Web developers see good business in '97
INTERNET presence providers (IPPs) - companies that offer home page design and construction services - expect good business this year as more local corporations establish a Web presence due to globalization and competitive pressures.
"In the Philippines, there is a huge backlog to catch up on as more businesses awaken to the trend," said Jim Ayson, founding partner of W3 Business Communications (W3BC), a World Wide Web design and Internet media consulting group. "The post - APEC conference attention being paid to globalization will accelerate this trend, especially for Philippine businesses who want to pursue a more global outlook in '97," said Ayson.
In response to e-mailed questions, Ayson said recent surveys indicate that over 70% of US businesses now have their own web sites, and it's increasing globally.
Ayson added the Web design and construction business can be profitable as long as the costs are kept low.
"As more and more local companies establish their presence on the Internet, there is a wealth of opportunities for us," said Ramon C. Canumay of Web Philippines, Inc. Web Philippines works with different companies to help them establish a presence on the Internet.
"More and more companies will establish a presence on the Internet. But there will also be companies that will be turned off because their initial plunge into the Internet is not successful," added Canumay.
Canumay told Computerworld that at present, the web design and construction business is not profitable. "But our company is committed to this industry long term. We estimate that we will be profitable in two to three years."
Jover B. Reyes, marketing communications manager of the sales support group at Distributed Processing Systems, Inc., said Internet's local growth in the past year has been at par or even greater than those in other Asian countries. He said it has been attributed to the fact that the Philippines has the latest technology and creative talent to boot.
"With this in mind, a lot of companies are opening new markets in terms of marketing and advertising."
As with ISPs, the number of IPPs will also grow rapidly. Canumay said, however, that a shakeout will materialize more quickly.
"The pruning will happen quicker," Canumay said. "IPPs who provide the best business solution will realize tremendous growth." Canumay added that the IPP business will accelerate during the second half of the year.
Reyes said IPPs will out number ISPs since creating Web pages doesn't require much of an investment.
For his part, Ayson said that the growth pattern of IPPs will be greater than ISPs as the tools are more readily available . "Theoretically, anyone can do this with today's tools. What I see as being not as easily automated, however, is graphic design talent or an understanding of marketing communication principles," said Ayson.
IPPs agree that Web site design and construction are likely to become outsourced activities unless companies have the right combination of in-house talent and resources to develop and maintain their own sites.
Ayson said there is an initial learning curve to Web development before a company can construct a commercial-grade Web site. "If you want a site up right away due to competitive pressures, it may be a while before in house staff can come up to speed to put up a site that is more sophisticated than your typical high school student's personal home page."
Ayson said elements that need to be dealt with include HTML (Hypertext Mark-up Language), custom computer graphics, and Web content. "Content is not a simple matter of typing up an annual report to be put online. The overall presentation should adapt to Web technologies." He said text should be edited in a more condensed style.
Ayson said many companies fail to understand that the Web is more of a communications medium and make the mistake of assigning the site to MIS people, when ideally it should be assigned to corporated communications working in tandem with a technical group. "Unless the MIS people are also very creative, the site becomes poorly executed."
Canumay said companies who outsource Web design and construction can expect their Web sites up fast. He said outsourcing is also a cost-effective way to transfer Internet and Web knowledge on to Internal staff.
DPSI's Reyes said Web site developers can be compared to database programmers. Once a program has been developed, maintenance is the prime concern in the long run. "It 's important to understand the Internet as a whole and not just a portion of the entire technology," he said.
The IPPs face two key challenges: making sure the clients' objectives are met, and keeping pace with the changing technology.
For Ayson one challenge is translating a company's public image into a Web site.
"Once they get it, it's like a quantum leap in understanding the medium, and things are quite easy from there in terms of coordination."
Another challenge, Ayson said, is integrating the Web site into the mainstream of the company's marketing communications. "It takes a while for most advertising people to find out they have their own Web site and what they can do with it."
Ayson said that most companies know they want a web site, but have no idea about what they want in it or what they site to do for them. "It's very rare that I see a potential client with a complete grasp of the medium and when that happens, that is a cause for celebration, " said Ayson.
At DPSI, Reyes said the challenges they encountered include time constraints, users' preferences, and the poor use of Web pages. "Their Web page is a product by itself and has to be packaged properly to attract target buyers. People should see what they want to see ," said Reyes.
He said content is critical and that usefulness is a must.
"Providing services for presence on the Internet is not as simple as connecting a computer to it. It entails conceptualization, creativity, and a lot of production work. You can compare this with advertising agencies," said Reyes.
Canumay, for his part, points to fuzzy ideas as a challenge. "We encounter clients who are not clear what they want to do with their Web site," he said. Another is the need to make clients aware that they need to maintain and manage their sites. "We tell them that the Web site needs to be updated regularly and that they need to continuously interact with surfers."
Apart from Web site design and development, IPPs offer other Web services.
"The only thing I can think of as a differentiating factor is whatever talent or style that sets us apart," said Ayson. "I can't put a finger on it, but people say we do have a distinctive style." Ayson added that W3BCs experience in this medium is a bit longer than most IPPs.
Ayson said W3BC hosts its clients sites in the US, where bandwidth is cheap and plentiful. He said it is more cost effective and "more bang-for-the buck option" compared to locally based hosting services. "It will be my opinion until local ISPs drop their Web hosting prices to more reasonable prices."
Web Philippines' Web site development services fall under the company's electronic commerce service. "We are different from other IPPs because we are focused on meeting the business requirements of our clients as they bring their business to the Internet," Canumay said.
At DPSI, Web design and development are part of the DPSI Internet Assist service launched early last year. The service includes helping customers choose the right ISP, assisting in Internet equipment acquisition, and Internet/intranet solutions.
The IPPs work with companies from different industries.
For Instance, W3BC's clients include radio station RX 93.1 (http://www.philmall.com/rx93) and Smart Communications, Inc. (http://www.smart.com.ph). Ayson said Smart uses its site to spread awareness about the company and its products and services. "The interactivity involves collecting customer feedback through the Web," said Ayson. RX 93's site posts its weekly radio charts, collects song requests through the Web, and makes recordings of past shows available through RealAudio.
Ayson's pet project right now is PhilMusic.Com (http://www.philmusic.com), which is intended to be an advertiser supported music site. The pilot should be up this month. "We have RealAudio installed for this service, so we have the capacity of broadcasting samples of Philippine music and using this as a marketing tool for local music products," he said.
Web Philippines' has clients in the following fields: market research, information technology, food, engineering, and law.
"Most of our clients are using the Web in a traditional business way," said Canumay.
DPSI's clients include newspapers, department stores, individuals, ad agencies real estate firms, government and non-government organizations.