Issues and Challenges of Web-Based Systems Integration:
a Case Study of Aquarelle.com and Amazon.com
School of Information System and Technology
Faculty of Informatics, University of Wollongong, Australia
This paper aims to investigate issues and challenges within the tasks of web-based systems integration through a comparative analysis of two cases—aquarelle.com and amazon.com. The investigation was implemented from the customer perspective and the perspective. The data were mainly collected from the author’s personal experience of using the websites as a customer. Then the author revisited and tested the websites in order to examine and justify the issues and challenges of their systems integration. Justification of the better business model is made and practical proposition is provided based on the data analysis and the results.
2 Customer Perspective
Usability and Interoperability are two main dimensions of evaluating e-business websites from the customer perspective, although they are more or less overlapped. While Usability provides criteria to assess customers’ generic experience of using the services that websites offer, Interoperability focuses on those services across various systems. According to Pearson and Pearson (2007), Web sites’ usability can be assessed using five criteria: Navigation, Ease of Use, Customisation, Download Speed, and Accessibility, and among the criteria, Navigation and Ease of Use have the largest contribution in explaining Web suability. Interoperability issues are usually linked to the failure of these two important factors (Chen et al., 2008, Palmer, 2002, Pearson and Pearson, 2007).
As for Navigation, aquarelle.com does not provide customers with any classification information of their products but inserts the link to “Chocolat[e]s and fruits on Aquarelle Gourmand” in the administrative menu. Its big homepage displays almost all the products that they have but does not provide navigation for customers to register an account, maybe because they prefer the customers select the products first, but what if the old customers came back again and could not find the login portal? Contrarily, amazon.com sets a clear classification section on the left to help customers directly go to their target areas of products, and the administrative links are located separately. The customers may always know what links they should click if they want to choose a specific product classification or login the website.
2.1.2 Ease of Use
As for Ease of Use, aquarelle.com’s account management system may easily make customers confused through out the whole purchase process. For example, when a customer registers an account, the system asks him or her to set a password. It will change all the lowercase letters into uppercase letters automatically as they are being input (see Figure 1). The customer may not know whether he or she should input which kind of letters as password next time. Furthermore, it is unusual that the password is displayed directly on the screen, which may be seen by others near the user. Amazon.com provides customers with much more instruction and the customers can follow the instruction step by step to finish their purchases and manage their accounts.
Figure 1: Password Uppercase Issue
As for Customisation, both of the websites offer customised services. Aquarelle.com offers the services through its production (e.g., customers can choose different colours and sizes of flowers when they order, and can send a photo to the website and the photo will be printed and go with the flower to the recipient, see Figure 2). Amazon.com not only customises the production (e.g., gift packing option, Kindle version of books option, etc.), but also organise recommendation for customers based on their previous browsing and purchasing record.
Figure 2: Exclusive Aquarelle Services
2.1.4 Download Speed and Accessibility
As for Download Speed and Accessibility, the author used a website speed testing application (http://www.iwebtool.com/speed_test) to test the download delay of the two business’ two main sites and their international sites. Each site’s speed data were collected through out consecutive five days during at different time in one day. It comes that the average download delay of Aquarelle is 1.535 seconds, and Amazon 2.229 seconds. It is evident that aquarelle’s websites’ download time is much less than Amazon’s. This is because Aquarelle’s websites’ content is very simple and there is not much content. The author has not detected any accessibility issue.
Generally speaking, interoperability is the ability for two systems to understand one another and to use functionality of one another. In the context of networked enterprises, interoperability refers to the ability of interactions (exchange of information and services) between enterprise systems (Chen et al., 2008, Chen and Vernadat, 2002). Interoperability issues are apparent in the two business models in terms of the two most important criteria of usability—Navigation and Ease of Use.
2.2.1 Navigation and Interoperability
Aquarelle redirects customers to its other international sites by a link named “send flower abroad”. From the link, customers can choose other sites, the offices of which are located in other six countries (Belgium, Germany, Spain, UK, Netherland, and USA). But the problem is that, if a French person travels to Germany, lives there for a period, and then wants to send flower to Germany’s local address, then the behaviour should not be called “send flower abroad” since he or she has been in Germany. On the other hand, there are so many products that Amazon is selling, and some same products are on sale in different countries’ sites (e.g., a book is on sale on amazon.com but it may also be sold in amazon.ca). The current situation is that, customers are not able to compare books across countries, so they have to compare the books and correspondent shipping fee manually. For example, an American customer may compare a book on amazon.com and amazon.ca, and then choose a site that sells the book for a lower price. From Figure 3, while Amazon.ca sells the book for CDN$23.28 (about US$22) plus CDN$9.98 (about US$9.43) for shipping to USA (totally about US$31.43), Amazon.com sells the book for US$35 with free shipping within USA, so the American customer may buy the book from amazon.ca. However, the product-linked navigation across Amazon’s various sites does not exist (i.e., customers can not directly access to all the pricing information about one book).
