Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The Virtual Presence Maturity Scale

The Web is not what it used to be. It is no longer enough to build static brochureware websites. Businesses today need deep back-end integration to provide a unique, valuable experience to customers. Have you seen how Amazon replaces bookstore chains, Craigslist replaces newspaper classifieds and online travel sites replace travel agencies? Common to these examples is the integration of business logic processes into online channels, making them directly accessible to site visitors.

At Magnolia we call this virtual presence management (VPM). We think VPM is very important. Businesses should understand how to get better at it.

In order to know where you should go, you need to first understand where you stand. Last week, I published a blog post about a Turing Test for Virtual Presence as a first introduction. Extending this, I propose a model for measuring virtual presence. It is a 5-level scale modeled after the Capability Maturity Model, a popular tool for measuring how well an organization can execute a process.

There are several levels, ranging from a simple brochureware website to a born-digital company. Let’s look at some examples.
  1. The first level is a static brochureware website. Typically the only thing a customer can do on such as a website is gather basic information about the business. There is no e-commerce or interaction. Example: Snyder & Brandt, P.A. attorneys provides just a phone number and a description of their services.
  2. At level 2 businesses are aware of VPM and are experimenting with it. But they have not fully incorporated all their business processes to the Web. The website might have interactive features but does not allow you to complete transactions. For example, Morrisons Supermarket chain in the U.K. has a versatile website but you cannot buy any products online.
  3. At level three are companies that already have a deep virtual presence but some decisive parts are still missing. The last part of the transaction such as picking up a ticket cannot be done online. Example: Optimus Primavera Festival allows you to buy a concert ticket online but you have to pick it up from a box office.
  4. Level four is very close to full virtual presence. In fact, here you find businesses that are deliberately physical in some respect of their service offering. For example, when Axa Winterthur sells life insurance the company prefers to complete the process face-to-face with the client even though they could complete the transaction through the web.
  5. Businesses at level 5 are totally virtualized and often don't even have a physical presence. If they have a concrete shop, you can buy the same things as in the online shop. The reach of virtual presence at this level makes the two realms indistinguishable. Example: Amazon
We think that the maturity scale model has some key advantages:
  • It makes the concept of virtual presence easier to understand.
  • It shows that VPM is a gradual process, not an ON/OFF decision.
  • It can help businesses evaluate their current level of VPM.
However, the model also has drawbacks. First of all, it is quite simplistic. There are companies that fit on more than one level. The highest level is not always the goal either: a company may reach optimal virtual presence at level 4.

What do you think about the model? Which level is your company on? Read the whole Virtual Presence Management Tech Brief and leave a comment.

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