Recently, I got one of those calls that digital professionals dread.
My client had just taken on a new IT support provider who started their work by doing an audit of the organisation’s software, infrastructure and communications.
Naturally, they got to the matter of the organisation’s website and were soon questioning why the client was paying $79 a month for their website.
So, reluctantly, I went to meet with the new provider.
I explained that the sum was not – as it may have appeared, a hosting cost as such but a monthly licence fee for their excellent integrated online communications platform, which integrated their entire website, content management system, email marketing system, CRM, e-commerce, form builders and so on.
Comparing apples with apples
Because the entire system was created by a single web software company, there was no ongoing outlay for upgrades of disparate components or plugins or the cost of making such disparate components work together.
The company also provided high quality hosting and technical support for the system. For the client, the system represented outstanding value in having no maintenance or upgrade costs.
I also explained that I work as the organisation’s ‘webmaster’ or ‘web marketer’ and therefore was ‘agnostic’ of platform. At the time of our hiring, we looked at all the available integrated platforms on the market and found that the one we chose best met the various communications, skill and budget requirements of the client.
Unfortunately, my explanation fell on deaf ears.
A really false economy
“No, we can get this hosting service for about $10 a month if that. And there are lots of open source plugins that can do everything ‘your’ system does. So we no longer require your service, thank you.”
I departed the meeting shaking my head that an IT provider based what was essentially a marketing and communications decision based on their judgement of the monthly ‘hosting’ fee.
I also knew very well that the provider wouldn’t outline the true cost of migrating the entire website and its technology to a new platform. Or the cost of maintaining a website platform that was essentially cobbled together by a mish-mash of disparate and rarely integrated plugins or modules, most of which were created by different open source developers.
And that they were probably not qualified to comment on how easy it was for organisation staff to manage the system themselves, or to recommend a fully integrated email marketing system, or ensure that the CRM was workable for the various client data requirement of the organisation, or was set up in a way that content would easily feed to the homepage and so on.
In other words, a person qualified in all things technical was making a decision about the best technology requirements for what were administration, marketing and communications tasks.
Or a case of the tail wagging the dog.
Last I heard about the new platform was that the costs of migration blew out, the design cost five times more than what it would have cost with the incumbent system, none of the various features would talk to one another and the costs of maintaining the site with the latest plugin versions and upgrades was costing well in excess of $79 a month.
Not only that, staff complained that the system was just too difficult for them to use.
In other words, they had ditched their reasonably priced, low maintenance system for a supposedly cheaper but in reality far more expensive, unusable lemon.
A proper investigation
A good IT provider would have looked at the existing system in greater detail, would have recognised the value of complete integration between technical features, would have taken the skills of staff and would have done a true cost analysis of switching to and maintaining a disparate open source system.
They would also have properly investigated the organisation’s ongoing marketing and communications requirements and if they didn’t grasp them, talk to someone who did.
And they would also have concluded that the incumbent system was perfect for this organisation.
The problem for many smaller organisations though is that a decent audit may not be cheap, so they leave it in the hands of their so-called expert. And of course, the business operator doesn’t have the technical knowledge to question the decision of the provider.
In a perfect world, and as described here last week, your higher level marketing and communications planning would provide a list of requirements that the technology needed to fulfil and the budget available to fulfil it.
It’s the role of the IT professional to work with the marketing and communications staff to identify, test and implement systems that meets these requirements and not to tell these staff what they should be using and why.
I’m still waiting for the call to re-instate the original website platform. Or maybe they’ve hired another so-called technical expert to reinvent another faulty wheel for them.
Are your IT people qualified to make decisions like this for your organisation?
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs.