Category Archives: Websites

The Most Important Digital Investment to Make in 2017

digital 2017

Last year, we talked about how the most important web investment for companies to make in 2016 was mobile. Since then, mobile has become the primary device for many people to browse the web and continued to play a bigger and bigger role in eCommerce.

Which naturally got us thinking: if it is not mobile anymore, what is the most important digital investment you can make in 2017?

 

Why 2017 is the year of process automation

Process automation is not necessarily as flashy or sexy as creating a responsive site or building a mobile app, but it is critically important. In 2017, we expect to see the importance of function grow and lead to a renewed focus on how efficiently things work. We see a few of reasons for this:

 

Increased capabilities

Over the last couple of years, the ability for companies of all sizes to automate their processes has grown. There’s been many new SaaS providers focused on translating conventional analog processes into the digital world. One example is in the field service management industry which as been one of the early beneficiaries of process automation, is set to see opportunities for process automation increase to $5.11 billion in 2020.

We know that just within one market, the huge number of possibilities that exist to automate processes. We believe this is also an indicator how many of the tasks people do day-to-day are outdated and ready for automation.

 

Lower cost

Going hand in hand with the growth in the number of providers and interest in process automation is the decrease in cost. Part of this is caused by the increased competition in the market, but also because of the shift from software licensing to cloud-based subscription software service providers.

With cloud-based systems on a monthly fee, smaller companies can more efficiently manage the investment to try these new technologies. Without the traditionally significant upfront investment. This model also saves businesses time and money by shifting the responsibility for updates and maintenance to the service provider.

Cloud-based subscription models have made it easier for companies of all sizes to start optimizing their processes with technology, which we believe will lead to continued growth in 2017.

 

Increased need

Finally, over the last ten years, we’ve seen digitalization accelerate. More and more services are available online, some exclusively so. Libraries, banks, government forms, taxes, immigration – one by one they have all shifted some part of their consumer-facing and internal processes online. With that transition to digital becoming more pervasive, organizations are now looking for more ways to maximize productivity with digital tools, which we believe will inevitably lead to process automation.

 

What this means for you

If you are looking for a way to reduce costs or increase productivity, it can be an easy avenue to pursue. Here are a few ways you can start approaching process automation:

 

Identify processes you can automate

The first step in process automation is (it sounds silly) to identify processes that are ripe for automation. There’s no need to take on the biggest, most cumbersome process first, rather we suggest you focus on something small that:

  • Is repeated regularly
  • Has little or no room for error
  • Is done the same way each time

A common example is a monthly expenses report.

Once you’ve identified your process and successfully automated it, you can apply the same identification methodology to bigger processes, before moving on to solving these problems.

 

Leverage your CMS

advantage cis

Your CMS can do more than just publish content online. You can use it to manage templates, workflows, collaboration, and required approvals. For example, most organizations have one (or several) gatekeepers who need to sign off on things. Instead of using an inelegant email chain, you can use your CMS to quickly solicit approvals and edits from a broad range of stakeholders, in a central location.

 

Use project management or automation software

There are plenty out there – Trello (now Atlassian), Basecamp, Wrike, Agiloft, KiSSFLOW. All these tools do variations on the same thing: provide a clear view of a project, help people know what’s happening (and what they need to do), and when everything needs to be done. It means that there’s a clear understanding by everyone of everything, so fewer things are liable to fall between the cracks.

Other tools like Zapier and IFTTT let you automate and amalgamate your digital tools with a basic ‘if this then that’ type logic, which can achieve quick wins for process automation.

 

Conclusion

Business process automation is going to be an increasingly important topic as business look to do more with less in 2017. And with the advances in AI, in new SaaS providers, and with CMS features and functionality, there’s never been a better time to get started with automating your business process.

If you want to stay competitive, the best thing you can do is get automating.

Ready to get started with your business process automation? Get in touch today to see how we can help you!

Your 2017 Digital Checklist

With 2016 now behind us, it’s a new year with a fresh budget to spend.

Here are 5 areas where we think you should be focusing your digital investment for the coming year.

