The increasingly competitive Internet industry has given birth to a promising new delivery model. Web development company HarvestRoad is taking a community-based approach to Web design services delivery.
HarvestRoad is driven by a belief that end users will ultimately feel more comfortable dealing with a virtual community that in some way mirrors the community they deal with in the real world. As a result, the company has been designed a delivery model that targets groups of people rather than individuals or corporations.
HarvestRoad's Internet business consultant for the Smart Communities Unit, Kieran McClusky, said the company has designed a marketing approach specifically targeted at community and local groups and local government.
"Our primary role is to help community groups establish their own portals. We take them through the options available and introduce them to the technology," McClusky said.
The HarvestRoad approach involves a series of different points of contact with end users. However, while McClusky's team makes the initial contact, its focus is not on sales.
"We have more of an educational role. We present the big picture and then work out the details later by showing groups how to use the software," McClusky said.
The model has been particularly successful in Victoria, where state and local governments are putting effort into online initiatives.
The Western-Victorian Chamber of Electronic Commerce has offi- cially launched a regional Web portal, MainStreet.au.com, integrating HarvestRoad software.
According to McClusky, Mainstreet. au.com is an example of how a regional portal can provide a forum for regional communities to launch their own portals.
Helen Thompson, project leader for Mainstreet.au.com, said a lack of specialist IT skills and high costs associated with Web development as the main barriers to increased access levels.
Thompson claims that HarvestRoad's WebPOWER software suite and sales approach effectively lowers these barriers, allowing for higher Internet and e-commerce penetration through regional communities.
"In Ararat, for example, we now have over 80 businesses up and running on Ararat Online, a sub community of Mainstreet.au.com."
McClusky pointed out that the major hurdle facing the HarvestRoad approach was that community Web sites had to stay viable.
"On the one hand, communities require the skills and the motivation to keep the sites up to date, and on the other, they need to achieve a level of financial sustainability," McClusky explained.
McClusky suggests that while regional community sites may achieve financial sustainability in the long-term via e-commerce, interest community sites are often based on clubs where a small membership levy could cover costs.
While McClusky concedes that many community portals require government support in the initial phase, he believes that the benefits of this investment, from a regional point of view, far outweigh the costs.
"It is all about building a clever country and giving people local access to information," McClusky said.