person with a credit card  out about to make a purchase on an ecommerce site
PHOTO: Negative Space

We are all navigating a 'new normal' that is steadily becoming an exhausting reality. Between an economic downturn, tightening budgets and changing consumer trends, there isn’t a single industry that hasn’t felt the challenge to adapt. In many cases, online interaction is the only interaction that can happen.

As a result, the urgency of digital transformation has never been stronger, and the risks of all-encompassing “big bang” strategies that take years to deliver (if they ever do) are no longer tolerable. Businesses seeking to pick up the pace and meet the moment should reexamine their website and the role it needs to play.

In normal times, the operational role of a website is clear — it's keeping pace with market demands and the needs of the rest of the business. At the worst, it is a rallying point in a period of crisis. For organizations attempting a transition, it is either a sound technical foundation and driver of innovation, or an omnipresent source of friction that casts a shadow over anything that touches it (which almost everything inevitably will). As the new normal becomes more normal than new, it’s worth digging into how a business leverages the web is make-or-break in the transition — and why.

It’s all About Trust

A website is a business's public face to the world. In a moment of chaos or uncertainty, it is the foundation of trust, both internally and externally. In our current circumstances, it is the portal to the company itself. Every employee from C-Suite executives to new hires must be confident that the website is doing its job — just as they would trust a colleague or business partner carrying out a mission-critical role.

You should know — not just hope — that the website is conveying the right message, that it’s aligned with the company strategy and vision, and that its operational role in your organization is well defined and flawlessly executed. You can’t worry whether it will show up for work when it’s needed the most, or if it will crumble under pressure. While this is a universal truth during the best of times, it is now a mandatory consideration.

Related Article: Customer Trust: Are We Experiencing an Existential Crisis?

Doubling Down on Purpose

Allocating time and energy to a website is tricky in and of itself. When there are many stakeholders, the website can be put in an overburdened “all things to all people” position. This leads to design by committee, which is a slog in the best of times but can become absolute gridlock when things get chaotic and teams become scattered. If the website is going to help guide an organization through a turbulent transition and eventually become a key digital touchpoint, leadership needs to create clarity of purpose, ideally including key metrics. Leadership then needs to delegate ownership so that decisions can be made quickly and executed effectively.

Purpose can take several forms and be measured in different ways. Is the website geared towards lead-gen or ecommerce? Is it trying to track unique users like a media or content site? Or daily active users like a campaign or community? Though these categories are largely standard, the details and particulars vary from website to website. Each purpose has its own implications in relation to digital transformation. Baseline stability and uptime are like air and water — without them nothing else matters. However, the truly make-or-break capacity is the ability to react quickly and make adjustments.

Related Article: Design Ecommerce Experiences to Handle Increasing Demand

Digital Transformation Requires Agility

The alternative to the big-bang digital transformation is one that starts small and makes contact with the market faster via an agile approach. A strong understanding of the website’s purpose is a prerequisite for increased velocity. Mission clarity enables quick decision-making, a lack thereof can be debilitating.

There are numerous ways to approach an agile workflow. A broad DevOps practice which increases the speed at which developers can hit goals and rapidly innovate can be focused on this problem with WebOps. This combines clarity of purpose and accountability with a proven method of rapid iteration for the web in particular, treating web experiences as first class digital products vs. static content publishing, which is key to enabling this lighter-weight approach to digital transformation.

No matter the chosen method, agility is a necessary component not only in achieving ambitions of digital transformation, but fundamentally in responding to the new normal in which that transformation must occur. This is true for your average business’ website, and is dire for government and public support websites that experience frequent traffic spikes for information — especially now.

Yes times are uncertain, but a major public shift is taking shape. Crises precipitate change, and as we navigate the new normal together, there will be permanent changes in expectations, process and technology. The businesses that thrive will be those who first and best adapted to the world that will be on the other side of the crisis. Everyone should recognize that in a world of social distancing for the foreseeable future, their digital presence needs to be a beacon. The website was an organization’s strongest digital asset before — now it’s an absolute lifeline.