When it comes to web applications and tools to help their businesses, clients need to make the right decision. Companies constantly and recursively need to take decisions as informed as they can be to ensure they enjoy a wealthy future hence will still be there in five or ten years’ time, and of course more.
I recall a chat with a colleague about IT professionals and the amount they charged compared with customers’ perception of the value of their work. He argued that “many people” would happily pay juicy bills for plumbers, electricians or plasterers but not for IT professionals even though they would not be able to work at all, therefore make money, if something was wrong with their computers or websites.
There is a growing number of “ready-made” solutions available for few pounds per month, if not for free, and it can be quite easy for some companies to noose a slice of the non-tech-savvy public into trusting technically unlikely claims regarding (not) new technologies. With technologies made easier to approach, more amateurs also claim they can deliver cheap and quick solutions. Given the scenario, I reckon some damage was certainly and variously done to the way nowadays’ users perceive the reality of software, web and IT technologies in general.
Across my several years of development of web-based solutions, including intranets, I encountered some clients whose decisions were based on some form of hard-to-die prejudices or wrong assumptions which ended in unexpected, unwanted, unsatisfactory results.
That is one good reason why I always make an effort to be as thorough as possible when I illustrate solutions to my clients: I want to provide them with the data they need to make informed decisions and, on my side, I want to know I have done all I reasonably could to do so.
When it comes to web applications and tools, ready-made software and bespoke web applications both offer valid answers to different requirements.
Generally speaking, the shorter the list of custom, specialised requirements, the more chances a ready-made application will do a great job saving the client and his staff time, stress and money while the longer the list of specifications, the more we need to move towards a bespoke solution.
Money is quite often a main factor when taking such a decision: are we going to make money or not out of this? Will we lose money for little or no benefit? Are we about to make an investment that will pay back in a way or another?
When money is key, choosing a pre-made, one size fits all system may seem straight forward and it certainly is as long as the client understands the factors and consequences of this choice.
Web applications – The invisible costs of DIY
Saving money with existing low-cost systems such as online subscription-based software will appeal to, and it is often right for, small and medium-size users. It makes sense if the client is going to entirely DIY it all. If the client does not have the time, the will and, most importantly, the skills to do it, he will have to hire a professional. Setting up some systems may be a matter of an hour or two, but other systems may require longer dedication. The fee of a professional significantly increases if customisations and training are requested. These costs should be taken into consideration before buying licenses and subscriptions for systems that the client, or his team, is not ready to spend time on.
In the average scenario, a developer or an agency will be able to provide a realistic quotation for a bespoke, fully customised web application based on clear specifications, requirements, features, functionalities and goals which normally include setting up and configuring everything on behalf of the client for a smooth experience.
If it fits another’s needs may not fit yours
Perhaps one of the client’s business connections recommended a particular, cheap, online solution. The question the client should ask himself is: are my acquaintance’s company, processes and industry identical or at least very similar to mine? If the answer is no, it is unlikely that the suggested solution will serve the client’s business as well as the other person indicates and a consultant may be needed to assess whether this is the case or not, for a fee.
One of the undeniable plus sides of customised solutions is that they will fit exactly the needs of the client and meet specific requirements.
Whether the client is opting for a low-cost ready-made solution or a bespoke system, there will be a learning curve. Learning something tailored on the client’s expectations and specifications will be generally easier as the application will adapt to his needs, rather than the client adapting to someone else’s idea and limitations.
With low-cost ready-made solutions it is normally up to the client to learn from online resources, help sections and knowledge-bases provided by the system’s company. In order to be profitable, these one-size-fits-all systems need to keep one-to-one scenarios to the minimum therefore it is unlikely to get personalised training of any kind.
The cost of learning a new system will impact on all people involved with it. This is also a cost that the client should keep in mind. A professional or an agency can easily provide, and include in their prices, some type of training and support which can be also customised to the client’s need.
Getting more needs satisfied
Many online applications I had the opportunity to use, test or setup for my clients also include some way for them to suggest further features and functionalities. Therefore there is a chance they might be implemented sometime in the future, if enough active users also suggest it. It is neither going to be quick nor certain; the more specific and personal the additions are the less likely their development will be. That is also why the client should carefully consider long term benefits, costs and needs before choosing or migrating to such a system.
On the other side, with a fully bespoke application, the client will be able to request new features anytime. A proper briefing and an in-depth analysis before the web application is designed should identify possible future needs and it could even include them from day one. A bespoke web app can grow with the client’s business and respond to new requirements when they arise, or a little earlier.
Saving or wasting money?
Bespoke web applications will cost a larger amount in the short term and will normally require a longer time to be built, tested, debugged and improved to match, and possibly exceed, specifications and expectations. If there is the budget, I consider customised solutions to be the best choice for farsighted businesses that are looking to grow, have an easier stress-free life and provide their clients with a better, timelier service.
Spending a thousand pounds a year in monthly subscriptions or ten, twenty or more times that amount, even though as a one-off, certainly makes a difference.
Business costs are not just direct expenditures. Wastage of resources and other problems also have a cost which is so often way more and beyond the apparently saved amounts in the short-term.
If a client’s needs are managing prospect enquiries and follow-ups, estimates and invoices they could choose to save money now and go for a ready-made low-cost system. If the client and his personnel are not ready to learn and DIY, there will be immediately direct costs such as a professional for configuration, customisation; most of all, there will be indirect, massive costs if the business and its procedures are very specific, peculiar and unique: prospects not managed properly and timely, disorganisation, stress, giving a bad image to existing clients, slow or faulty processes, mistakes… only to mention a few. As a side note, there are also high-spec ready-made systems with some possibility of customisation and perhaps integration on the market, but they come cheap at all.
Summarising, the client should consider the indirect costs of not having good system to support his business’ needs.
As professionals of the three-double-u sector, we should always help the client deciding what is best, not just in the immediate or short term but for the long term accordingly with the expected growth of the business, organisation or activity.
When choosing the path of a bespoke solution, it is vital to opt for professionals with long experience, sound ethics and a real interest in helping the client at the core of their mission.