Viant CEO Gett refines Web site sales strategies

Viant CEO Gett refines Web site sales strategies

Viant is a professional services company that specialises in developing intranet and Internet commerce applications. As an early pioneer in this space, Viant is a leading consulting company with customers ranging from American Express to Kinko's. Viant CEO Bob Gett talked with IDG's Michael Vizard about how the Internet is changing the way his customers do businessIDG: What differentiates Viant from other consulting companies in this space?

Gett: The model that we have, at least in words, is being replicated a lot. But we've actually built it by launching and having multiple disciplinary competencies around strategy design and technology. Everybody now recognises that you have to have those disciplines. But we've got that in our company now.

And we didn't get it by acquiring companies; we didn't get it by being a system integrator and hiring a couple of designers. We actually built it, one person at a time, into one culture using one homogeneous process. And you've got to care, particularly if you have a mission that we have, which is to occupy a leadership role and not just be one of hundreds of companies that are taking advantage of this boom.

One of the things providers of Internet-based solutions complain about is that the [profit] margins aren't high enough to attract the big consulting firms that would rather spend their time working on enterprise resource planning [ERP] applications. You seem to be running counter to that issue. Why?

That's a good question, because our added value to our client is not in getting their Internet technology working. What we are interested in is helping a client figure out what they should be doing in the digital marketplace and actually building it. That's why we're focused on launching digital ventures. It's not just building a Web site; it's also helping them figure out the organisational model, the operating model, and the business processes that they need to have in place to support that.

So does that mean I have to buy into a specific methodology? Doesn't that kind of consulting have a bad reputation among IT managers?

We do have an approach. But the idea of having an approach is that it's repeatable and scalable. Clients want to see that there is some structure to the way you work. But they don't want to see a cookbook they're being forced into. We want a customised-solution approach with reusable artifacts, knowledge, components, and off-the-shelf software. We don't get paid based on making a project big. We get probably more value for our clients by making it fast.

What's your sense of customers' comfort zone with the Web? Is anybody going to make money?

No one's figured out the revenue model yet. There's an overwhelming belief that there's something real here and that they've got to play. Fortunately, a lot of companies are stepping back and saying: "We've really got to think about this." This is not just about getting something out there.

We're talking to Xerox, which is a pretty well-known brand. But [Xerox's] corporate site led to 30 different Web sites inside that are all uncoordinated. Tandem gets five times the number of hits on its site than Xerox. So Xerox is trying to step back and think this through.

As part of that, are we moving from a time when people built their Internet systems as separate elements from their IT structure, and now they want to link the two back together?

Absolutely, and there's a battle going on about who runs that, because marketing departments ran the first strategies around that. But the CIO is interested now that it's moving into the traditional IT organisation. Business unit managers are very interested in it, because it's not just about efficiency. It also has revenue and strategic business implications.

So we've got this trio of people fighting it out. Some companies have anointed heads of interactive strategy, but that may prove to be a temporary position.

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