Academic journal article Journal of Management and Organization

Role Misconceptions and Negotiations in Small Business Owner/web Developer Relationships

Academic journal article Journal of Management and Organization

Role Misconceptions and Negotiations in Small Business Owner/web Developer Relationships

Article excerpt


Small business owners who turn to professional web development consultants for assistance with building a web site may need support not only in terms of the technical aspects of web site implementation, but also in terms of understanding their options for e-business. However, client/consultant relationships within the small business sector can be problematic and the limited research available into small business engagement of web developers suggests that bad experiences and disappointing outcomes are not uncommon.

Interpretive case study methodology was used to explore four sets of small business owner / web developer relationships: how each pair worked together and what they expected of each other. The negotiation and clarification of roles and responsibilities proved to be an essential aspect of the relationships. Also, achieving an adequate level of client involvement in the web site design and development process was a challenge in all cases.

Keywords: small business; e-business; consultants; web site development; strategy; case studies

Effective use of the Internet by small businesses in Australia is a critical factor that will determine not only their individual success, but also the performance of the national economy. Internet technologies such as web sites provide diverse opportunities for maximising competitiveness, for example: handling transactions electronically, accessing new markets, developing new products and services and making business processes more efficient and effective. As a medium for communicating that can be richly informative, dynamic and interactive, the Internet offers distinctive advantages over traditional media in fostering relationships with, and sharing information and knowledge amongst, customers, suppliers, distributors, partners and employees. However, research demonstrates that deployment in the small business sector is largely unsophisticated and the strategic relevance and potential benefits of Internet technologies are poorly understood. Even though uptake of the Internet by Australian small business now stands at 90%, with 48% having a web site , the majority of small business web sites are brochureware - static promotional sites focused on advertising the business and relaying product or service information in a manner that is locked into a one-way mass communication paradigm (Cragg 1998; Adam & Deans 2000; Yellow Pages 2003).

Factors that have been found to constrain the online initiatives of small business include: lack of understanding, experience and skills on the part of small business owners and their staff; other priorities competing for available finances and time; and difficulty finding information and assistance. Small businesses generally have very limited in-house computer skills, therefore they face significant knowledge barriers in taking advantage of new information technology. Whilst restrictions on available time and finances are important constraints, access to high quality external expertise is the most critical factor for successful implementation of small business information systems.

Information systems consultants can act as key bridging intermediaries in disseminating the knowledge required to effectively use new business information technology. Their bridging role can potentially include such activities as: transferring specialised knowledge; sharing experiences and ideas across locations and contexts; acting as a point of contact for accessing a wide range of specialist services; and helping users articulate and define their particular needs.

A linear model of information transfer does not do justice to the subtle ways in which consultants can affect the technological competence of their clients. In 'process consulting', first described by Schein (1969), the consultant is non-directive and catalytic, emphasising shared learning and problem-solving rather than prescription (Bessant & Rush 1995). …

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