 

1. Mobile apps – get one


Until recently, companion apps have been the exclusive purview of big chains. Irrespective of the perceived user benefits, smaller companies have seen them as just too much investment:

  • They don’t have the initial capital to build them
  • They don’t want to put up the money to maintain them
  • They don’t have the additional marketing budget needed to effectively drive downloads, making earlier investment less valuable.

Subway, Staples, Home Depot, banks – these are the types of enterprises who were getting apps for their stores – not Dave’s Groceries down the road.

But in 2017, we think this is going to change.

For starters, this trend is already underway – Small Business Trends reported that 50% of small businesses will get an app or be working towards that objective by 2017.

Second, the standard for user experience constantly increases. Pressure on all companies is higher than ever and will only be turned up in 2017. One way to stay competitive on mobile devices is with mobile app development.

Finally, mobile is increasingly the device of choice for people. Whether it’s the superfast processors in the latest smartphone or using a keyboard with your iPad Pro, the traditional computer (let alone the desktop) is becoming less important for work and play.

If you don’t have a mobile app yet, we think it is a worthwhile time to start thinking about one.

 

2. Start delving into location-based communication


Beacons and GPS, geo-fencing, and NFC are all examples of ways companies can use physical location to link the user to a digital experience. While these innovations have been on the books since around 2014 (especially for retail stores), the cost continues to drop, and they get easier to implement.

Currently, location-based signals are one of the best ways to provide a cross-channel experience, taking users from your brick-and-mortar locations to your online properties and back offline again.

For example, you might use geofencing technology to identify customers in your physical stores, and then be able to retarget them with email broadcasts or push notifications with new offers or messages, seamlessly blending your different marketing channels and identifying your highest value targets.

 

3. Optimise for AI

For the past year, there have been countless conversations about the role AI will play in our lives in the next 5-10 years. And in 2017, some brands are already rolling out ambitious AI projects. But for most companies, what we can expect is greater chatbot integration across a broad range of industries. Basically, people have become accustomed to using Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant as an interface to engage with products and services online.

Now, it’s up to companies to meet that expectation.

To do that, there’s going to have to be a twofold investment. First, in building out back-end systems to literally talk to Siri and her friends, making your service easier for your customers to use automatically.

Second, there will have to be increased investment in content that can be optimized to pull an answer when users ask a question into Google. For example, a robust FAQ about your industry with common questions and answers, all tagged as structured data, will help users find what they want faster than ever.

 

4. Security

2016 saw extremely high profile hacking incidents – including for both political camps during the US election, as well as Yahoo’s massive data breach. Collectively, these events have raised consumer awareness of IT risk to new heights. We’ve reached a point now where security is a zero-sum game for online producers.

Even one hacking incident could have significant repercussions on a business, to both its economics and reputation. The new normal will have companies balancing the security of their digital properties with an effective user experience.

 

5. Augmented and virtual reality


Finally, augmented and virtual reality. So far, we’ve focused on things that are actionable tomorrow – most companies can turn around and start building an app or conducting a security audit right away, should they want to.

Augmented reality and VR are a bit different. Yes, the hardware appears to be mainstream enough now with multiple providers on the market. And yes, the lesson learned from Pokemon Go was that augmented reality is a whole new platform for brands to reach consumers with. We wanted to mention it because, frankly, everyone else is predicting that 2017 is the year of mass deployment for an industry that is projected to be worth $120 billion in 2020.

But there are a few things to consider before you invest a portion of your budget into VR headsets.

First, most of the early applications focus on gaming. Yes, there are some token efforts outside of gaming and digital optimists are all screeching about the various other applications, but for now the focus remains on gaming.

As for augmented reality, yes it is a new channel to reach customers. But Pokemon Go is perhaps an inaccurate predictor of future success. After all, Pokemon Go had the distinct advantage of being first to market. Plus, it was a game.

So for 2017, we think that VR and AR will see big strides. But unless you’re a gaming company, you can probably hold off investing in 2017, and instead focus on honing existing channels of communication. It will also give you time to truly think about how your business can properly leverage AR/VR in a year or two, when the technology is more commonplace and can demonstrate true value, as opposed to simply appearing as a gimmick for early adopters.

