After 20 years working in the tech industry I’m still never quite sure how to succinctly explain what I do to people I meet. Not being a 20-something hipster I am definitely not a persona-led user experience engineer. More often than not I’ll simply tell people that I ‘design websites’. But I don’t. At least not in the way they think. Perhaps I should explain…
In our recent consultancy projects we’ve found that a surprising number of business leaders still think of a ‘website’ as a discrete asset – one that sits on a ’business for dummies’ checklist somewhere between having your logo designed and ensuring you have sufficient business cards. Lots of companies out there (such as 1&1 my website) will happily pander to that perception – enabling businesses to create sites that look as good as the professionally-designed competition for just a few quid a month. So, job done – right?
Not really. After all it’s not 2005 any more. (Wake up and smell the Cortardo already!) Your web site might look as good as a professionally-designed solution, but if it’s not helping data flow seamlessly within your organisation and between you and your customers it’s almost certainly costing your business money. Because online tech has evolved to the point where your 'website' can (and should) be the hub of your business, arbitrating the exchange of data and ensuring everyone has the information they need to do their job effectively.
This concept of an online business hub is something that WordPress, SalesForce, and Magento are all converging on (from their backgrounds in blogging, CRMs and e-commerce respectively). However, to deliver this wider functionality they often rely on third-party extensions. And so the shining promise of turnkey business functionality can often descend into a hellish mess of incompatible plugins that deliver 80% of the functionality you need (but not the 20% you really need).
This failure of the 'one size fits all' single vendor platform is leading more and more businesses to combine multiple off-the-shelf solutions. They’ll use one online product for their CRM, another for their store, and yet another for accounting and stock control. This has given rise to still more third-party services, APIs and plug-ins designed to help these disparate systems talk to one another. And just like before they mostly work (except when they don’t).
We recently worked with a company where one staff member spent half her day manually copying and pasting data from one online system to another. We’re now unpicking their business fundamentals with them in order to craft a system that works with their core business processes (instead of forcing them to try and fit a square peg into a round hole). It’s quite an investment, but then so is paying for three off-the-shelf systems that turn staff members into demoralised (and error-prone) data-input drones.
The real positive of getting this all down on (virtual) paper is that I’m a lot clearer about what it is that we do as a company. We build online systems that enable our clients to work efficiently and, more importantly, in exactly the way they want to.
We don’t build websites.