Jeremy White

The Internet Revolution is forcing sworn enemies – IT and marketing staff – to work closely. Can they settle their differences to exploit the new opportunities or will we see a repetition of AOL’s recent troubles?

America Online (AOL), the US’s largest Internet service provider, has had a rough ride recently.

The marketing department might cite the success of signing up 1.2 million new customers in three months – with a 64 per cent rise in revenues – as a result of introducing its new flat-rate monthly pricing plan. But this has sent its IT department into a frenzy.

The problem is simple: its network cannot cope with the 175 million Web hits and 7.5 million e-mails going through each day. The result? Vast numbers can’t get online, which is not wise in a country as litigious as America.

For an idea of the scale of the problem, it took 36 State Attorney Generals to force AOL to introduce its recent compensation package for frustrated users. Law suits will follow.

So what can we learn from all this? Didn’t anyone suspect that something might buckle if membership surged?

AOL’s disaster reflects a fundamental problem in global business – the cultural divide between IT and marketing. The two have always been at each others’ throats – IT people believing good products sell themselves; marketers cursing that the system is always down.

But the Internet is forcing IT and marketing people together in a way not seen before – both need each other if the true business benefit is to be extracted from the Net.

So here are points to remember before launching into cyberspace:

While everyone might want that graphically rich site, the reality is your Website is only as good as people’s ability to enter and browse around it. And most consumers do not have high-speed ISDN lines and high-resolution screens.

Likewise, you need to ensure your Web presence sits with an ISP that has enough available bandwidth to allow surfers to enter it easily.

These are fundamental points, but ones which many companies have ignored and consequently come unstuck on. Think about it: how can electronic commerce become a reality if it takes 20 minutes just to access the site?

If this sounds like an attack on marketing staff, it is also essential that IT managers listen to marketing colleagues and learn to understand the need to implement new ideas quickly – markets do change.

What is needed is a spirit of co-operation. There are signs this is starting to happen – the question is, can it happen quickly enough to avoid a repetition of the AOL nightmare? We believe it can.

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