Content Management Systems

How can anyone spend $392M for a website that doesn’t work?   That is the question many Americans including congressmen, senators and the president are asking about the botched launch of the new national health insurance exchange website.  There are really two parts to this question – 1) why doesn’t it work? And 2) why has it cost so much?

How can anyone spend $392M for a website that doesn’t work?   That is the question many Americans including congressmen, senators and the president are asking about the botched launch of the new national health insurance exchange website.  There are really two parts to this question – 1) why doesn’t it work? And 2) why has it cost so much?

Broken HealthCare.gov v3

Most of the debate has focused on the first question, which is actually the easier one to answer.  HHS, the government agency that oversaw the development, and its contractors simply didn’t allow enough time to thoroughly test the system before the October 1st deadline.  The first full test of the system was delayed until just two weeks before the launch date, when it should have happened at least two months prior.  Ultimately the glitches will be fixed, the web site will work properly and the bumpy start of the program will be long forgotten.

However, the American taxpayer will still have spent $400M or more on a website that was originally budgeted at $94M!  Granted, the Healthcare.gov website is complex with a lot of connections to other government systems, but it’s nowhere near as complex as Facebook which took 6 years to spend $500M, or LinkedIn which has lasted on $200M in funding since its inception.  I sell custom software, so maybe my indignation at this government excess is really just me channeling my jealousy of the government contractors who walked away from this deal with a huge bundle of cash.  I would have been happy to take on the assignment for a mere $50M and we’d all be better off  Smiley_gif.

Fed IT Spending v4

Rather than trying to explain how our government can burn through so much of our hard earned taxes on a website, let me offer a few tips on how you can avoid overpaying for custom software:

  1. Get quotes from multiple vendors – The cheapest bidder isn’t always the best choice, but be wary of any vendors who are significantly more expensive than the rest.
  2. Ask each vendor for their average hourly rate – A high rate may be indicative of better programmers, but it may also mean you are paying for excessive overhead or profit.
  3. Hire an expert – If you don’t have the internal expertise to evaluate technical proposals from different vendors, hire someone who does.  You will save you money in the long run.
  4. Invest in documenting your requirements upfront – Vendors will be in a better position to quote a fixed price, with fewer conditions, if they know what you want.
  5. Schedule payments based on measurable milestones – If the selected vendor fails to deliver as promised on the earliest phases, consider ending the relationship before the project gets completely derailed.
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Are you often baffled by the techno-jargon used by software programmers?  Do you sometimes wonder what all those acronyms mean – CMS, PPC, PHP, CSS, C++, .NET...?  Rest assured that you are not alone.  Just like lawyers and doctors, programmers have their own technical jargon.   If you are not a lawyer, doctor or programmer, you can’t be expected to be fluent in their language.  However, that doesn’t mean you can’t be informed, particularly when you are in need of their services.

Are you often baffled by the techno-jargon used by software programmers?  Do you sometimes wonder what all those acronyms mean – CMS, PPC, PHP, CSS, C++, .NET…?  Rest assured that you are not alone.  Just like lawyers and doctors, programmers have their own technical jargon.   If you are not a lawyer, doctor or programmer, you can’t be expected to be fluent in their language.  However, that doesn’t mean you can’t be informed, particularly when you are in need of their services.

Confused by techno-jargon

This blog is designed to make marketing technology more accessible to those who need to understand it for their work but don’t have to actually create it themselves.  Some of the more techno savvy readers might find the presentation too elementary, while the technophobes among us might find it somewhat confusing.  I’ll do my best to satisfy the broadest audience in the middle.  I’ll also ask those of you with more in depth knowledge to keep me honest with your comments, and those with less knowledge to ask questions if something doesn’t make sense.  Hopefully we’ll all gain in the process.

Let’s jump right in with a discussion about a software system that is now ubiquitous in the marketing technology world – WordPress.  What is it?  What’s is good for? And what are its limitations?

WordPress Log

According to Wikipedia “WordPress is a free and open source blogging tool and a content management system (CMS)…”  Let’s dissect this definition.  First, WordPress is “free and open source” which means that anyone can use WordPress software, without paying a licensing fee.  It also means that programmers can contribute their own enhancements to the code (“plugins”) to expand its core functionality.  As of this writing, there were 26,801 plugins available for WordPress.  With so many plugins, shouldn’t WordPress be capable of almost anything?  Not necessarily since many of these were built to compensate for WordPress’s limitations, and they certainly aren’t all of equal quality.

Next, WordPress is first a “blogging tool” and second, a “content management system”.  It was initially released in 2003 as a blogging platform and still retains many of the idiosyncrasies of a system designed for blogging, including a heavy leaning toward chronological publishing.  To the credit of the WordPress development community, the platform has been tremendously enhanced into a fully featured content management system for building and maintaining websites and web content.  In fact, WordPress dominates the market for open source content management system with a whopping 58% market share!

Why is WordPress so hugely popular?  The same reason Google, Facebook and Twitter dominate their markets – they are easy to use and at some point they all built a critical mass of followers, and strong brands to make them unassailable.  With a huge base of users and developers, WordPress has earned its place as the default content management system for most standard website applications.  If your website isn’t too complicated, or doesn’t have to communicate with too many other systems or databases, then WordPress is probably your best choice as a content management system.

Lego House

In short, WordPress is a lot like Legos.  It is a compilation of standard parts that are, well designed, intuitive to work with, and can be used to create some amazing structures.  However, when you need to build a house to withstand the elements, concrete, 2x4s and sheetrock do a much better job.  In a future issue/post I’ll discuss what other content management systems might be more appropriate for building more industrial strength websites and web applications.

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