobile (smartphones, netbooks, etc.) (Westermeier & Plave, 2004).
Finally, since the concept of e-commerce/e-business presupposes remote communication between the company and its clients, certain trust issues could emerge. Anonymity is both a benefit and a drawback of the Internet, which in case of e-commerce could be damaging for trust. However, online sales are rather developed today so more and more people tend to trust their online business partners. In this case, Poughkeepsie Architectural is a trustworthy yet small business so it would take some time to gain trust of e-customers (Westermeier & Plave, 2004).
Cultural, governmental, and language issues can also be solved. Architectural business is multicultural and tolerant to any culture so there should not be any serious issues in this area. Laws of the country in which the company is going to operate regulate governmental issues like export/import control and other related activities. Therefore, it would be necessary to consider all possibilities and peculiarities of the local markets. Finally, language issues can be easily solved by creating different versions of the website in order to provide clients with such important convenience as getting information from the website in their own language.
At this moment, it should be a simple intranet with a number of workstations connected to a dedicated server that would be the router/firewall/data storage. Later, the system could be restructured according to the growing needs of the company. There are disadvantages of intranet creation, of course, but they are manageable: the personnel should be properly trained to use a new system at maximum, and this solution could be rather costly at the beginning of implementation. However, these expenditures are necessary to bring Poughkeepsie Architectural to a new level of business development (Westermeier & Plave, 2004).
The extranet should not be built immediately. The company should not set other offices up before the project with the website proves its efficiency. Extranet expenditures are unnecessary at this moment. Among the advantages of such a decision are the following ones: saving time and money and focusing efforts on one major project. The only disadvantage is the slower development of Poughkeepsie Architectural, but the risk of failure, dispersal of business assets and human labor are unacceptable in this case (Benefits of Intranets and Extranets, n.d.).
Based on the recommendations above, it is necessary to consider the options of the available Internet connections that are going to be presented to Mr. Gordon. There should be broadband internet connections, provided either via DSL technology or viaWi-Fi (ITU, 2003; United Press International, 2006). The advantages of the first connection type are in its simplicity of use and the ability to carry voice signal using the same line. Wi-Fi refers to wireless fidelity, electromagnetic signal that is very convenient to use in rural areas. Disadvantage of both is the cost of equipment and difficulties (in some cases) during the installation process. These solutions are not as expensive as satellite connection, for example, so ROI should be positive (ITU, 2003; United Press International, 2006).
Recommendations for the Executive Management Team
There are other issues to consider for Mr. Gordon in order to mitigate the risk of failure or compensate their negative aftereffects (Westermeier & Plave, 2004). Certain recommendations considering the issues can be given:
- borders and jurisdiction – going international even in the virtual environment requires careful attitude to the laws and jurisdictions of different agencies inside the country and abroad, so Mr. Gordon should hire a qualified international law consultant to mitigate the possible issues;
- jurisdiction in international commerce – this issue is close to the previous one so the solution should be the same;
- warranties – the company should provide warranties for its services considering the local laws, jurists must be ready for this (Westermeier & Plave, 2004);
- domain names and intellectual property rights – this issues should be considered very carefully before naming the website or going on the markets of other countries, lawyers should evaluate the situation in advance;
- terms of service agreements – this issue concerns foreign clients from countries with substantially different law system, so it is necessary to develop a typical service agreements for these regions;
- legitimacy – because of this issue the company might not be able to operate on some markets so, again, the juridical department should review documentation and make necessary amendments (Westermeier & Plave, 2004).
In addition, there are different issues to consider before making such a step into the virtual world. Here are the items that are the most important, essential and pertinent for Mr. Gordon to take into account in his new e-business venture: customer relationship management software, content management software, and database management software (Westermeier & Plave, 2004).
Considering the area of operations (architecture), database management software are going to play utter role in the business operations of the company due to the amounts of information that should be properly collected, processed, and stored. The access to the database should be organized via secured connection in order to protect one of the most valuable assets of the architectural company – its archives.
Content management software is essential for the company as well because it is supposed to provide the potential customers with materials processed using this software. Therefore, it must be convenient in use, easy to learn, and logically organized (Westermeier & Plave, 2004). Finally, customer relationship management software is the cornerstone of the future success of the entire website project. The software should provide customers with opportunities to leave feedbacks in order to process them. The information regarding customers’ satisfaction will be very useful for Mr. Gordon and his company since the goal of the website creation is to expand business and increase revenue. Customers are the sources of the revenue so appropriate systems that would allow making services better will be definitely needed for Poughkeepsie Architectural.
The findings and recommendations can be summed up with the following conclusions:
- Poughkeepsie Architectural and Mr. Gordon are on the edge of a substantial step in history because going online is one of such event for such a small rural company as Poughkeepsie Architectural;
- the owner needs a website as the important tool for the further development of the company;
- the company also needs to build an intranet and appropriate internet connection in order to have adequate access to the website;
- there are different legal and other issues to consider in the process of preparation and implementation of such serious project.
In any case, modern business is unthinkable without such concepts as e-commerce and e-business. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the area and opportunities with which these concepts could provide any company. Otherwise, either business will go down eventually, or the transfer process to the e-commerce track will end with failure.