Covid-19 has brought about a huge push for digitisation of services. Since the lockdown we’ve received requests from several clients to either adapt existing services or create new ones. But what are the challenges faced by organisations – big and small – in this new environment? In this article we provide some guidance for what, in our experience, will help ensure a successful switch to a digital business model. It’s worth mentioning that not all of these points will apply to all businesses. For some this switch might mean some small adaptations to existing operations. For others it will be about creating something brand new. Whatever your needs right now, we hope this will go some way to help.

There are some common barriers that have historically stopped organisations from moving online. Broadly speaking these fall into three categories. 

  • Cost/benefit – Change always comes at a cost. There is likely to be an impact on cash flow during any transition period.
  • Trust – Verifying identity, security issues, and privacy are all important considerations. When moving from a face-to-face or paper based model to online you will need to find new ways of verifying identity and safeguarding customer data. 
  • Technology – There will be numerous technical challenges to overcome to ensure that your digital proposition is fit for purpose. This can be a big hurdle for an organisation that has previously not focussed on online operations.

Even considered individually, these issues are not insignificant and it can feel like a daunting challenge to address them all, especially when we are already adjusting to huge changes in the landscape of work. A helpful first step is to describe the problem. Many organisations have never commissioned services like this before, and knowing where to begin can be a stumbling block. A good place to start is to break down your processes into simple, non-ambiguous steps.  This process is called ‘Business Process Mapping’ – taking a complicated problem and breaking it down into its individual components. There are many guides to Business Process Mapping online, and you can use anything from a stack of post-it notes to fancy purpose-built software to get this exercise underway. (We’re a fan of the post-it note method). The logical nature of technology means that small problems can easily snowball into bigger ones down the line so mapping out the little details can help prevent big headaches later on.

When you’ve mapped out your current end-to-end processes you should be able to target specific problems more clearly and identify where the challenges lie in making the move online. We’ve identified a few potential sticking points, along with some things to take into consideration when looking for solutions.

Identity and Trust

Many existing services are paper or in-person based because there are concerns around proof of identity, or about the truthfulness of the users’ responses. Organisations fear that they won’t be able to verify a customer’s identity online in the way that they can face to face. However there are ways and means, and we have already seen innovation in this area. Monzo Bank, for example, requires you to send a short video of yourself speaking to verify your identity. Monzo has the same regulatory requirements as other banks – most of whom still require a face to face meeting in a branch to open an account. It’s likely that we’ll see even more innovation in this area over the coming months so it’s worth doing your research into the latest solutions, and not ruling out the possibility of coming up with your own.

Technology

Most organisations have at least display-only information online already, for instance, opening hours, location, policies, etc. These generally fall under ‘web site’ content. The type of tech that serves to move business processes online is usually referred to as a ‘web app.’ A web app is something that a user interacts with, as opposed to a simple display of static information as you might see on a web site. So for example, when you tax your car or arrange for a parcel redelivery online, you are using a web app.

Sometimes people believe that in order to move their business online, they need a smartphone app, i.e. something available in the Apple or Google app stores. This often isn’t the right answer for online business processes. If you’re expecting users to interact with you weekly or daily (such as ordering a takeaway) then a phone app might be the right answer, as they offer the user the most convenient interface. However, if it’s something that the user does occasionally (such as requesting prescriptions or taxing their car), then a web app is going to be less hassle for the user, and ensures (importantly) that it’s available to everyone that has any type of computer or smartphone.

Data collection and GDPR

Some people view GDPR as an impediment to moving processes online. In fact, the same GDPR rules apply whether online or in person. The important thing to consider is that you handle users’ data appropriately. Do your research as to what’s required and have a policy in place.

Online security

All modern websites should be hosted on HTTPS, using SSL certificates from Let’s Encrypt (the modern global standard for certificates). In fact, search engines are beginning to penalise sites that aren’t served using HTTPS. Any developer worth their salt will be using HTTPS when building your site. If your site gives users the ability to log in then you (and your developers) will need to put some thought into the most appropriate method, eg. password or email login. 

Language

In Wales, many services are expected to be bilingual. If they do in person, they’ll probably have to offer the same online. If this is the case your developer will need to ensure that your site has multilingual functionality, with a front-end language switcher.

Data and Reporting

Usually, an online platform will need some sort of administrator dashboard so that the organisation’s users can view the data that were submitted to them through the web app. Before starting your project, you should try to understand what information you’re going to need out of the app, and how you want it sorted, filtered and presented. Do you need notifications of when something happens? What do you need to track? What analytics do you need? This type of administrator process should also be included in your process-mapping exercise – though you might want to consider it separately from the end-user flow.

Domain

Because of Covid-19, many organisations are having to move processes online very quickly. Here are some things to consider when trying to decide on a domain.

For larger organisations, the question is whether the new domain should be ‘within’ the larger organisation site, for example, https://properdesign.wales/dogbiscuits (option 1), or whether it should be hosted on a subdomain of the larger organisation, for example https://dogbiscuits.properdesign.wales (option 2). The final option is to have it on a completely independent domain, which can then be linked to from within the larger organisation, for example, https://dogbiscuits.wales (option 3).

Roughly speaking, the options above are in reducing order of complexity. Option 1 may seem like the simplest solution and is often what people request or expect when a site is commissioned.  However, this means that it has to adhere to the styles of the original site which can be restrictive, and can make it more difficult to make the site work well on phones (which is crucial). There can also be technical difficulties working within the constrictions of the existing site, so this first option is actually usually the most technically challenging and time-consuming.

Option 2 doesn’t have the design constraints of option 1 – a subdomain such as https://dogbiscuits.properdesign.co.uk is, in effect, independent in everything except name. There will, however, still be the requirement to work with the organisation’s existing technical team to change DNS records (for most organisations, this shouldn’t be a problem; however, we’ve been surprised in the past!).

In most cases we would recommend option 3. It allows complete freedom for design and will take the least time to implement (which is essential at this time). As a secondary benefit, you can have a punchy domain name, such as dogbiscuits.wales (and the Welsh equivalent), which is easier for people to tell their friends, as opposed to a mouthful of acronyms which you will often end up with if the site is within the organisation’s main site. 

Times are changing and decisions are having to be made at an unprecedented speed. This is a challenge for businesses but it’s also leading to innovation in all kinds of industries. A leap of faith is required to change an existing business model, and every organisation will face its own unique challenges and obstacles. However, this unexpected shift in focus could also open the door to previously unrecognised opportunities. We plan to continue to help organisations of all shapes and sizes to react and thrive within this new environment.