Andrew Barr, Sunday, 3 November 2019
I was with a friend of mine recently, and she was telling me about a new service she has been working on that focuses on women re-entering the workforce. It is an exciting idea, and I have no doubt it will be well received.
During the discussion, she mentioned how labour intensive it is for her and the candidates to update and then collate their experience for assessment and then presentation. To reduce the load, she quickly progressed from email to a website to collect information from candidates.
As we talked about how that works, we started to discuss what the technology roadmap might be and how technology can assist with streamlining the whole process. I went away determined to email her with a list of things to consider when planning her investment in technology. Instead, I have written this post. While not exhaustive list it might serve as a starting point for people in a similar situation.
It’s Quick, Easy and Cheap to Set up a Website
You can get started quickly and with a small outlay. With gig based services providing access to developers, there are plenty of off-the-shelf platforms. Together with hosting services like
AWS you can have a simple site that collects data up and running in a matter of weeks if not days. If this is all you need, then the primary things to consider focus on owning the accounts that run the website.
Own Your Online Presence
At a minimum, your business should own the following items/accounts:
- The domain name. You or your business should be the registered owner and be the primary contact for renewal
- The DNS service (The way your users find your site). This service will direct people who visit your web address (Domain) to your physical website
- Your hosting account ( e.g. AWS, Azure, Digital Ocean etc.). As the owner, you can provide access to your developers, but you must retain administrative control
- You will need a code repository to hold a copy of your site ( e.g. GitHub, Bitbucket etc.). Owning a copy of the code is especially important if you are using one-off contracts to build and update your website
- SSL certificates so you can ensure they are always current. The SSL certificates secure the traffic to and from your site and are essential
Each of these things gives you control of your online presence and who can access the code that makes your site work and the data that you are collecting. While it may sound complicated none of these things is difficult to understand with a little research and will be invaluable should you need to change content, change developers or change hosting services.
Be Prepared To Update Your Technology
It is rare that an application that collects data will remain static. There are two primary reasons for wanting to make changes:
- You think of more ways that your site can save you time and money
- The underlying framework and hosting service will continue to evolve and require maintenance (This is particularly important for security updates)
As well as owning the accounts and items listed above it is essential to take note of the framework and languages that have been used to build your site. Engaging someone new to make changes to a site that has remained static for a period will be more straightforward if you have an understanding of how your original developer created the site.
The Interface Can be the Tip of an Iceberg
When we begin to think about moving a task online, we have a picture in our head of a form and the types of information we would like to collect. That information is then available to us to access and use in some way.
Don’t discount the functional infrastructure required to deliver value. Some items you might consider when thinking about building your portal:
- Do I need automated emails or Text Messages? If so what services are available and how do I control the events that trigger them?
- Do I need reports? If so how are they built, have I considered the time component (Daily, weekly monthly etc.) and how will they be delivered?
- Do I need someone to support my Users? If so who will it be, what hours are they available and how does a User contact them?
These are some fundamental questions that you should consider before you launch your website. Depending on your business there may be much more.
Most People Use their Mobile Device
Regardless of the transaction, you are putting online there is every chance that your Clients are going to try and complete it on their mobile or tablet in addition to their laptop and desktop.
Spend some time thinking about your mobile strategy. Most website frameworks will support resposive design natively. However, there is some work to do around modelling the changes between the different screen sizes. Pick a Developer who can work with you to explain your choices and provide suggestions.
Developers Can Be Dicks
I worked as a Developer so feel I can say this with certainty. Developers can be literal in their interpretations of requirements and might prefer to be left alone while they build your site.
Not all developers are like this, and it is worth spending some time speaking with other people who have worked with the Developer and the Developer themselves. It pays dividends to be completely aligned on the items listed above, the feedback loop and the timing of communication.
Solve Todays Problem. However …
You don’t need to build something for a future that might not happen, but you should prepare yourself for continuing to invest time and money in your portal.
Technology can be a great enabler for any business, but it can also end up being a way of frustrating your Clients and putting your business at risk.
Hopefully, this basic checklist can help you if you are considering putting something online. Alternatively, drop me a line I am happy to help if I can.