Customers at the mercy of design visuals

2nd December 2013

It seems so right, but it's just so wrong

After more than 29 years as an Information Systems and Online Professional, the projects I see being delivered by our Professional Services team are still very complex and possibly more so now. How can this be? We have excellent development tools such as Team Foundation Server, Visual Studio and Sitecore Rocks. The core platforms we use are stable, highly featured and things like .Net / Sitecore are very elegant from a software architecture perspective. Websites are more business focused and established conventions coupled with technology advances means that in some ways the solutions to particular problems in web projects are simpler and actually quite conventional. For example, by maintaining good UX in leveraging JQuery for certain types of User Interface patterns. In the past this could have been a large and complex Flash animation design and build. Also, some of the important aspects of website design and build around accessibility, SEO and SEM are well understood. These are again relatively conventional but important aspects to a project and the platforms help. Although expert knowledge is still needed, it’s no longer a “dark art”.

We’ve integrated with most forms of CRM, ERP and customer business system. These days we’re always doing so via a (relatively) complete and well proven API – better than some of the things we’ve had to do in the past. CSS Positioning and the concepts of renderings, layouts and templates in CMS means that, in theory the presentation of the content part of a project should be easier.

We have to live with the complexity and find cost and time efficient ways of delivering. Overall, projects are still complex, will this change? Probably not. As one area becomes more established and easier to deliver there will always be something else. What’s gone is that delivering the complex projects we specialise in is now a lot less complicated. With the right knowhow, the right processes, use of the right tools by engaged and committed people leveraging “elegant” platforms, we can be significantly more certain that approaching a technical, information, integration or UX problem in a certain way will be the right one.

So what does this mean for the customer faced with producing a brief then selecting a CMS platform and implementation partner? They have little freedom to reduce the complexity other than resisting pointless features being brought into scope. They could opt to phase the project but where it’s a replacement for an existing web site then sometimes this isn’t an option. So they have no option but to face up to the fact that the project is going to be complex and approach procurement in a very sensible way and with a great deal of due diligence? Or, and this seems to be the case all too often, they ignore the complexity or perhaps simply can’t sense it. The project is badly delivered, often abandoned, often needing significant reworking and never really results in something that is fit for purpose. I know that we and our main competitors will not pursue these sorts of projects which means the customer is more likely to end up with a supplier that simply isn’t capable enough.

If the customer recognises that their project is complex then all they need to do is find an implementation partner that can make it all less complicated. The route to making it less complicated can sound even more complicated to the uninitiated as important activities such as information architecture design, proof of concept integration and UI pattern development are not likely to be common place or fully understood. One thing is certain, having a load of initial design visuals while making everyone feel better about their complex project and seemingly being a step in some direction is probably the worst starting point possible.