“Benchmarking is the process of comparing one’s business processes and performance metrics to industry bests or best practices from other industries. Dimensions typically measured are quality, time and cost. In the process of benchmarking, management identifies the best firms in their industry, or in another industry where similar processes exist, and compare the results and processes of those studied (the “targets”) to one’s own results and processes. In this way, they learn how well the targets perform and, more importantly, the business processes that explain why these firms are successful.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benchmarking
It’s easy enough to describe what benchmarking is, but the critical question it seems to me is who do you benchmark against, particularly when what you are benchmarking, is a web-based experience. Is it enough to benchmark against organisations who are competing for your customers directly in the market in which you operate, or do you need to look more widely? For comparability you can argue that only those organisations who are in the same business as you are offer a way of directly benchmarking what you do with what the best the competition can offer. And yes, I’d agree with that.
But I’d argue that you are also competing more generally with a wider group of comparators, in that you are competing for your customers (or potential customers) time and attention, and I think that you are competing on reputation with the best examples who are operating in the channel (i.e. the web) that you are using. And I feel that that argues for a wider range of benchmarking comparators.
So what groups would I expect us to benchmark against?:
- libraries in distance learning institutions who might be offering a similar set of services to us, both direct competitors in our own market, but also those in other markets
- wider HE libraries – even campus-based, will all be offering an online experience – it might be additional to their location based service, and some of their services won’t be relevant – but may still have valuable lessons – and these again would not just be local competitors but would be from across the world
- sector organisations and service providers – these could be the best of cultural organisations such as museums, or service providers such as discovery system providers or content providers or other organisations in the sector
- commercial service sector providers – online shopping and online supermarkets, concierge-style services, other online public services and commercial services – all are competing for attention and define what an online experience should be like
- social, communications, media systems and organisations – news organisations for example. But these types of websites are often good examples of best practice and also environments where our users will spend a great deal of time, influencing their perception of what makes a great website experience.
So there’s quite a range of different types of organizations and websites that I’d want to look at to see what we could learn about how to make our website better. In the same way as the hotel industry has influenced the concept of boutique libraries, then there are lessons that we can learn from other sectors that will help. So for example, concepts around using recommendations for library resources can draw on practices from websites such as Amazon.
There’s one final thought about benchmarking, in that the most important group to ‘benchmark’ against is your own customers. What are their expectations? You may have a list of good ideas that come out of your benchmarking exercise, but which of them would your customers prioritise?