Building the Best Digital Solution
Generic vs. Bespoke Digital Platforms
DISCOVER PHASE FINDINGS
Our last blog article, Determining the Best Digital Solution, covered the different types of digital solutions we create and our process for recommending the best solution for each client. We use the Discover phase of our TIA to ask lots of questions and research all of the different pathways we could take to successfully reach the clients’ end goals. Also mentioned in our last blog: sometimes clients have selected a third-party service provider to work with before coming to us. Their expectation is that we will build a platform incorporating this third-party service provider’s platform. So researching that service provider and their offerings, and understanding how it fits into the clients end goal, are important questions to answer before starting the Scope and Implementation phases. We don’t want to get halfway through development and realize the third-party platform doesn’t function the way the client expected it to work.
In these cases, we take extra precaution to make sure that the third-party service provider is the best fit for the project. In some cases, a generic platform is all the client needs, but if there is any sort of customization desired, a bespoke solution will be the better answer in the end.
Third-party vendors provide benefits in some situations because they offer pre-designed and determined processes, like a simple click-to-book scheduling service or even advanced scheduling of recurring events.
For example, Client A wanted to set up a guest transportation company and give customers the opportunity to schedule a ride on their website. We built the custom website and incorporated the online reservation and booking software, Book Rides Online, into the website. Since the desired action of booking a ride didn’t need a lot of customization, a generic booking system worked for this client.
However, if the client is looking for ways to customize a generic platform and build the digital solution around it, the whole project will most likely fall short of expectations. In this case, a custom built platform is the better option. A client-hosted system provides increased stability, performance and security. This route will prove more cost-effective over time and will be a great asset to the company. Benefits of a custom platform include:
- The ability to seamlessly scale capacity as Client X grows with minimal-to-no additional cost
- Client Xs’ complete ownership of company data
- Ability to completely customize reports
- No need to worry about losing data due to factors outside of the client’s control
- More options to enhance the user experience with new features unique to their platform
- One less server/service with potential downtime/outages
- Faster communication between the user and the database; which means fewer network requests that can potentially fail
- No need to worry about the third-party service provider dramatically raising prices or going out of business
Going back to the example from the last blog, Client X needed a completely customized, robust booking system. Using a third party platform for that level of complex scheduling can bring up a lot of issues, like reliance on a third-party for storing and managing data, limited customization for customer experience, requiring extra servers/services that could fail and the service provider raising prices or going out of business.
There were also certain functionalities we knew the client wanted from our Discover phase questions. Client X wanted to be able to control how and when they charged a customer. They wanted customers to swipe their credit card at check in, but not charge the card until checkout. But not all payment gateway providers offer this functionality, or have other requirements, like a certain number of transactions per month, to be able to use that functionality. Based on the goals of the project, we recommended Client X not use their selected generic platform and work with us to build a completely customized platform. We knew it would provide a better long-term solution for their company.
This is why we insist clients take the Discover and Scope phases seriously. If we had made that realization after hours of development work, it would have caused major delays and extra work to correct it.
THIRD-PARTY VETTING PROCESS
Our Development team has a robust vetting process in place when it comes to third-party service providers. We want to make sure we are working with trustworthy companies, but the primary vetting we do is to ensure the functionality of the providers’ system(s) actually meets the requirements of the project. Our Development team looks at multiple aspects of the vendor and their offerings, including:
- Documentation provided by the vendor
- Technical integration options and limitations (APIs, Webhooks, Embeds)
- Data export options in the event of needing to switch platforms
- Perceived quality of the service or product
- Pricing, with scalability in mind as the product grows) and also to compare to the cost of building a bespoke replacement
- Fit of desired implementation. Technical shortcomings within third-parties due to implementation demands can cause major issues if not discovered before starting the development of a project
In the case of Client X, this process is what helped us make our recommendation for a bespoke solution rather than continuing the project with the third-party service provider they had originally selected. The selected vendor had limited documentation, poor communication channels, didn’t want to give us information or respond to our questions and their platform didn’t actually have all the features the sales rep told Client X. If our Development team had not thoroughly researched this vendor ahead of time, it would have caused a major delay in project completion.
UNDERSTAND PROJECT GOALS
One of the first things we determine when working with a client are the goals for the digital solution. From there, we look for all the possible ways of achieving those goals. Having that information early on in the process helps us to make informed, well-researched recommendations of the best way to build a digital tool, whether it’s using a generic or bespoke platform.