The first area of technology we look at is very important. Content Management. This is your ability to login to your site and change content. The content can be text, images, sounds or video.
Content Management System (CMS)
The older way of working with web sites was to ring you vendor up to make changes to content. This was both time consuming and costly. The content management system makes this issue a thing of the past.
Do not use a proprietary content management system. If you fall out with your supplier your next supplier will have to charge you for learning how the proprietary software works and also may find it takes a lot of time to make changes because of their unfamiliarity with the software.
There are numerous ones out there, but I will look at just 2 because of their popularity.
Umbraco has over 100 thousand sites and is still growing. Its easy to use as all content is laid out in a tree structure with a similar layout for media. Its also open source, which is an advantage as it does not cost to use it, but beware of any company using one of the last few releases. Treat these releases as a new product, basically, they will not have been proven in the field and may have issues.
Another advantage is that it supports the Microsoft development languages and has millions of developers who can add functionality to the site, although not all will have Umbraco experience. These languages help your developers take advantage of the Microsoft dot net libraries, making it quicker to add functionality to your site and also to add enhancements as required. These all help to future proof your site.
SiteCore also has numerous installations, but be warned that the costs for using it can be
over forty thousand pounds, depending on the number of users. It has slightly better granularity for user permissions and some built in marketing aspects for shop fronts, but there are limitations.
It is trying to be more than just a content management system and therefore the training
required to utilise it is far more extensive than Umbraco and also the cost of development
can also be much higher due to the expertise that is needed just to use the content management
system. Like Umbraco, it supports the Microsoft development languages, but be warned that upgrades may cost you even more as time goes on.
Vendors all have their own areas where they are more skilled or experienced. The location and size of your Vendor is very important to the cost of your site. Those with plush offices in major cities will have massive overheads and therefore have to charge a lot more than smaller vendors. In days gone by it was important to have a local supplier, but not so much now, for the following reasons. We communicate electronically by Email and for web projects this is imperative so that all decisions are recorded. We also have Web Video conferencing which is virtually the same as looking over someone's shoulder as they show you designs on their PC. Even project collaboration applications can be sited on the web with central access for everyone concerned.
We want value for money from our supplier, so lets take a look at the types of digital agency out there.
- offices in major cities
- offices in smaller cities with lower rates
- virtual offices and daily hire offices
- residential office
Obviously those with offices in major cities are going to be the more expensive, followed by those with offices in smaller cities. Unless you have a really tight budget, a residential office may not give you the expertise you are looking for. A really interesting option is looking at suppliers who hire offices on a daily basis for meetings and may have a number of staff who work from home and
have regular meetings in hired offices. Productivity can be higher when staff travel less and general overheads should be less. The general rule of thumb is to ensure your supplier has qualified and experienced staff.
As mentioned in an earlier Blog, look at what they offer in the way of products and services. There are agencies out there that create high impact sites with lots of graphical content and they have won awards, but they may have no experience in other areas that you need to gain competitive advantage from your website (see page 1).
Beware of suppliers who seem to promise the world. Quite often there own offering is a fraction of what they promise and they rely on a number of bought plug ins. All of these have to be piped /connected together and this work can be very costly. Another disadvantage is that when there are issues they may take a long time to resolve which can mean that parts of your site do not function while they are being sorted out. Also , its not uncommon for suppliers to pass the buck when something goes wrong, creating further frustrations. If your supplier does not develop the areas of functionality you require, they may be paying a third party to develop it for them and if there relationship breaks down with that 3rd party this could cause you enormous issues in the future. Worst case, scrap your site and start again!
Don't get carried away looking at stunning graphics when selecting your supplier. Its important to know your supplier has qualified staff, so if you decide on Umbraco, check they have qualified Umbraco and Microsoft staff, same for SiteCore. Another important thing to look for is a trained analyst. As mentioned on an earlier blog if your requirements are weak you will not get a site that fulfils your needs.
Do not go down the route of having iPhone and mobile applications built unless you are sure they are needed. If you need to grab a phones camera, use it as a scanner or get a users location then you may not have a choice but to have an application built for both the iPhone and Android devices. Many suppliers can now offer responsive design that works out the pixel area of a users device and scales the page for the device. Quite often you may only really need a few pages to be available for mobile and tablet devices, like home and ordering pages, so using this technology may save on your costs.
We can now have our cake and eat it. The first blog in this series talked about areas that can give you competitive advantage from yor site. Ideally, your site will be interactive so your visitors spend longer on the site and view more of your offerings. It will help you gather prospects that you can eventually turn into customers. Many sites can have restricted member areas and these can be used for displaying sensitive information. Products and services that are traditionally internal applications can now be part of your site so they all work together without any piping. They also allow you to use them wherever you are. Look at how complicated plugins are and the piping they need. Many companies opt for products and services that offer the world only to find they take a hugh amount of time to set up and maintain.