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Plan your online technology roadmap and prevent problems later

posted by: NetReturn, 12 Sep 2013, 10:43 AM     category: Thinking

Many businesses invest heavily in their website and online channel without a clear plan of how it supports their business and future plans. The probable result?  A great looking website that doesn’t necessarily do the job you need it to do, or can’t grow as you grow.

The Need

As businesses grow, sometimes the original technology choices no longer support the current business. Issues emerge associated with expansion and the failure of the underlying technology to keep up. These can quickly turn into big problems if not managed and planned for carefully.

It is not uncommon that as far as the online part of the business is concerned, the choice of technology was made quickly, perhaps with not much thought as to where the business would be down the track. The internet has changed many business models. You might find the technology used when the business was much smaller is the wrong building material now your business has grown.

Once the web was solely a showcase for the business. Now in many cases it is the business, the information point where your customers and suppliers interact to order your products and services and share information about themselves…

 If your business has reached the point where your website is now a significant or growing channel, it’s time to check your current infrastructure.

Here are 7 signs your technology is not keeping pace with your business:

  • Your web won’t communicate with your other internal and external (supplier) systems;
  • You’re taking orders and inputting the same information into one or more systems manually;
  • You know nothing or very little about your customers and can’t tailor your marketing to them based on their preferences;
  • You’re locked into one web supplier who ‘can’t do that bit’ – feeling of being stuck;
  • You do not have a copy of your source code;
  • Your maintenance costs are high. Small changes take a long time and cost an awful lot;
  • You have to do lots of manual workarounds.

Sand in the gears

Are you over fire fighting ? Your website and the technology behind it may be holding you back.

Many internet technologies are attractive because they are cheap. Pages and templates can be churned out quickly. However as more and more demands are made, scalability and extensibility become problematic. This is because the technology is not designed to talk to other systems.  Making them do so is akin to flying to London in a Cessna. You’ll get there but it will take a long time and there will be a many maintenance issues along the way.

Approach

The business should drive the technology – not the other way around.

CRM, order management + fulfilment will help you connect with your customers.

Start by developing a technology roadmap  - your technology needs to be married to your business plans.  

Make sure the technology being recommended to you is the right fit and not what the developer feels comfortable with. Don’t get stuck having to spend excess time and money adding functionality and integrating with key systems.

The NRC approach

NRC takes a 360 degree view of your business, from your front to back end, customer touch points and third party interfaces. This includes the range of devices customers use: smartphones, tablets and PDA’s. NRC will provide a best practice online strategy that utilises current and new investment to achieve your strategic goals.

NRC will help you get the most out of your online presence, increasing its ease of use, minimise IT and administrative hassles and streamline your business processes for you and your customers. Future proof your business so you can concentrate on increasing your financial performance.

Taking the hassle out and increasing your business profitability

 
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How to choose a web developer

posted by: NetReturn, 04 Mar 2013, 15:20 PM     category: Thinking

Choosing the right web developer is one of the hardest decisions a small business can make. There are many factors to take into account, and not every designer is as straight shooting as they claim to be. 

Establish your goals

Make sure you know what you want your site to achieve before you start looking for someone to build it for you.

"Be clear about how you want your website to work with your business," says Lisa Taliana, owner of Taliana Design. "Is it going to be a selling tool? Is it going to inform? Have a clear idea of what you want to achieve."

She suggests business owners should conduct research by visiting websites they like, establishing what they like about them, and creating a 'wishlist' of features they'd like to see on their own site.

Bernard Harper, managing director of Netreturn Consulting, suggests that small businesses should adopt a long-term perspective, and establish where they want to be with their website in three to five years time.

"The most important thing to do is look at the business options and technical options that will align with the growth path of the company," he explains. "The solution they put in place today should be able to grow with them in the future. They don't want to have to throw it all away in a year or two's time and lose the value of the investment because the scale of the business has grown."

Research

Though a particular developer may come highly recommended by a friend or colleague, it's best not to pin all of your hopes on a single option without doing some research first.

Taliana suggests that one of the best ways to gauge the capabilities of a web designer is to have a look at their own site.

"That can give you an idea of what their style and what they're capable of. Some web developers are great at building the back end, but they're not that great at design and vice versa. You could find a really great designer, but they're not strong in the technical aspect," she says. "If you want someone to build you a shopping cart, and they don't specialise that, you should pick someone who has working models, so you can see that they're credible."

Netreturn's Harper advises that it's also wise to try and find a number of developers with design experience that's relevant to your particular industry. Once you've drawn up a shortlist, conduct interviews with each of them to determine what their approach is.

"You'll start to know if you're on the right track if they ask you about your business plans, and business data as well as the core information and processes," says Harper. "If they start talking about how funky the website is going to look, you're probably on the wrong track."

According to Harper, it's common for businesses to sign off on a good-looking website, only to find that it presents barriers for growth two years down the track because of a lack of sound business analysis at the outset.

"Any good development, whether it's a web development or any systems development, always starts with proper systems analysis and design, and that will then lead you onto the build and finally the design of the result."

Talk to past customers

Asking a developer for some customer references can be an effective way of finding out if they will be easy to work with.

"Go and speak to some of their customers," says Harper. "If they're reluctant to do that, then you should treat that as a red light. Because it's an abstract business, you need [testimonials] to be able to ascertain whether these people can actually deliver for you."

It's important that any testimonials presented to you are very specific, or at least more elaborate than 'good job, very happy'. If particulars are lacking, ask questions. What was it that made the developer good to work with? Did they deliver on time? Did they come in under budget?

Beware the sales pitch

When you actually sit down with whoever it is that's designing your website, remember that they should be keeping your business's goals first and foremost. Netreturn's Harper says it's vital to establish the mindframe of a 'technology agnostic'.

"The business needs drive the technology and not the other way around." says Netreturn's Harper.

"Often, web developers tend to get wedded to one particular technology or another. If they use Ruby on Rails, for example, that's a great technology for small to medium sized businesses, but it's not very scalable for an enterprise," he continues. "You should be able to get a flavour of how they understand your business, and how they're going to approach the technology options, from how they actually talk to you initially, and seek to understand what your true business need is."

Business owners should also be wary of web developers that promise the world for very little money.

"You have to be careful; you end up paying for what you get," says Taliana. "If something is really too good to be true, then it usually is. You don't have to pay an arm and a leg for a website, either. You just have to be mindful of what they're offering, and whether they're going to be able to deliver."

Project management capabilities

The creation of a website is an incredibly complicated and convoluted process, that requires some considerable planning. Make sure you get a feel for their product management capabilities before putting pen to paper with any one web designer.

Netreturn's Harper encourages small businesses to enquire about the internal processes of the web developer. It's important that they can give you a clear idea of the processes that are going to lead from an initial meeting through to the live date of the site, as well as the methodologies associated with each process, from analysis and design through to building, testing and sending it live

 
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