Does the Customer Know Best? the Results of a Survey on E-Commerce Development

Article excerpt

Introduction

Since the 1960's it has been generally acknowledged that user participation in the Information Systems (IS) development process increases the likelihood of project success (Barki & Hartwick, 1994; Foster & Franz, 1999). Put another way, lack of communication between users and developers has been a common theme in the well-documented reasons for failures in IS implementations (Bussen & Myers, 1997). User involvement is likely to result in increased user satisfaction (Garceau, Jancura, & Kneiss, 1993), and the perceived usefulness of the application (Foster & Franz, 1999; Franz & Robey, 1986; McKeen, Guimaraes, & Wetherbe, 1994). Foster and Franz (1999) emphasise the need for user involvement, most importantly in the early stages of development, concluding, "managers should actively seek user involvement in systems development activities" (p.345).

The portfolio of applications being developed today has changed with the emergence of the E-Commerce (EC) business paradigm. Organisations are capitalising on the potential of new technologies such as the Internet, Intranets and the World Wide Web to improve communications and transaction efficiency, reduce operation costs and increase market share. This paradigm shift in business has been supported by applications with a different focus. While organizations continue to implement IS for internal use and to integrate with known business partners, the focus of this paper is business-to-customer (B2C) applications that are available for universal use.

The literature to date regarding user participation in IS development has not differentiated between applications designed for traditional environments or for B2C. In comparing the two domains, Fraternali (1999) states:

"Applications for the Internet in such domains as electronic commerce, digital libraries and distance learning are characterized by an unprecedented mix of features that makes them radically different from previous applications of information technology" (p. 227).

However the underlying process for developing applications is addressed by Yourdon (2000), who questions whether e-business/Internet projects are really that different by suggesting "E-business projects face the same demands pressures and risks as any other kind of IT development project, but to a greater degree". This added pressure comes from not only squeezed timeframes for delivery, but also from the necessity to change accompanying business processes. He suggests also that "the e-business phenomenon is much more fundamental because it creates a much more intimate connection with customers, vendors and suppliers".

One feature of B2C systems that differentiates them from traditional MIS applications is the identity of the "user". Traditional systems are developed for a clearly defined set of known users either in-house or business partners. The development may be undertaken in-house or by external parties, but either way, the user communities are clearly identifiable. They are often championing the project and possibly funding it from their budget. Likewise off-the-shelf packages allow organisations to see what they are getting before software purchase. Customisation of the package to meet the organisations needs can then precede implementation. Again the known, distinguishable in-house user community is able to be involved in decisions regarding the adoption and adaptation of the product.

In the global business environment of today, a B2C application is inviting the consideration of the world at large. Rather than serving a known user group, B2C sites may target the world at large. Potential users are diverse in all respects, ethnically, culturally as well as geographically. They are also diverse in their computing skills as noted by Fraternali (1999),

"Universal access by individuals with limited or no skills in the use of computer applications introduces the need of new man-machine interfaces capable of capturing the customer's attention and facilitating access to information" (p. …