Web 2.0

What time does it land?

Gone are the days of checking teletxt. FlightStats provides live details of flights, including expected times and historical performance of the flight – based on past records what is the chance of the flight being delayed, and by how long. And a nice little touch- it uses Ajax for searching flights, airports, carriers, etc. For a domain that is acronymn driven, a nice touch.

Most retail banking web presence is just not connected

Taking a look different UK banking web sites a consistent theme seems to appear. There is a fundamental mismatch between public brochureware site and the secure transactional site. Banking brochureware sites are generally (but by no means universally) reasonably good. Their look and feel has evolved over time. No bank (yet) offers a web 2.0 look and feel but some get close. Lloyds TSB has a very clean and polished feel.

The LTSB site is customer focussed, indeed the “interactive demo” of their internet banking offering introduces different personas to explore different scenarios. Can we expect their internet bank to offer a compelling customer experience? To be driven around customer needs?

ltsb page

Well maybe. But there is more to a compelling experience than just usefulness and usability. There is something about the aesthetic execution of the proposition. What it looks like. Attention to detail, creativity… sadly missing with the transactional site. Is it the case that the agency who worked on the public site went nowhere near the transactional site? Probably. After all the skills and ownership needed to build a website are different from those to own and build what is effectively a business application. The primary stakeholders in the public site are marketing; the primary stakeholders in the transactional site are IT and operations.

ltsb page

Lloyds TSB are not alone. Smile are an internet bank. But take a look at their tables. In 2006 who still uses cell borders and padding?

Smile page

First Direct are another bank whose primary channel is the web. And yet they exclude more than 30% of customers who would wish to have a relationship with them but do not use the browser they choose to support.

First Direct page

Barclays have got a great new brand that manifests itself on their public site, yet this has not worked its way down to their transactional iBank. Don’t get me wrong, iBank is pretty good (the interaction design was created by experts – ahem, I thank you – and was extensively usability tested. But this was in the dot-com boom times when we still had to get over fears over internet security). Yet six years later, apart from some changes to the stylesheet, little has changed.

barclays pages

On the HSBC net home page they are almost saying our site is so slow you need to do something about it with your browser.

hsbc net page
My hunch is that there are a couple of things going on here. Firstly, most banks implemented their internet banking applications during the dot-com boom. They were as much a reaction to the times as a strategic imperative. being rushed out bolt-ons to legacy banking applications. Almost a decade later and little has changed. And where legacy systems are being overhauled – SOA are three big letters in the banking IT world, I wonder to what extent changes to the customer experience are tabled on the agenda.

It makes sense for the brochureware site to be owned by marketing. With ownership marketing are free to choose a creative agency to implement a brand compliant look and feel. IT’s primary involvement in building anything was in commissioning the Content Management Solution (and updating the propriety software when the licences inevitably expire and the current version is no longer supported. The brochureware site can therefore evolve; it is probably built and maintained by people who understand the web. That is why these sites should by and large be cross browser and DDA compliant. So this brings me to my second hunch; the question of ownership. The public site is owned by marketing, the transactional site is owned by IT and operations. And their priorities are quite different. Whilst marketing people generally aim to have a polished look and feel, with a good attention to detail and an understanding of the customer intentions, the priority of IT is rather different. IT thinks in terms of requirements. And the look and feel is “gold plating” that is de-prioritised when deadlines slip.

It is time to bring all the parties together. Anywhere large IT projects are on the CIO agenda, “Infrastructure renewal”, “Service Orientated Architecture,” “Legacy refresh” etc. These should provide the marketing organisation the opportunity to address the customer experience and refresh the interactive experience of the transactional web site. Bring it up to date. And maybe soon we’ll start to see Bank 2.0 applications. Hopefully sometime before Web 3.0 becomes vogue.

