6 ways to get your web presence and infrastructure in shape for 2010

In this lingering recession, everyone is looking for new ways to better position themselves to compete and grow revenue. A lower level of consumer and business spending will require efficiency, careful optimization and leverage of low cost assets and methods. It’s time to get into shape! Here are 6 ways to revamp and strengthen your web sites and infrastructure on a modest budget:

Revamp your web strategy for a web 2.0+ world.

The internet world has dramatically changed in the last 3-4 years. Social networks, user communities, user generated content, twitter, the iPhone and other mobile devices, GPS and location aware devices and the other components of Web 2.0 completely altered the way businesses and users communicate and transact online. Each of the Web 2.0 components come with their own set of opportunities and challenges. They provide new channels that enable communication at a fraction of the cost while demanding a new approach to openness, transparency and interactivity. Regulatory, security and governance concerns are not always easy to address. Chart a path in these new waters by rethinking your Web Strategy and redefine the role that the web and other digital channels will play in the company’s future and put a plan in place for its execution.  

Implement a social media strategy and measure its value

Social media tools are a great way to build honest online relationship with customers and other audiences. Doing it right is not always easy. A social media strategy will force you to think through and define where to be and what is to be communicated, set the tone and nature of interactions, set guidelines on how to respond to negative feedback, factor in legal and regulatory implications, address intellectual property and security issues and many other aspects need to be thought through. In addition, measuring the impact of these activities is not always easy. Building a model that can assess and provide value guidelines is very important. 

Reduce costs by Leveraging open source and Cloud web infrastructure components

We have a client who recently came to us asking advice after a planned $3M Oracle e-business implementation turned into a projected $15M 3 year project. We recommended they look at OfBiz and other open source e-commerce frameworks. Open source enterprise level software , SaaS and Cloud Computing have matured to the level that major organizations are leveraging these low cost scalable solutions to build a robust infrastructure that can replace big investments in hardware, software licenses and data centers.  

Take control of your content – Deploy a Content Management Solution

For many companies, fresh content is key to repeat visits. As sites scale, managing and maintaining them becomes an expensive and difficult task often dependent on IT or external resources. Content Management Systems (CMS) provide business users with the ability to modify and update sites and global structures that make graphical changes easy to implement. They also provide ability to segment users, add personalization and social features such as Blogs and community without the need for additional software and services.

User Experience Redesign

If your website has not gone through a redesign in the last 3 years, chances are that it looks dated. What looks fresh and relevant changes all the time and the key in the last few years has been incorporation of user engagement and interactivity, quality content that speaks more directly to the users, content targeting and using sites as relationship building tools rather than one way communication streams. Sites need to add rich content, video and mobile support as well as dynamic interfaces. All these changes contribute substantially to improved website ROI

Optimize sites for goals and conversion

It’s crucial that every marketing and search dollar is well spent. To do this, websites need strong web analytics so that sites can be continuously optimized to maximize conversion and be careful to avoid the main pitfalls. Web analytics capability allows businesses to test new ideas, layouts and promotions and to quickly refine them to drive sales and traffic as well as optimize search and marketing spend. With Google analytics and other low costs services, setting great analytics does not have to mean big bucks.

Globalization and Localization of web sites

Many companies that sell products or services internationally are finding themselves in a familiar dilemma, should their web presence be global or local?

While a global site is easy to control and maintain and can ensure consistency in branding and content quality, it can not address local culture, interests and variation.

I’ve come across an interesting view on the site of the Localization Industry Standards Association www.lisa.org

They see Globalization as a process with 2 parts

  • Internationalization which is the process for defining applications and sites to work in every market
  • Localization which is the adaptation of the International framework to local needs and

And the process as:

I agree that the best approach in most cases is to plan for the site and application to work anywhere and then build in enough flexibility for local control and adjustments.

