When and when not to use off-the-shelf software

15/12/2008

As part of our working partnership with OGCbuying.solutions, an Executive Agency of the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), a guideline article by our Technical Director, Saul Cozens on ‘When and when not to use off-the-shelf software’ was recently published on their site. The article is an essential starting point for those responsible for website development and we hope it will provide stimulating and insightful food-for-thought:

When and when not to use off-the-shelf software

Your website is probably more than a brochure or newsletter, they now allow customers, suppliers and partners to interact with your business processes, to communicate with your systems and collaborate with your staff.  It is more than a bunch of pages, but a web based software application.

Many organisations are still treating the development of their website as if it were a standard business problem with an out-of-the-box solution.  These genericised systems can deliver significant cost saving if your website is generic, your business processes standard and if you are not looking to gain a competitive advantage from innovation.

The off-the-shelf approach certainly means fairly basic requirements are met: page creation, content approval, FAQs, etc.  But frequently, during the website build, it often becomes apparent that the out-of-the-box solution does quite fit your particular processes. You are then left with a choice, do you:

  • Change your processes to fit the solution;
  • Use the solution’s features in ways they weren’t intended to be; or
  • Write custom features on top of the out-of-the-box solution (if it allows it)?

None of these options are ideal, they lead to a website that requires particular knowledge to administer, can be difficult and time consuming to manage, or requires internal development resource (which negates the point in using an out-of-the-box solution in the first place).

There is nothing intrinsically wrong in making these compromises in order to reduce the costs and timescales in building your website, but an understanding of the compromises in the site’s usability, effectiveness and quality that this may lead to is vital to avoid failing to meet your organisation’s expectations.

So next time you consider implementing a website using an out-of-the-box solution make sure you consider how closely it meets your exact requirements and the costs involved in configuring, adapting and extending it to fit, the costs of changing your processes to fit the solution and the long term cost of using a system that doesn’t fit your processes efficiently.

Above all, make sure you ask yourself ‘What is it that isn’t in the box?’

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