Thursday, 19 March 2015

Commissioning A Website Part 3

Utilising Technology

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.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Commissioning A Website Part 2

On the previous post, we discussed high level requirements, requirements gathering and producing a requirements document.

Exploiting Technology

Now we look at whether we have exploited technology to give us a competitive advantage.

To do this, lets have a look at how some medium and rather large companies have utilised the web for competitive advantage.

These companies use their web site to acquire leads/prospects in the form of email addresses and phone numbers. This information can then be passed to a CRM system by inter connecting plug-ins. The CRM system is then used to cultivate prospects by sending more marketing material and possibly phoning the prospect to create a sale or appointment leading to a sale, depending upon the complexity of the product or service being sold.

Their requirements document would have recognised that data can be captured from their website and transferred to other applications for use in increasing profits.

Another example of exploiting the technology available today is dealing with sales returns on a website. These companies provide a login to a secure area for each customer who makes a purchase on their website and even those that purchase via other means. Once logged in, customers can be given a number of questions to answer, a returns number and even a label to print out for returning sales items. If this saves time compared to doing this over the phone it is providing the company with competitive advantage. Its costs of doing business are reduced.

Here we come to a salient point about requirements analysis for the web. Do not leave requirements outside the document just because you have pre-conceptions about what can be delivered by this new technology, as we are now at the stage where our competitors will be looking into this area further for streamlining their operations and becoming more efficient. You might not want to be in a price war but only the most efficient companies will win it, if the need arises.

Selecting a Supplier

Lets suppose our requirements document identifies the following needs for the sales and marketing department.
  • acquire leads/prospects
  • harvest leads
  • make sales online
  • make returns online
Now we want to go out to tender, bearing in mind when we work with a supplier we may have to change the requirements document to prioritise items if the cost is to high and these can be implemented in a later phase when more budget is available. The best suppliers are likely to be those who offer most of the functionality you require. This is because they have probably supplied similar solutions before and will be aware of any pitfalls. 

Creating A Specification

Whilst working with a supplier, lower level requirements need to be created. This is often referred to as a specification. This will contain a site map that details all of the sites web pages and where they sit in the overall hierarchy of the website. Wire-frame drawings can also be put into this document to show where proposed text, input fields and images are to be located on each page. Any validation that is required on each page type should also be documented and reviewed. This document should be done in conjunction with a supplier so that you incorporate all your business rules and also the supplier may also add some useful contributions using their experience.


An experienced supplier will make you aware of the resource and time that you to supply in order to approve designs(website layout) for each area of functionality/web page type. These should be reviewed by you and have an official sign off, together with the specification. They can be all moved into a single document for sign off to make the process easier to manage.

Moving Forward

All the activities mentioned so far can be done using a combination of in-house expertise and external suppliers. You do not have to commit to a supplier until this point. Our next blog helps you gain an insight into comparing options for utilising technology to meet your requirements and finally deciding on a supplier.

Commissioning A Website Part 1

Some-how its fallen on you to commission a new website...

Lets be honest, unless you've been involved with developing websites or know someone who has, you probably don't really know what your company needs and even large corporations have made mistakes in this area.

Where do you start ?

Use Google to find a company and hope they create a good website for you.

Perhaps a friend can recommend one.

No, No, No, No, No.

If you don't know what you want, the vendor will give you what they are good at doing, and not what you need.

Regardless of whether you need a new building, car or website, you have to think about your requirements. For example if a husband and wife are to share a car, the requirements could be the following -

Husband - comfortable on motorways for long business trips.
         - enough space for a ladder
Wife - easy to park on congested streets when shopping.
         - enough boot space for shopping

We formalise this process by firstly recognising the actors/users and then defining their roles. These are often known as Use Cases.

Requirements Gathering

A new website is the start a new project. You must recognise all the actors such as shareholders, employees, marketing, production, distributors and customers. Then find out how they wish to interact with the site. Also, ask your self what your high level requirements are for a website. The overriding one should be to give your company a competitive advantage. Here's a few examples -

Facilitate employees to carry out their roles
Provide shareholders with up to date information
Increase profits
Improve efficiency of internal processes
Improve reporting

This process is paramount to building a website that will serve your company for many years. Only the more established web development companies will provide this service and may employ a qualified business analyst to help you document the Use Cases.

Here's a couple of examples.

Employee - View company handbook from home.
                    View company news from home
                    Ability to occasionally work from home using the website
                    (sales) Fill time sheet in when out of the office
                    (sales) view appointments when on the road

marketing - Harvest sales leads from the website
                 - process sales from the website
                 - monitor contacts from the website and also inward and outward emails and calls

As you can see, employee types can be numerous and what they would like from a website can also vary. At the end of this process you should have a document that defines all the users and their requirements. It pays to have this done professionally, as a weak requirements document will result in a website that does not meet your needs.

At this stage we could put the requirements out to tender, but should we look at the document in more detail to make sure it fully exploits the technology available on the internet today first.

See Part 2.