Figure 3: The Same book on Amazon.ca (left) and Amazon.com (right)
2.2.2 Ease of Use and Interoperability
Aquarelle’s account is not available through out all the Aquarelle sites. That is to say, if a customer registered at Aquarelle.com and even makes a purchase, he or she still can not use that account to login Aquarelle.co.uk, which would generate inconvenience for customers. The same issue partially applies to Amazon. The author registered an account on Amazon.com, and could use it to login Amazon.ca, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.fr and Amazon.de, but could not use it to login Amazon.cn and Amazon.co.jp (see Figure 4).
Figure 4: Login Error Notice on Amazon.cn (left) and Amazon.co.jp (right)
In term of order tracking, both business models have interoperability problems. Aquarelle’s order tracking system is basically separated from the account management system. When a customer wants to track an order on the same Aquarelle site, he or she needs to input a unique access code received from Aquarelle by e-mail, but can not login the account to see the order status. Amazon’s tracking system is built in the account management system. However, if a customer buys a book and then login other Amazon sites, he or she will not see the order in the new Amazon sites. He or she needs to go back to the original site to track it.
3 IT Perspective
From the IT perspective, the two cases’ usability and interoperability issues and challenges are determined by the back-end processes and status of the systems integration. Investigating these two dimensions can help understand the potential of changing Little i to Big I (Gulledge, 2006) within the two business models.
Aquarelle’s seven sites’ user databases are totally separated. They are only linked by HTML hyperlink. Each site processes its own orders and manages its own users. This leads to a big disadvantage of the promotion of the club policy—“For every 4 orders you place, a discount equivalent to 10% of the value of the 3 previous orders (excluding delivery costs) will be deducted from your 4th order”, because the four orders have to be processed within one country. Even in one site, the Order Follow Up team still use a different system to store the information.
Amazon’s seven sites’ user databases are partially shared. Except for Amazon.cn and Amazon.co.jp, once other Amazon sites’ users input their personal details, the information will be stored and can be retrieved by other Amazon sites. The five Amazon sites process and manage their own orders, and the order data are not shared with each other. Because order record will form an important basic for the future recommendation, lacking the order records leads each Amazon site to just provide customers with limited recommendation. If a customer makes an order on one Amazon site, even though other Amazon sites have got good recommendation for the customer, they are not able to promote the recommendation to the customer (see Figure 5 where there was no recommendation for the customer even though he did purchase three books from Amazon.ca).
Figure 5: Amazon.co.uk’s Recommendation Page
3.2 Enterprise information systems integration
There are many obstacles to enterprise information systems integration. All of them can be classified into three catalogues: (1) People, (2) Process, and (3) Technology (Wamba et al., 2008).
Aquarelle’s and Amazon’s different sites’ organisations are consisted of different people with different responsibilities, power and goals, so not all these people will support the integration because the integration may influence their current benefit. In front of such a problem, Amazon’s strategy is to selectively integrate systems (e.g., to integrate the five sites users database) while leave the other two sites to be integrated relatively more slowly. So Amazon is experiencing the period of mixture of Big I and Litter i. Aquarelle’s business model is much more simple than Amazon’s because of the nature of live plant. The flowers should be kept fresh when they are being delivered. So the suppliers should be local and the destination of an order is also limited to local area. Hence, the “Autonomy” issue (Hasselbring, 2000) is much likely to influence the procedure of integration.
Aquarelle and Amazon basically follow a Sales Order Process but Aquarelle’s process seems simpler than Amazon’s, because Aquarelle’s sites do not rely on external support when they process their orders and manage users, while Amazon have signed up many third party contracts (e.g., Amazon VISA Card promotion, couriers, individual suppliers, etc.). When there is a need to reengineering, they need to redefine all the complex processes. For example, if user database including order records are to be integrated, what should the customer service staff do if the customers report order problems to the wrong offices.
Different systems’ different standards are also a problem because of different software and hardware standards. Amazon’s technology innovation seems to focus on new products, such as Kindle, Web services, etc. Aquarelle at the moment does not involve too much technology but if they need to extend the business, better management tools should be developed and/or integrated.
4 Conclusion and Proposition
Overall, from the customer perspective, it is evident that Amazon’s usability and interoperability are much better than Aquarelle’s. However, from IT perspective, they both have many shortcomings and are facing many challenges which they need to overcome in the future. Particularly, Aquarelle needs to redesign their membership management architecture so that different sites can share the database and they can avoid internal conflict by following an appropriate procedure. Also, it would be better if Aquarelle can integrate the resources of different countries’ local florists so that they can increase the amount of available product to be sold online. The service that Aquarelle provides customers with the photo of the flower they ordered, currently includes too much manual effort. This service may be improved if the deliver process and customer relationship management process are integrated.
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