On a daily basis, I encounter this statement from clients: “I’ll somehow have a stand alone product customizer built and offer product customization on my site.” This line of thinking typically has two sides. One side is the good ol’ offshore approach. In other words, I’ll hire a dev team in some exotic location for pennies on the dollar and have a product configurator that I own. The other side is proprietary. In other words, I’ll get my IT staff to put together a fully functioning product configurator for the site. Both worthy goals. But is it that easy?
Reason 1 – Getting the right development team
Often , I get calls that go something like this: “I called you guys back in the day because the guys I hired offshore to develop my product customizer can’t deliver. I know we spoke a half a year ago but now I’m in a bind. Can you help me?” You see, offshore development is a gamble. They may not always be there when you need them most. Are they able to understand you effectively? Can they understand the nuance and complexity of your project to roll it out right? Another key factor: you need a partner who can understand your business. Selling one of a kind widgets that to a specialized market? Or are you grouped in the same category as the mass produced widgets from acme company. Can your offshore team handle that kind of project scope? Are three guys in a remote region able to handle your multinational company? Or are you just another account? You also want to make sure you have a partner there for the long haul. “Here today gone tomorrow” won’t cut it for your product line when developing the right product configurator.
I have a great idea. Let’s build a CRM from scratch…
Sometimes, I’ll speak to clients who want to tap their IT team to build a product configurator. There’s two main parts to this approach. Simply put, does your IT team have the time to dedicate this project? Your IT team are crazy busy trying to handle their current load. Updates, hardware issues, security problems and on and on. Now try throwing software development into that big mix. Sounds like fun right? First, there are the planning stages. Also, there is development of a wireframe. Then, you have to develop and debug the software. Of course you have to integrate the software as well. What we are talking about here is time and a lot of it. Do your guys and gals have that time?
It’s a pretty good bet that your core business is probably not developing product configurators. Your IT team is focused on a specific set of deliverables and they are expert at it. But they aren’t supermen and women. Tasking your IT team to in effect retrain and develop a totally different deliverable takes them off task, reduces overall productivity from core IT functions and ultimately you get a product that your IT really doesn’t do well because this is the first time they are doing it. I’ll also let you in on a little IT secret. If your IT team develops a proprietary customizer, they will likely have a special fondness for it and hate to get rid of it in the event you want to replace it later on because it doesn’t work right.
The other aspect to a product customizer that is often overlooked is whether your graphics team (if you have one) can be dedicated to the development of a product customizer. In between the website and other work, graphic teams are tapped out. Will your product line be represented in the best possible light? Graphics that are done as a side project may not get the right attention to detail that is needed for a product configurator. The reality is that you’ll want your products rendered in the best possible light.
In other words, would you develop your CRM from scratch when you can implement something off the shelf? Of course not. Why should a product customizer be any different?
And by the way…. Did we have that little chat about social media?
Let’s say your IT team finally got that customizer working after months of hard labor. Not so fast there. Now you want to share with all of social media groups. You know, Facebook, Twitter etc. Yes, they aren’t going away. Did your IT team plan for social media integration? Your developer will tell you that it is a lot of extra work because he has never done something like that before. He’s confident that in another month he’ll have a working prototype. Not a good idea. Better plan on having social media as an integral part of your product configurator.
Next, we’ll talk about ideas for developing a great UI