 

Conclusion

2017 is looking to be a great year for companies to refine their digital products and services, helping consumers by forging stronger cross-channel experiences, improving mobile experiences, and interacting with customers with AI in a simple, customized way.

We’re pretty excited about it.

Do you think we missed something that should be on the radar for 2017? Let us know in the comments!

What is CMS Maintenance and why it is Important?

cms maintenance

We tend to think differently about our stuff in the real world and that in the digital world.

For things we own in the real world, maintenance and upkeep are an obvious part of sustaining the investment we’ve made in them. We do maintenance on our houses and cars, not because we necessarily like it, but because when we don’t the results are obvious.

However, for some reason, we tend to forget that digital assets like websites, apps, and your CMS, need maintenance for the same reasons. A long neglected website is just as obvious to users, and says just as much about its owner, as a long neglected yard does to passers-by.

To try to help change this habit, we take a look at what we mean when we talk about CMS maintenance, and the different kinds of upkeep these digital assets need.

 

What is CMS maintenance?

CMS maintenance can be seen as a common collection of simple activities that keep your site stable and running smoothly. They include:

 

Keeping your software up to date

CMS securityThis reduces the likelihood that your site is vulnerable to viruses or malware (especially if you’re on an open source CMS like WordPress).

This doesn’t just mean the core CMS, but also your plugins and integrations. This can be scheduled to happen automatically, but it is also worth checking to understand what the updates include and ensure it’s happening for all parts of your CMS.

 

Keeping your site backed up

When your site fails or goes down without a backup, it will cause you some serious headaches, varying from annoying to unmanageable. Scheduling regular automatic backups, and double-checking your backup files will help prevent disaster – or at least mitigate the impact.

 

Compatibility checks

You never know when a change is going to cause problems with a specific aspect of your site. Something as simple as updating software, changing layouts, or even just adding fresh content can interact in a unique and bizarre way, and perhaps produce an effect that’s not quite what you wanted. This can be caused by any number of issues including discontinued plugins not incompatible with the newest version of the CMS, changes to a third-party API requiring reintegration, or changes to templates by the publisher.

It’s important to check regularly to make sure there are not any compatibility problems, from both a user perspective (poor experience viewing/navigating the site) and from an internal team (e.g. two plugins not playing nicely, causing an error that requires troubleshooting and reducing productivity).

 

Link checking

link chain

A simple, but surprisingly common cause of frustration for users is being sent to a non-existent or expired page – aka the 404 error. Doing this to your visitors is not the quickest way to have them bounce from your site, but it’s up there.

Routinely checking your site’s outgoing links to make sure they all work is pretty simple. Services like Screaming Frog can help you so you don’t need to go trawling through all your content.

 

Why CMS maintenance is important

First, it will improve the security and stability of your digital platform. For open source content management systems like WordPress, there is a constant crush of hackers trying to crack sites and access what they shouldn’t. Unfortunately, one of the main challenges with the big open source distributors is that once an exploit is discovered in one site, or for one version of the CMS, it can usually be rolled out much quicker to other sites.

This is why WordPress and other open-source sites are updated frequently — to respond to the growing number of issues, issue fixes and help keep their sites secure.

Simply, an out of date CMS is a higher security risk. And this isn’t just open source websites, the same applies to proprietary CMS software — there’s a constant attempt to crack into your goodies, and keeping your CMS up to date makes that harder.

Second, customer experience.

Things like plugins not working correctly, poor display due to a new device or new OS, and broken links, are probably not mission-critical.

But they do have an impact. They:

  • Lower the caliber of your site
  • Impact sales due to a poor experience
  • Increase user frustration and decrease engagement metrics

An unmaintained CMS probably won’t cost you your business, but it might have a substantial negative impact on your sales and your brand. Although it might not be immediately obvious, our experience is the opportunity cost of not maintaining your website is far more than dollars required to do it.

