Customization Vs. Cookie-Cutter: It's all in the approach
Have you ever wondered why some web sites really stand out more than others? How can you tell whether the firm you're considering will create one of those spectacular sites, or whether your site will become just another "face in the crowd"?
One painful pattern is consistent: The "one-size-fits-none" development model that has become so popular with large "production-line" web firms yields little more than faces in the crowd, which is resulting in a negative e-commerce ROI for many organizations.
Web Site Production Line: Henry Ford proved that mass-production can generate high output and high profits. Some companies have begun to apply this practice to web site design, too. These companies, with client lists numbering in the hundreds, are churning out generic, "prepackaged" web sites resulting in high profits for the designers, but barely fulfill even the basic needs of their customers. Many executives who are now rethinking their e-commerce strategies have realized this strategy of being "penny-wise" turned out to be pound-foolish.
Customization is handcrafting an e-business solution that meets the specific business goals of a single organization. Before considering a "canned web site," be sure to consider the following questions:
- Will the site differentiate us from our competitors, or will we look exactly like them, thus losing valuable brand identity?
- Can this site integrate with our mission-critical business systems to offer member's access to value-added features?
- Will we be able to administer the site without developer intervention and added cost?
- Will the site have adequate security to fill the holes left open by SSL, firewalls and other traditional methods? Can we afford the consequences of having our members' information stolen, as happened to the New York Times last week? (MemberProtect® is one such product that prevents these unfortunate incidents.)
Viagra...for a sore throat?
Once exclusive to million-dollar engagements, a thorough planning & analysis phase is key in developing a truly custom solution for your organization. Production line companies pre-plan sites for you, not with you, with little regard for your goals.
You wouldn't expect your doctor to prescribe the same treatment to every patient, and planning your e-business solution isn't any different. In examining the long-term vision for your organization's e-business direction, there are very important questions to pose - questions that will help you decide on a direction and partner. Asking the right questions will help you weed out the companies trying to sell you a cookie-cutter solution.
Can you supersize that web site combo?
A common sign that you're being sold a cookie-cutter site is "a la carte" pricing and feature selection. For example, some companies will offer you 10 pages, five graphics, three forms, one autoresponder and a partridge in a pear tree, all for $399. If you're at all concerned about the image of your organization and whether you'll earn any ROI on your investment, you should turn around and run if you hear a pitch like that! Hamburgers and fries can be sold in a combo and meet the needs of nearly every customer, but e-business solutions cannot.
World-class e-business systems aren't a la carte solutions, and aren't developed by 14 year-old computer whiz kids. A professional development company will build a solid e-business solution specifically for you, with your unique needs and objectives as the primary focus.
Whoa, was that Tom Brokaw surfing my site?
While no integration is truly "snap-in," some sites are much more conducive to integration than others. Most cookie-cutter sites are built with static HTML, with virtually no capabilities to integrate with existing applications. So, why is the ability to integrate with other applications important?
Imagine that you have a cookie-cutter site that processes 50 orders per day, but the orders are sent to you via e-mail, and your staff then manually inputs the data into your processing system. Suddently, your product makes the nightly news, and now orders have jumped to 500 per day. Unfortunately, since all those orders have to be manually input, you're now suffering with long delays, angry customers and sleepless nights.
If you had a site built to meet your specific needs, you would've planned for this, and instead of manual input, your site would automatically integrate with your inventory and shipping systems, eliminating the need for manual data entry. Your orders would ship on-time, resulting in happy customers and soaring income.
Hey, why can't I get McNuggets® with my Whopper®?
If you select a prepackaged web site from a company whose main focus is their home banking product, you may severely limit your options for future growth and flexibility. For example, let's suppose you operate a credit union web site, and you choose a cookie-cutter site made by your home banking provider. Everything is sailing along smoothly until your members begin demanding more on-line services, such as check imaging, bill payment, real-time chat, etc.
You've done your research and found two great companies to provide your bill payment and check imaging. You're all set to add these items to your site, ready for member satisfaction to soar! Unfortunately, your excitement quickly fades to dismay when you learn that your current site will ONLY work with your home banking company's products-- no third-party integration available here. Sorry.
A more viable alternative that provides you flexibility and options is a site that is technology and provider agnostic. Professional development companies, like InetSolution, build sites that will work with virtually any third-party partner, regardless of their technology. You will avoid being "locked in" to a single provider for all services, thus allowing you to shop for the highest quality provider of each unique service you'd like to provide to your site users.
Hey, what's this onion ring doing in my fries?
The way many template-based web site are configured, if a change is applied to one, it applies to all. If the majority of their clients opt for an enhancement, the majority rules, and you get it, even if you didn't want it! Imagine visiting your site to find a new fabulous banner ad touting the benefits of Viagra. Surprise, that's part of the "package" that you bought!
Isn't it great that everyone loves peanut butter on hamburgers?
One neat phenomenon about Internet users is that they are all the same-- hair color, skin tone, attitude, gender, even toothpaste preference.
Wait...can that be right? Who in the world would buy that line?
Well, those companies selling cookie-cutter sites expect you to believe it, because that's what their whole site premise is based upon. If you are one of those organizations fortunate enough to have completely identical members, then you're in luck, because a low-cost, cookie-cutter site will work for you. If, on the other hand, your members are the other 99.9% of the population, then you need a solution built with their needs in mind.
Every professional development company knows that the foundation of every successful e-business system is a thorough analysis of the audience that will use it. You must study your audience and create an architecture and system that makes tasks easy and intuitive for your members. More than one dot-com site learned the hard way that if you plan a site by committee, without studying and involving your audience, you will fail.
The ROI of a Custom Web site
There is virtually no doubt that the initial investment for a cookie-cutter web site is less than that of a professional site. When you purchase a cookie-cutter site, the majority of the development work is already done in advance. Just add logos, words (images and brand colors if you're lucky) and poof! You've got a web site.
What you don't have is a solution that is as unique and personable as your organization itself. Nor do you have the features and functionality your membership expects from a institution of your caliber. You'll have a web site designed to roll out the door quickly and earn high profits-- for the company that sold it to you.
When your membership becomes eager to use convenient services that other institutions offer (many for no cost to the customer now!) like online bill payment, access to Visa card balances, e-statements and share-draft images, all accessible with a single password and ID, how will you respond? More importantly, how will your web site provider deliver? Unfortunately, there's little profit for them to make by providing a solution that's tailor-made for you, so they'll likely leave you standing in the rain.
A custom-developed web-solution will take into consideration your current needs and your future goals. It will be an open architecture product that will mean faster and cost-effective integration of a wide variety of functions and enhancements. When your members ask for new features, or you have an opportunity to use technology to increase your revenue, you will be able to quickly respond & deliver.
Your credit union should be a co-op organization. Your web site provider should not.