Steve Peters, Digital Business Director at Code Computerlove, examines some of the key issues shaping web build in 2016
The days of building and completing a website are dead. Gone are the days of businesses ‘refreshing’ their website every two or three years.
Changes in human behaviour and leaps in technology have caused a fundamental shift in the role that digital systems play in business growth strategies. There’s now a clear focus on creating relevant experiences for customers. However, today’s customer-centric experiences will be on the scrapheap tomorrow, because the reality is that there will always be change. This article is intended to arm you with ten practical steps to achieve a balance in this seemingly complex framework.
1. Collect problems from across the business
Changing platforms takes time, energy and costs money. It’s therefore important to have a clear understanding of why you are changing platforms by defining the problems that you’re looking to solve. The reality is that no matter where the trigger event happens, rolling out a process of improvement or replacement will have an impact on every department across the business, whether you like it or not. This could also be seen as an opportunity to seek out problems to solve in other departments across the business.
2. Create a forum for the business to contribute
Department heads in large organisations might never work together under normal business conditions. The most successful organisations combat this by creating a new steering group made up of a mix of people and skills across marketing, IT, sales, HR, operations, finance and customer services. Organisations that introduce an outside-in perspective on a process like this tend to see the greatest impact. New people bring new energy, ideas and enthusiasm.
3. Benchmark performance
Frankly, there is too much data available to decision-makers. It can be overwhelming. Perversely, you might find that even with all this data, you still don’t have access to the things that you really want to know.
Use the ‘Five Ps’ model to help you visualise where you will see the greatest value (and therefore where you would like to measure impact).
- Your technology platforms and digital systems
- The performance of your organisation
- Your people and the skills they have
- The processes that they run
- Promotion and how these changes affect how we talk about and market the business
4. Make the right platform choice for you
Once you have defined your objectives you’re in really good shape to know how to shortlist from the hundreds of technology platforms out there.
Gartner produce a regular review of the major CMS and experience management systems in something they call their ‘Magic Quadrant’. The important thing is to be clear about what problems you want technology to solve and start there. Invite Sitecore, Adobe and others in to demonstrate their products to see if they’re a good fit for you.
5. Free vs licenced products is really a question of cost vs value
It can be tempting to go with the cheap alternatives on first view, but the decision needs to shift away from cost and towards value. For example, spending £100k on a licenced product would enable you to deliver personalised experiences. If over two years, this helped you drive an extra £1m revenue above your baseline earnings you’d buy it, right?
It’s important to consider both the short and long term implications for the platforms that make it onto your shortlist.
6. Prove a positive impact before you do anything
Now that you have chosen your new system(s) it can be tempting to ignore the now ‘old’ and unloved system. You probably want to replace it as quickly as possible with the shiny new one, but don’t move so fast. Though the system is being replaced for myriad reasons, it still (usually) drives a successful organisation. You are not in crisis mode, so make your moves with a measured approach.
Seek customer insight using methods like tree testing and heuristic evaluation to discover where you will see the most value and start there.
7. Replace the most valuable parts first
Expecting to replace five years of work in a six month project is usually unreasonable. Moreover, changing everything is laden with risk.
One approach that we’ve had success with in moving large existing systems, or collections of websites, is a migration method known as ‘application strangulation’. This is a method whereby the most valuable elements of your business systems and functionality are replaced initially. Over time gradually replace more and more of the experience, either by section of the site, or at feature level (using URL redirects to keep the user experience consistent).
8. Quality for the long-term
Platforms and CMS products are just tools. They enable a business to do lots of new things, but often they are quite dumb out of the box. It takes your agency partner (or internal development team) to bring these tools to life, by building the technical infrastructure you need for the long-term.
When selecting agencies make sure you ask good questions and ask them for evidence of best practice, rather than relying on ‘approved (enter system name here) developer’ status, as this isn’t a definition of quality.
9. De-couple your systems
Building scalable environments that are open to integrating a number of vendors’ tool-sets to meet current and future demands is the way some businesses choose to approach their technology radar. Others would rather than invest in a single fully-featured tool-set.
Where possible we look to abstract the integration from the solution itself, using APIs which allow for systems to be more easily swapped out. This reduces the risk, if one third party solution isn’t working, of the whole platform being affected.
10. Think in products not projects
Thinking in terms of projects limits your ability to think about the long-term value of the systems you build. Projects have fixed scope, fixed timeframes and fixed budgets. They are absolute in many ways.
In the modern digital business nothing is absolute. Thinking in projects means you are thinking that there is an endpoint to your investment.
The reality is different. But the good news is that if you think in terms of products that live and breathe and change direction and grow, you will spend less money over time and have a far better digital business to show for it.
We are seeing a genuine shift in the role of digital platforms for today’s modern businesses. Digital transformation is a reality of the boardroom and smart businesses will create living, breathing infrastructures that allow them to move and adapt whatever the future brings.