 

Wrap up

Keeping your CMS and digital assets up-to-date, when done regularly, it’s a small job. But, the work accumulates in magnitudes the longer you leave it – requiring a bigger investment to bring it up to date while costing you opportunities in the interim.

Our advice? Spend 30 minutes every other week to make sure your CMS is up to date and running smoothly from both an administrator and user perspective – it’ll be one of the most valuable hours you spend each month.

 

Unhappy with your current CMS, or just want to focus on managing your content not your technology? Get in touch with us to see if our managed hosting service is right for you!

Getting A CMS? 10 Must Ask Questions!

man using computer

Content is the lifeblood of any website, and content management systems (CMS) are key to creating content you users will love. So we put together a few questions you might want to ask when you’re either choosing a CMS for the first time or changing from you existing system.

 

But first, what is a CMS?

content management system is a web application that lets non-developers quickly and easily update, add to, and edit a website. There are literally hundreds of them out there, and they sit in two general camps:

Understanding the basic idea behind a CMS, we can start looking at what questions to ask when you’re scoping various platform and vendor options.

 

1. What do you want your CMS to do?

It’s an important question, even though it seems obvious. Before you start looking at vendors, you want to establish requirements – what do you want your CMS to do?

To do that, you’ll need to establish key pain points not being addressed by your current system. Then, you’ll need to consult all the various parties who are going to be using the new CMS and see what they want. What features are really important to them? What features are more nice-to-have versus need-to-have?

The parties to consult might include:

  • Developers
  • Content creators (e.g. marketing managers, content coordinators)
  • Designers
  • Internal teams
  • External people (freelancers)

Finally, you’ll want to establish a list of focal needs. These are divided into Idiosyncratic Requirements and Priority Requirements.

  • Idiosyncratic Requirements are requirements that are totally unique to your company.
  • Priority Requirements are requirements that are pretty general when it comes to a CMS, but for some reason are very important to you. For example, if you have a huge amount of legacy data, then integration into older systems would be an extreme priority requirement.

 

2. Is it easy to use?

Don’t forget – at the end of the day, your CMS really only has two functions:

  1. To allow non-developers to update your website
  2. To be extremely easy for non-developers to use

Which is why this question is so important. A huge range of users are going to be interacting with your CMS. For the most part, these users won’t have the same expertise as developers. Your CMS is no use to anyone if you need to call in a dev team every time you want to upload a blog post.

The best way to test the usability is to actually test a CMS. Develop a list of tasks that mimic everyday use of the CMS. For example, uploading a blog post. Get a few people from around the organization – the more stakeholder input at this point, the better – to try to complete the tasks you set, and give you feedback on their experience. It’s worth spending a little extra time trialling every CMS from you shortlist: usability is what’s going to make your CMS either a dream come true… or a total nightmare.

 

3. Will it help hit target goals?

person typing

We live in a world where everything has an app, and it’s tempting to reach for tech for every solution. Don’t forget that a CMS is a tool to address a specific problem. If you’re having trouble getting buy-in for content marketing, you’re struggling to get content created in the first place, or your content strategy isn’t in place securely, then a CMS might not be the solution.

Don’t think that an expensive CMS is a substitute for a content strategy.

Let’s say your goal is to increase the number of social followers for your business. A CMS probably won’t help much with that goal. Creating great content will. Conversely, if your goal is to upload more content and the roadblock isn’t in creation, but rather IT is just way overworked, a CMS would be a very valuable asset.

You need to understand the problem clearly to see what CMS is right for you.

 

4. How much does it cost?

Thankfully, sneaky deals and weirdly phrased pricing designed to confuse consumers are things of the past. That said, in some cases, there are some other costs to be aware of:

  • Multiple user-licenses
  • Updates and maintenance costs
  • Training costs
  • Platform upgrades and extensions
  • One-time purchase fee

Make sure you ask about these so there’s no confusion and CMS heartbreak down the line.

 

5. Does it integrate easily?

If you have older systems, be sure to ask about this. Many industries, including healthcare, logistics, or retail, have specific software that they may need to integrate in a new CMS.

