- Unit 2— The Digital Economy
In a world dominated by the global e-marketplace websites are the interface between customers and organisations, allowing them to do business with one another anytime, anywhere. Enhanced connectivity underpins the growth of the digital economy. The increase in internet-enabled computers in the home and the use of credit cards to pay for goods are major factors in its evolution.
Consumers exercise greater autonomy and have more choice than is available to them offline in their own locality. They expect to receive a personalised service and an instant response.
In this unit, you will investigate how organisations are responding to the pressures of the e-marketplace by using transactional websites to:
- present their products and services
- gather information
- provide a personalised service.
As an informed ICT user, you need to be aware of the methods used by organisations to persuade their customers to reveal personal information about themselves and what it is used for.
Security and privacy are two key concerns for organisations and individuals operating in the digital economy. You will assess potential threats to customer data and evaluate the effectiveness of current legislation and measures taken by organisations to protect data.
Databases are key to managing the large amount of data that organisations collect. You will learn how to use database software to analyse data and identify trends and patterns.
Your work for this unit will be an in-depth investigation into the design of a commercial transactional website and the back-office processes involved in handling an online purchase.
This is a user-focused unit. The knowledge and skills developed in this unit are particularly relevant to those who use ICT on a daily basis at work or at school/college for personal, social and work-related purposes.
What is Digital divide ?
Digital divide is a term that refers to the gap between demographics and regions that have access to modern information and communications technology, and those that don't or have restricted access. This technology can include the telephone, television, personal computers and the Internet.
Well before the late 20th century, digital divide referred chiefly to the division between those with and without telephone access; after the late 1990s the term began to be used mainly to describe the split between those with and without Internet access, particularlybroadband.
The digital divide typically exists between those in cities and those in rural areas; between the educated and the uneducated; between socioeconomic groups; and, globally, between the more and less industrially developed nations. Even among populations with some access to technology, the digital divide can be evident in the form of lower-performance computers, lower-speed wireless connections, lower-priced connections such as dial-up, and limited access to subscription-based content.
The reality of a separate-access marketplace is problematic because of the rise of services such as video on demand, video conferencing and virtual classrooms, which require access to high-speed, high-quality connections that those on the less-served side of the digital divide cannot access and/or afford. And while adoption of smartphones is growing, even among lower-income and minority groups, the rising costs of data plans and the difficulty of performing tasks and transactions on smartphones continue to inhibit the closing of the gap.
Paperless transactions are hallmarks of the digital economy. In the global e-marketplace transactional websites are the interface between e-enabled customers and organisations, allowing them to do business with one another anytime, anywhere. Enhanced connectivity underpins the growth of the digital economy. The proliferation of internet-enabled computers in the home and the use of credit cards to pay for goods are major factors in its evolution.
E-consumers exercise greater autonomy and have more choice than is available to them offline in their own locality. They expect to receive a personalised service and an instant response.
In this unit, I will investigate how organisations are responding to the pressures of the e-marketplace by using transactional websites to:
- present their products and services
- gather information
- provide a personalised service. ........
The website that I have chosen to investigate is Ebuyer.com. Founded in 1999, it is now one of the largest global Internet resellers of brand name computer technology and consumer electronics products.
At the time of writing, the company's global headquarters is in Sheffield, UK with its US operation based out of Chandler, Arizona. Altogether they have 300 employees servicing 1.5 million registered customers.
According to their website, their business philosophy is simple:
"Give customers and businesses what they want, when they want it."
My investigation of their 'operation' will hopefully put this statement to the test! I will be sub-dividing the investigation of their website into three sections:
- Website design
- In this sub-division I will be describing, assessing and evaluating the design of the website. I will do this by describing its main features with a board analysis of the site's overall effectiveness and the 'customer experience' it provides. I will also be suggesting any areas for improvement supported by examples.
- Back-end processes
- This part of my investigation will focus entirely on the back office procedures. I will attempt to portray an accurate and complete picture of the company's operations by showing the chain of events, leading up to and triggered by an online purchase and the associated flow of information.
- Potential threats to data
- The last section of my investigation will consist of a description of threats to customer data collected by organisations via their websites and of the measures taken to protect, including legislation, with a clear and balanced assessment of their effectiveness. .......
I have been provided with a data set which contains over five thousand records of CD Sales by an unknown company. This data set is a flat-file database. The data is split up into 15 columns separated by commas (,) and quotation marks ("). A screen dump of the data set in Notepad is shown below:
Before I design the structure I must study the data set's characteristics carefully so I will be able to create a fully customised database in Microsoft Access. To uphold the integrity of any data added in the future I will also include some data validation.
I will then create a special dummy data set and use it to carry out extensive testing to ensure that the database functions correctly and efficiently. The dummy data set will be designed to test all aspects of the database and data ranges within it, this will fully ensure its reliability.
