Successful operator model: How BOT makes urgently needed e-commerce projects possible

Successful operator model: How BOT makes urgently needed e-commerce projects possible
Jürgen Kroder
September 21, 2023
Successful operator model: How BOT makes urgently needed e-commerce projects possible

Don't whine - tackle it!

“We cannot implement our digitization project. We don't have enough staff for that", "Unfortunately we don't have any in-house expertise to get into e-commerce" or "It's all far too complicated, we'd rather keep our hands off it". Do you know such statements? You hear it every day, because companies lack courage, know-how and skilled employees.

But is all this really a reason to bury your head in the sand and bury urgently needed measures? Does it really make sense to further postpone the long-delayed start into digital sales and thus jeopardize the future of the company? Certainly not!

In times of globalization and digitization, standstill is a competitive disadvantage. A disadvantage that can quickly take revenge. Sometimes you have to make the seemingly impossible possible. One solution can be the BOT model.

What is the BOT model? How does it work?

The abbreviation BOT stands for Build-Operate-Transfer. The operator model is used in various areas, often in public-private partnerships and in the IT industry.
The concept behind it is simple: a client transfers a project, such as the construction of a building or the implementation of a software solution, to a contractor. The contractor implements the project (“build” phase), oversees the result for a while (“operate”) and then hands it over to the client (“transfer”).

Here is an example process:

  • A company wants to get into e-commerce. But there are no or very few internal experts who can implement this project.
  • The company therefore hires an external service provider, an e-commerce agency, to develop an online shop.
  • The agency implements the online shop according to the wishes of the client - his customer. At the same time, the customer gradually builds up his own team.
  • After completion, the online shop is operated by the agency in close consultation with the customer. Its dedicated online shop team is growing and is continuously trained by the agency in e-commerce.
  • If the customer has sufficient resources and expertise, the agency hands over the project.

That's the theory. In practice, the BOT approach is also often “softened”. For example, many clients continue to work with the contractor long after the transfer to make ongoing adjustments and improvements.

What is important when implementing a BOT project?

  • Actually, the BOT model does not consist of three phases, but of four. Because before the client can start with the implementation, proper planning must take place. In the "plan" phase, the client must define exactly which goals he wants to achieve and what ideas he has of the end result.
  • Since most IT projects today, and thus also e-commerce projects, are implemented in an agile manner, it is difficult or even impossible to describe the result in detail. Because being agile means reacting quickly to changes such as changing customer requirements or market shifts. Therefore, it is advisable to describe a vision.
  • An MVP is also part of agile or hybrid development. The minimum viable product serves as a kind of prototype. This is then iteratively developed to meet the goals and vision. This means that there are numerous milestones or intermediate steps before completion, on which all project participants have to work closely together.
  • Communication is the key to a successful BOT project. Client and contractor must be in constant contact and discuss all relevant points. In addition, the transfer of knowledge should not be rigid - that is, with the official start of the transfer phase - but should be continuous. In addition, there must be ongoing documentation.
  • Test, test, test: With an e-commerce project, it is essential to literally have your finger on the pulse of the times. Because customer requirements can change quickly, as can the customer journey. What is still “in” today may be completely “out” tomorrow. Regular target group tests, for example with the MVP, provide information on whether you are still on the right track.
  • The customer must start developing internal competencies for project management, product management, marketing, development, etc. in good time. Due to the current shortage of skilled workers, it can take many months or even years before a team is complete.
  • Even with the best planning and a lot of buffer time, the implementation of an online shop can turn out to be more expensive than expected. Practice also shows that projects often take longer than planned. A large dose of patience and a decent budget are basic requirements for completing a BOT project.

The upsides and downsides of the BOT model

From the client's point of view, the BOT model offers a number of advantages. Among other things, he can outsource urgent projects and gradually build up his own competencies in the meantime. If an experienced service provider is commissioned, they usually get going quickly with their “manpower”. The service provider also contributes its know-how to steer the project in the right direction and to make adjustments. As already mentioned, e-commerce is extremely dynamic and changes can happen very quickly.

However, outsourcing the project also has a few well-known disadvantages. For example, there are costs for the external service provider and for setting up the internal team. In addition, the results have to be constantly and precisely checked - with a lack of know-how and few experts, this is a difficult undertaking.

And: If the project does not go as planned, a long-term dependency can arise between client and contractor. Such "forced marriages" can go well, but they don't have to.

Conclusion: Do it or leave it?

Every company should make this decision itself. A build-operate-transfer approach has been established in various industries. It is a tried and tested means of countering the growing shortage of skilled workers. And it helps to finally tackle projects that absolutely have to be tackled (such as the digitization of sales).

But what must never be forgotten: Without good planning, close exchange, ongoing control and quality assurance, an online shop project can quickly get out of hand after BOT. During the entire process, there must be competent project managers on both sides - the customer and the contractor. It doesn't work without that.