The Technical Debt Trap

Back then – it was just what you needed. You built a good looking website to front your business, and customers used it like the Yellow Pages. It was your online corporate brochure. But what was cutting edge just a few years ago is now common, and may convey the wrong message to your customers. With one brief look at your outdated or clunky site, they may just move on to another site without stopping. Customer expectations are now much higher than they used to be… and what used to be effective doesn’t work anymore.

So you added a Content Management System (CMS), created a customer portal to access it, and your site morphed from a storefront on the internet into a full-fledged enterprise IT system. If you thought getting the site up and running was a challenge – you had no idea the amount of effort it was going to take to keep it current: up-to-date with the latest data and content, and engaging enough to keep your customers coming back. And now, just a few years later, you’ve got system ROT: Redundant, Outdated, Trivial.

In retrospect, it never fully realized your vision for what the site could be. You knew it wasn’t working.

Most people know or suspect when their website
isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do.

From the maintenance perspective, it was hard to update because it used old content management tools, and it required a lot of web developer effort in order to update the page. From the user perspective, the information was difficult to consume: customers complained because it was too confusing and they didn’t know where to start; and your own people complained that it was too difficult to navigate and they didn’t even use it.

It was there to solve a problem, and it did, in fact, solve the major issue of “no web presence.” But it created another, longer term problem and your business stopped getting anything out of it. In fact, you were losing credibility – and business – as frustrated customers left the site, mentally crossing it off as one of their go-to sources.

Sometimes the problem (or the system) is just so big that getting going is the hardest part. Your internal team is focused on everyday management, and their core business is serving your customers – not upgrading systems or complex web properties.

Creating an IT solution that meets business goals, engages customers, and flows seamlessly is complicated. Much like going to a doctor or a car mechanic, you need IT expertise that understands how IT systems and usability work, and can recommend and implement a current technology solution that will give your customers the experiences they expect – e.g., search capabilities, mobile friendly, responsive design – and will create the ability for your customers to access your site and achieve an objective very quickly.

HOW TO GET “IT” GOING AGAIN

Your IT partner will start by conducting a Usability Assessment: understanding your business, figuring out if your systems are meeting your current business needs, and, most critically, identifying the gaps. This assessment gives you an idea about how far away your systems really are from where they need to be. Often, businesses are not as far away as they think. Others may need to plan to start from scratch.

The next step should be to get clear on what you want to accomplish through your web presence and clearly define success in terms that are measurable, e.g., hits, contacts, sales, registrations, etc. From there, a user experience review of the site will identify what each different audience needs from your site.

In the case of the inefficient web property, the solution could be an investment into a new, modern CMS that has better features so your team can create and edit the content themselves. This gives your sales and marketing team the capability to keep a more fluid connection between content creation and the customer – eliminating missed opportunities and eliminating the need (and the cost) for the techie middle man to do work that’s only vaguely tech related (and freeing him up to do his real job!)

Allocate appropriate resources – up front – for ongoing content generation and for publishing updates over a given period of time – to include both internal and external content generation, branding, and IT support.  Evaluate the return you expect against the cost of the development and ongoing effort, and ensure that your intended solution allows you to field a cost-effective solution – rather than a time and money sink.  Be realistic – generating content and keeping a site fresh is a long term commitment!

LINK UX TO SUCCESS

The larger business goal here would be to link all of the user experiences to revenue goals. By designing a user experience the keeps customers coming back, and provides product or sales managers with a viable way to keep customers engaged, you will have created a value-add vehicle out of your web property, with adjustable content and interactivity that meet changing market demands – and ROI that can be measured.

Sales calls, business cards, and beautiful brochures used to be the best ways to reach and engage buyers – from first touch to final sale. Now, sophisticated web properties, built with specification to meet business needs, are your best opportunities to establish and nurture relationships. With technology innovation moving at breakneck speed, and the competitive landscape fiercer than ever, you can be sure your competitors are forging ahead, embracing technology to build business.

Is the web property you have fulfilling your business needs? If it’s not doing its job (or it doesn’t have a job description!) then it’s time for a tune up… a reboot on what you’re trying to accomplish. Consider your investment for the lifetime of the property – from design and development through to operation and maintenance.

Because if you’re not ahead – you’re behind.

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