Oh for a declarative experience

Want to go on holiday to France. Want to take the car on a ferry. Want to sail to Cherborg, or St. Malo, or Le Harve, or Caen. Flexible about time. Looking for best price. Want to book on-line. These are my goals. Not unreasonable goals, although as soon as I add “I want to have a ticket booked within five minutes” I enter the real of dreams. Currently, it is not possible to realise my goals.

What I want to be able to do is enter my broad travel criteria into a aggregation website and then filter my search. Imagine an excel spreadsheet where I enter my criteria:

Excel sheet, cells empty

The results appear immediately:

Excel sheet, cells filled
And as I change the quantity in my search fields, the results fields immediately update:

Excel sheet, cells changed

That is the declarative paradigm that is conspicuous by its absence on so much of the web. Rather than flexibility, the ferry booking sites send me down an imperative, step driven journey. I cannot adjust my criteria without starting the process again- and that means re-entering all the data I have already provided.

The story doesn’t end there. After fighting with a number of different websites I finally find a ferry crossing that matches my requirements. Condor Ferries. The price is alright – £160.00. I Don’t want to book it there and then, I need to confirm it with my wife. She says “OK” so I return to the site to find that the booking form has timed out. There had been no option to save the quote. I have to start again. I go through the process again to find the price has suddenly jumped from £160.00 to £280.00. Unhappy, I ring the company to be told their system has a real-time flexible pricing engine that changes according to demand. The price lower price is no longer available to me. (At least they didn’t have the cheek to put a premium for the booking over the phone rather than the internet). Indecisiveness gets the better of me so I put off booking till the following day. Once again I go through the pain of step-driven booking wizards. And lo-behold, the price has dropped again to £160.00.

I started with some “wants” and I’ll reiterate them. I want a declarative web experience that meets my expectations and helps me painlessly realise my goals. I want travel booking forms to enable me to push and pull different levers to refine my choices, just like I can change fields on a spreadsheet. Finally, I want to be able to save quotes to return to them later. I don’t want the web to be like a high pressure salesperson who tells me this price is only available if I make a decision now.

Corporate trust in the 2.0 world

A successful relationship is built upon communication and trust. That’s obvious in social interactions – when trust is replaced by suspicion and talking is replaced by arguing, a break-up or divorce is inevitable.As an employee I have a relationship with my employer. At ThoughtWorks the relationship is underpinned by communication and trust. ThoughtWorks understands me as an individual with the power of expression. They let you know this in simple (i.e. non-legalese jargon) disclaimer at the bottom of the page on ThoughtBlogs which takes an RSS feed of this page.

Disclaimer: ThoughtWorks embraces the individuality of the people in the organization and hence the opinions expressed in the blogs may contradict each other and also may not represent the opinions of ThoughtWorks.

Working for TW is more about what I can do rather than what I can’t. (And it is a good reason why I love working for them).

Contrast this with many organisations that are more interested in restricting their employees, where interactions are underpinned with suspicion and threatening language. Corporate policies insist that employees sign-up to intrusive and prescriptive “codes of conduct”. The employee is treated as a threat, who will take advantage of anything that is given to them. “Business matters” are everything:

Access to the internet is provided by The Company for business matters only and is subject to the relevant rules governing employee behaviour and is subject to The Company disciplinary procedures, up to and including termination of employment. The company is entitled at any time to examine and/or monitor any usage of any kind on The Company’s premises or using The Company’s equipment. Mess with the Company and The Company will mess with you.

Hardly the language of a successful relationship. Maybe it is time to start challenging this language. With Web 2.0 concepts creeping into corporate life (corporate blogs, Wikis etc) organisations are going to face the dilemma of either maintaining existing prescriptive policies (“thou shalt not…”) or starting to trust their employees, to allow individual expression (“you can… [but]”). The two cannot co-exist. And once the internet codes of conduct are ripped to pieces, maybe innovation can start to flourish. Isn’t it when employees are doing “non-business matters” that the greatest innovations are born?

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