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Website Development: In-house or Outsource

by Glen Emerson Morris

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Any company with an in-house Information Technology Department faces a choice when developing or expanding its Website; it can ask the IT department to develop the Website, or it can bring in an outside company that specializes in Website development. There are a number of reasons that would suggest the IT department option would be the best approach, but in practice, the negatives outweigh the positives by a significant margin.

Going to an IT department to develop a Website is a lot like going to a dentist for heart surgery. The dentist would be unfamiliar with the techniques needed, and the anesthetic wouldn't begin to cover the pain involved.

IT departments generally make several kinds of mistakes when developing a Website, and all of them are expensive and can compromise the quality and effectiveness of the Website being developed.

Problems begin as soon as the project starts. IT departments generally don't understand what kind of requirement documents are needed, and the marketing department may not know either. Without documents that specify exactly what the Website should and shouldn't do, the chances of the finished Website satisfying the marketing department, and customers, are very slim. A Website development company will know what questions to ask, and will make sure they get the answers in writing before they start development.

Website development planning is also problematic because IT departments usually don't understand the complexity of Website development, and as a result, they tend to rely on impossibly optimistic schedules. Nothing gets done on schedule, so work overflows into evenings and weekends, and tired engineers make a lot of mistakes.

Another problem using in-house IT departments is that other departments are less likely to complain when the IT department get things wrong, especially in a tight job market. Complaints may be seen by senior management as unfounded, and IT department members may take the complaints on a personal level, making them inclined to retaliate later. The lack of complaints tends to reinforce the false idea that the Website is actually OK when it isn't, which can cripple the development effort.

Yet another problem with in-house development is that IT departments don't know much about quality assurance processes and procedures. If the IT department is smart enough to call in QA professionals to do the QA work, they are likely to call them in too early (because of optimistic schedules) wasting several thousands of dollars in the process, or too late, making the QA work incomplete and leaving the Website loaded with problems.

IT departments also frequently lack an adequate database to track problems found in the development and QA process. Commonly referred to bugbases, or defect bases, these databases are critical to recording problems for engineers to fix. Off-the-shelf bugbases tend to cost a considerable amount so in-house IT departments frequently opt to make their own. The result is usually a database that only covers part of what is actually needed, much to the detriment of the finished Website

IT departments also may be slow to provide QA contractors with the resources they need to test properly. It's not uncommon the find QA contractors sitting at desks in the hallways of IT departments, using outmoded computers running out of date versions of browsers. As a result, the QA testing may not find entire categories of problems that customers are sure to find.

Even more problems occur when the Website is to be multilingual. Most Websites developed in America are still in English only, but multilingual sites are becoming more common, and the problems they present are complex and expensive to overcome. IT departments tend to build the English version of the Website first, and then clone it and substitute additional languages as needed. A more efficient approach is to build a site designed to support multiple languages from the start. This method requires less QA, and ultimately less development time as well. Website development companies with previous experience developing multilingual sites are the best bet in this case. They have already gone through a significant learning curve, and they understand the kind of architecture needed for a successful site.

Another issue to consider is accountability. It is usually far easier to fire a Website development company than it is to fire key members of the IT department. The IT members will have skills that will take considerable time for new hires to acquire, and the normal day to day operations of the IT department may be compromised until they are up to speed. Firing a Website development team is not likely to have any effect on day to day operations of a company, and they know it.

Members of IT departments are not likely to agree with many of these points for several reasons. They may sincerely believe they have the ability to develop Websites, or they may see using outside developers as a loss of power and prestige. They may also want the additional budget increase that is needed for any real Website development. The best proof they are correct is a track record of having successfully developed Websites before. If they don't have this kind of experience, an outside developer should be brought in.

Glen Emerson Morris has worked as a technology consultant for Network Associates, Yahoo!, Ariba, WebMD, Inktomi, Adobe, Apple and Radius, and is the developer of the Advertising & Marketing Review Data CD.

Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

' keywords: Internet advertising, Internet marketing, business, advertising, Internet, marketing. For more advertising and marketing help, news, resources and information visit our Home Page.

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