There’s a truism almost unique to the software and web industries: If a web developer is any good, they will put themselves out of a job.
In an increasingly digital world, that sounds an odd proposition. But in all but the most specialised industries, it is absolutely true.
And it’s certainly true in smaller business.
Get business news first
Sign up to SmartCompany’s daily newsletter
Code can be copied
We’ve discussed the concept in these pages before – that of an organisation’s need for developers diminishing over time – a concept that repeats itself through all technology development.
The way this concept works is that whenever a new technology is developed, it is essentially custom-developed. Because it hasn’t existed before, developers need to create it either from the “ground up” or by cobbling together different pieces of technology to create a new system.
This approach was rampant in the 90s. Developers everywhere were creating new applications for organisations prepared to pay them for it.
These initial attempts essentially become working prototypes for a more mass produced model, because once the system proves its value, the savvy developer replicates it and makes it available to other customers at little further cost.
Custom built to mass produced
And at this point it stops being a labour-intensive product and becomes a marketing-intensive one.
Where there’s smoke there’s fire. If it works for one organisation, it will surely work for another.
This single concept explains the staggering success of both Microsoft and Apple and, to a lesser degree, Facebook and Google.
They have all invested heavily in creating something new and then took it out to market as quickly as possible to ensure they have the biggest “installed base” for whom changing to a competitor becomes complex and difficult.
Competition creates cost reduction
This concept then takes another turn as competitors sniff the opportunity and start creating their own versions of the product.
This competition means that originators can no longer charge what they were initially able to as cheaper imitators come into the market – meaning an increasingly better deal for customers.
And so now it is in the website game.
Whereas, not that long ago, a developer would custom create a website for their client, nowadays there are dozens of ‘off-the-shelf’ website solutions that require little technical skill to maintain.
Features become commoditised
As time goes on, these solutions are improved – usually at no or little cost to the customer at all, becoming so good that there is simply no requirement for the custom developer. They just can’t compete with the increasingly sophisticated features the off-the-shelf solutions offer for their price.
This explains why websites which not that long ago cost tens of thousands of dollars now only cost a fraction of that or only a few hundred dollars for this technology component.
But while this technology is essentially commoditised, the same can’t be said (at least not as loudly) for the other key components of your website – design and content.
As clever as computers are, they are yet to be able to automatically create the ‘look and feel’ or the specific words used to portray your business and its product.
So where does that leave your developer?
Custom developers can’t compete
If they are smart, they will make like Messrs Gates and Jobs and create a fantastic product that can be easily replicated and distributed and clip the ticket for each unit sold.
If not, they will continue working for hourly rates, which, while not too shabby by today’s standards, is chickenfeed compared to what they could make by creating a killer application.
The only smaller business that need contemplate hiring a web developer on an ongoing basis is one that has such a specialised need, that no existing technology solution can provide it.
But as time goes on, the chances of that are becoming slimmer and slimmer.
Costs can mount significantly
The inherent risk that the above scenario provides is that an in-house developer may not (deliberately or otherwise) have your interests at heart, creating a system that requires specialised skills (i.e. expense) to maintain and improve, all while off-the-shelf solutions are becoming better and better value for money and their upgrades and improvements are provided as part of your subscription.
These ongoing custom improvements can over time cost a very significant sum – all when they are available cheaply via an off-the-shelf system.
It’s a scenario that underscores the importance of impartial advice on your websites and related software.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, 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 in Melbourne and beyond.