I will then import the data and then check it carefully to make sure that it is correct. After these verification checks I will then extract some meaningful information from the database and interprete it accurately. I will attempt to identify some significant trends and then make some well informed recommendations to the company.
I am very pleased with this section of my investigation. I feel that it demonstrates that I am a savvy e-consumer. I also think that I have looked beyond the obvious features of the web site's design and come to an understanding of what eBuyer's web development team is trying to achieve. I would suggest that they focus and concentrate on enabling their customers to make fast streamlined purchases in the least amount of clicks possible. Humorously, they sort of remind me of a squeaky-clean fast food outlet - maybe it's just my quirky brain!
I also think that I have used well-chosen illustrations from many different elements of the site to support what I consider to be balanced in-depth descriptions and evaluations. I have highlighted both the sites weaknesses and strengths and have also commented on the 'customer experience' provided by the company. I also made several good suggestions for improvements.
This section of my investigation has been very enlightening. I did attempt to investigate eBuyer's operation in a more technical manner so to be more accurate in my descriptions. I do feel that I have produced a reasonably comprehensive set of diagrams that together give a complete picture of all the back-office processes. I have used a variety of different types of diagrams, including: Flow charts, basic information flow diagrams and DFD's. I have also annotated each of the diagrams even though I believe all of them to be relatively easy to understand so to make their contents slightly more vivid.
However, I do think that I could improve this section. If I had more time, I would have attempted to get in contact with eBuyer's web development team; maybe by email. The reason I would do this is because I believe it would help me to gain an even more accurate insight into how the company's back-office processes work. Information from insiders also provides an interesting insight into the ICT industry.
potential threats to data
I do feel that I have produced a clear and rounded assessment of all the potential threats to customer data held by eBuyer. I did this by trying to weigh-up the potential threats on the one hand against the measures and the relevant legislation on the other and come to a sensible conclusion. I also attempted to accurately examine the effectiveness of the security measures eBuyer has in place.
In the end, I am certain that I chose the right option: 'the two table theory' (viz. database design). Thankfully, I did take into account what the majority of my colleagues were saying at this vital stage in the development of the database. If I never did this I would of had a multitude of problems when relating the entities together and applying some of the data validation rules. I also believe that if I had used the 'three table theory' it would have hindered a lot of my testing procedures.
comments on attribute properties
I am confident that all my field property choices where appropriate and I do believe that they actually helped the database function correctly and efficiently. I think that careful examination of the data set in its flat-file form is necessary to determine reasonable field sizes and data types.
comments on data entry error prevention
All of the input masks/validation rules that I applied to the fields have performed very well. The dummy data test stretched them to the limit and they still arose victorious (viz. dummy data set).
Strictly, I didn't actually make use of any "validation rules"; I only used input masks! I just couldn't find one characteristic in the data set that would require a "validation rule". If I had more time I would spend more time seeking out a field were I could make reasonable use of one.
what others thought about the database
My fellow colleague Ismail was genuinely impressed with my database but he found it rather difficult to navigate. He suggested that I create forms for the tables and queries to give users easier access. He had implemented this well into his own database and I am thankful for his recommendation for it highlighted a definite improvement that I could make. It is easy to imagine the benefits that a well worked-out forms system would bring to the database.
my own opinion of the database as a whole
I personally consider the database a success. I was able to interrogate the data set with precision and accuracy. I believe that I was only able to get a large amount of output from the database because of the basic structure and relationship I designed. I feel that the database runs correctly and effectively as it stands but I do think that Ismail's recommendation would definitely improve its usability. Overall I am happy that I was able to use the facilities of MS Access effectively enough to extract valid and meaningful information and identify some significant trends.
what others thought of my performance
Near the end of completing this ePortfolio I caught the flu. I was bed stricken for a couple of days and was unable to work as productively as normal for a few weeks. I was getting worried that I wouldn't meet the deadline. My parents were impressed with my maturity in deciding not to do any work until I was recognizably on the road to recovery. Because earlier in my website investigation I was using my mother's eBuyer account I had to explain to her what I was up to. She also spoke to me about her own personal experience of eBuyer's operation and I found this to be very valuable (viz. the overall experience). Due to her involvement in my investigation and because I live in the same house as her she was able to comment on my performance. She told me: "Considering all the circumstances, you've done exceptionally well!"
my own assessment of it
And I agree with her to a certain extent! I do actually think that my work is improving. I've been especially encouraged by my writing, I think it's gradually getting better. One thing that definitely still needs improvement is my planning. I need to work directly into my planning some contingency time - just incase I catch the flu or some other unforeseen event happens.
This concludes my Unit 2 ePortfolio.