One of the classic decisions any manager or project-manager has to make time and time again is the choice between: “Make” or “Buy”, or to be more precise between:
- Bespoke solutions (make)
- Bespoke/Confection solutions (buy/adjust, customize)
- Confection solutions (buy)
This goes for projects in the real world as well as for projects in the virtual world. In fact if you’re planning to a social media integration into your company website or software, the same principle applies.
One of the greatest misconceptions about companies in technology sectors or markets is that they consist of 95% technicians and engineers and 5% sales and administration staff etc. If anything: it’s the other way around. It has become almost impossible to cater to all markets from an inhouse department of technicians, romantically portraid as fuzzy Einsteins, thinking brilliant thoughts and coming up with new patents everyday following an explosion or two.
In fact: having worked at some of the major players in these sectors, I was surprised to find that many of them don’t even have a Research & Development department anymore. This is because it is simply more economical to leave the development in the hands of specialized third parties and provide customer service and brand-familiarity as well as distribution networks instead.
This is true of many sectors, and it applies to the internet sector just as well. Every time Google, Twitter, Facebook, Skype or some other major player introduce a new service, it could be that they completely developed it inhouse. But chances are that they responded to or anticipated a future demand in the marketplace, developed a concept to cater to this perceived demand and asked themselves: “Make or Buy?”
Given the constantly increasing pressure to lower time to market, the likelyhood that this decision will fall in the favor of “Buy”, increases too. And so many services such as: Video-sharing on Twitter, Facebook integration in Skype, Google Voice and many other innovative features we see spring up around us every day are customized and rebranded features corporations “Buy” by integrating small startups, large competitors or third party technologies. And even when the decision is “Make” an inhouse solution is most likely based on existing components. After all: would it make sense to reinvent the internet every time you decide to make a website?
Small Business Strategy
So if you’re a small or medium sized company, and you want to develop a social media enabled website, software to enable better communication with your customers or other innovative features and you find yourself thinking about developing it yourself, outsourcing it or buying technologies to integrate into your website: why should you have any other considerations then the large players in this market and simply choose to:”Buy!”
There are a few objections worth considering:
- Third party technologies may force you in some cases to relinquish control over information or critical processes such as client information, sales leads or innovative processes that drive your company’s growth or financial income;
- Providers of third party technologies or their employees may have alterior motives such as: making more hours then necessary in helping you implement a solution or making sure that lucrative maintenance work recurs more often then it should in contract or in reality;
- A technology maybe too expensive to consider for your organization in any case, wether you develop it inhouse, outsource it or buy it. Facebook and Google have plenty of cash to burn, but you might be on a budget;
- Ofcourse: buying a company and it’s technology presuposes whole other levels of control then outsourcing or integrating standard bits of technology and even then the person who has most knowledge of the technology or who developed it might misuse their knowledge advantage or leave and take their knowledge elsewhere;
If none of these objections apply to a degree worth considering then it’s best to compare solutions within your budget, time constraints and technical capabilities.
Choosing a Host:
- Is your site a vital part of your core business? Host it yourself if you can afford a stable platform and good technicians to keep your server running smoothly.
- If you have a smaller budget, low traffic levels and/or less security concerns: rent a dedicated or virtual server with a trusted Host company;
- Is your site a less important distribution or communication channel at this stage? Get a standard hosting account with a Host company that can anticipate any future growth by securely switching to any of the options mentioned above once the need arises
- Make sure your Host company supplies secure and stable server platforms with guaranteed up-times and other service levels;
- Make sure your Host company offers an open infrastructure to which you can apply many different software standards, languages and protocols and review their documentation about these options beforehand;
- Before you choose a Hosting option, review the software (platforms), you will most likely implement because your choice for either a Linux or a Windows based server account limit your choices;
Choosing a Web Platform:
- There are many platforms, online services, ready made CMS’s and programs that you can base your entire website or online service upon. Here are some considerations:
- Is the platform compatible with mobile devices? Is it easy to cater to Android, Blackberry, IPhone and IPad devices (if this is your ambition and you have time and resources to put towards their development and maintenance) or do mobile sites have to be developed seperately?
- Does the platform give you access to relevant user data or enable third party integration of analytics software and if so does this enable social media monitoring or just conventional data analysis?
- Does the platform enable multi-media applications such as documents,video, photo’s, sounds etc? Is this capability extended to uploading/downloading, sharing, bookmarking or even streaming live narrowcasts and does it cater for a social element? Are there any file-type restrictions?
- What is the level of control and legal ownership you and your users will have over the data and code you (co-)create?
- What is the level of security and encryption provided for you and your users?
- What is the level of customization you can apply to the code? Are you just allowed to tweek standard features or can you add custom code and/or rewrite parts of it?
- Which platforms are popular and have an open interaction with other popular platforms or applications?
Choosing Social Media Options:
- Should you allow your employees, customers and users access to social media?
- Should you have a social media policy, codes of conduct or other restrictions?
- Which Social Media should you enable? There are many sites to choose from and some niche sites provide services that larger networks don’t while their sheer size makes Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for example obvious choices. Facebook has a more personal character then LinkedIn, so for employee access it makes less sense. If on the other hand you are looking for a channel to market your consumer products to then a Facebook Fanpage makes much more sense then a company Profile on LinkedIn for example;
Choosing individual Social Media Applications:
- Due to the open character of large platforms such as provided by Google, Apple, WordPress etc. a large market of free and premium applications and plugins has arissen which in many cases eliminates the need to develop your own social media applications. This market contains many social media applications which can be added to your site with limited effort and can be customized in many cases;
- However: due to the open character of these market places quality or security assurances can often not be given and with nothing much to go on accept a rating or review by the creator and his/her friends this might mean a risk to the stability and security of your site or application;
- It is therefor wise to get some advice on choosing between applications or paying for an application that has proven itself for some time with many customers if it’s workings are important to your site. On the other hand: if you want to be on the cutting edge of the latest technologies you may choose to run a risk sometimes;
This post is also available in: Dutch