The challenge in this approach is that defining international requirements and anticipating all local variations is very expensive and time consuming. So what should a company that is expanding internationally do? Here are a few questions and guidelines to consider:

  • Scope of localization: how are you products or services different around the world? Is it exactly the same product (jewelry tableware for example) or does a local audience may have preferences that will impact selection and availability of products (fashion and cosmetics). If the products need to meet local regulations, standards or laws (220V or 110V for consumer electronics, Material Safety or FDA approvals for Chemicals and Drugs) or if products include attributes like language that will make them market specific (Books and CD’s). In each case, a single catalog for all products will provide the easiest way to maintain master product data but sites level of granularity may be determined by the variance in offering. It may be truly global, regional, country or language specific.
  • Centralized or Distributed management. Who will maintain content, details, specs etc. in local languages? Do you assume that a product is not released until all languages have been updated? Do you allow a default language to remain until a local language become available? Is this the responsibility of a central translation group of does it goes downstream to the local group to translate? (If you are thinking about machine translation, don’t. This technology is still not ready for prime time and will drive off disappointed customers)
  • How local should you go? to create a true sense of local site and service, certain adjustments may be needed to the site so it does not look like the translated version of the global template. Does the site has local news and events? Is there editorial content from local sources? Are reviews and communities local? Does the interface adapt to local language without cutting words or providing headers in English? Are local conventions like time format, date format, calendar, currency, address, name formats etc. are specific or generic?
  • Build from scratch or retrofit? While substantial amounts have been invested in current web and e-commerce infrastructure, allowing for globalization and localization is not an easy retrofit and in many cases it will be faster and cheaper in the long term to build a technology foundation that is designed to support these issues. Technology issues to consider:
    • Separation of content from the display. There should be no text or images in pages and no parameters in queries. Many CMS systems support localization and handle pages this way by default but custom build CMS systems rarely do.
    • Support for UTF-8: databases and management tools as well as search engines must support UTF-8
    • Caching and Performance: a system must be designed with advanced caching to avoid extensive load on the database for rendering local editions
    • Support for variable length and right to left interfaces. Different languages have very different word length and even orientation. How will interfaces that were designed for exact size look?

While these are not simple questions to answer and resolve, creating a global experience with local flavors and details can substantially impact the ability of a company to succeed internationally.

Cloud Computing: Where is the Killer App?

As an avid reader, I have read too many articles lately about how the bleak economy was going to drive more IT teams to use cloud computing. The real question: what are the proper applications for Cloud Computing? For the more conservative IT leader, there must be a starting point that isn’t throwing one of your mission-critical applications into the cloud.

One of the best applications of cloud computing that I have seen implemented recently is content management software. One of the challenges with content management is that it is difficult to predict the ultimate storage needs. If the implementation is very successful, the storage needs start small and immediately zoom into hundreds of gigabytes as users learn to store spreadsheets, drawings, video and other key corporate documents. Open source content management software can be deployed quickly on cloud computing servers and the cost of storage will ramp up in line with the actual usage. Instead of guessing what the processor needs and storage will be, the IT leader can simply start the implementation and the cloud computing environment will scale as needed. My suggestion is to combine wiki, content management and Web 2.0 project management tools running in the cloud computing space for your next major software implementation project or large corporate project.

A second “killer” application for cloud computing is software development and testing. One of the headaches and major costs for software development is the infamous need for multiple environments for developing and testing. This need is compounded when your development team is using Agile development methodologies and the testing department is dealing with daily builds. The cloud computing environment provides a low-cost means of quickly “spinning up” a development environment and multiple test environments. This use of the cloud  is especially beneficial for web-based development, and testing load balancing for high traffic web sites. The ability to “move up” on processor speeds, number of processors, memory and storage helps establish real baselines for when the software project moves to actual production versus the traditional SWAG approach. The best part is that once the development is complete, the cloud computing environment can be scaled back to maintenance mode and there isn’t unused hardware waiting for re-deployment.

The third “killer” application is data migration. Typically, an IT leader will need large processing and storage needs for a short term, to rapidly migrate data from an older application to a new one. Before the cloud, companies would rent hardware, use it briefly and ship it back to vendor. The issue was guessing the necessary CPU power and storage needs to meet the time constraints for the dreaded cut-over date. The scalability of the cloud computing environment reduces the hardware cost for data migrations and allows flexibility for quickly adding processors on that all important weekend. There is simply no hardware to dispose of when the migration is complete. Now that is a “killer” application in my humble opinion. By the way, cloud computing would be an excellent choice for re-platforming an application, too, especially if the goal is to make the application scaleable.

In summary, if your IT team has a short term hardware need, then carefully consider cloud computing as a cost effective alternative. In the process, you might discover your “killer app” for cloud computing.