Another consideration is migrating your existing content to your new platform. You want to make this process as easy as possible, and you want to do it without losing any of your content. Make sure you ask how your shortlisted CMSes perform in this regard, or if the vendor will facilitate the process for you. And if you can, try and migrate some of the content to see how it goes.

 

6. What SEO automation comes as standard?

There are plenty of on-page and off-page SEO techniques you can implement to help people find your site and push it up in the search rankings. And a lot of this can be automated to make your life easier. You should look for a CMS that will help you do that.

For example, your CMS should:

  • Help create an optimized meta description
  • Make it easy to create meta data for your content
  • Make it easy to create alt tags for your images
  • Incorporate H1 and H2 headings seamlessly

These little things are just that – little. But they do make a difference over time and most importantly, can be agonizing to implement with each piece of content you upload. It’s best to look for as much automation as possible.

 

7. How reliant on plugins is the core functionality?

We’ve talked before about our love/hate relationship with plugins. On the one hand, an open source platform with a plugin rich environment like WordPress means that no matter what you need, there’s always a plugin out there.

However, what’s emerged is a situation where many CMSes (especially WordPress) rely on plugins for system critical functionality.

And while plugins do a fine job of enabling that functionality, they do slow down the site and open the door for compatibility and security vulnerabilities.

So before you buy or change, make sure you know what comes built in and, and what comes bolted on.

 

8. Does your CMS support a mobile website?

mobile user

It should be standard now that any content management system you’re considering is capable of delivering content that looks good on all screen sizes, either through a mobile site or responsive design.

Considering the explosion of searches and web traffic coming from mobile devices, this is no longer a nice-to-have. We’d recommend choosing a CMS that is capable of doing both, so that you can choose which mobile solution is best for you.

 

9. What’s the scalability of your CMS?

You don’t want to have to go through the effort of porting over an old CMS into a new only to outgrow it 18 months down the line.

You should be looking not only for a CMS that suits your needs now, but will grow with you as your needs evolve.

For example, let’s say you decide you want to go for a basic open source CMS, because you just need a new site launched quickly. Will that same platform support your marketing goals in 6-12 months? Will it support user management for a larger team when you have multiple staff members carrying out different tasks on the platform? Will it integrate with the CRM you’re planning on migrating to next year? And if it doesn’t now, will it be able to when you decide you want to enable those features?

Websites tend to get more complicated as they (and their respective businesses) grow larger. Make sure that you think of the future as well as the present when you’re considering your website and CMS needs.

 

10. Does the CMS create a positive user experience?

Finally, does your website provide a good user experience? Do people like to use it or hate it? This will come in part from how you use the CMS, but a lot of this will come down to the CMS itself. For example:

  • Is the CMS admin intuitive and easy to navigate?
  • Is the back-end quick with a fast load time?
  • Does the CMS let you organize the site in a way that makes sense?

Make sure that you investigate not only the potential of your chosen CMS, but a realistic representation of what you can get your CMS to do. Drupal, for example, provides huge flexibility – if you know what you’re doing.

There’s no point falling in love with a site only to discover you’re not equipped to recreate what you saw for yourself, or that it requires a significant additional investment to bring the platform up to the where you want it to be.

 

Recap

When you’re looking at a CMS implementation, the key questions you want to ask are:

  1. What do I want my CMS to do?
  2. Is it easy to use?
  3. Will it help hit target goals?
  4. How much does it cost?
  5. Does it integrate easily?
  6. What SEO automation comes as standard?
  7. How reliant on plugins is the core functionality?
  8. Does the CMS facilitate use on mobile?
  9. What’s the scalability of the CMS?
  10. Does the CMS create a positive user experience?

With these considerations in mind, you can’t go wrong.

If you still need a little help determining which content management system is the best choice for your business, contact us to discuss.

5 Must-Have Features for Your Next CMS

CMS

In past years, as part of the work we do we’ve covered some of the best features to look for in a CMS:

In this post, we are carrying on the tradition and recommending some new must-have CMS features that have recently gained popularity, as well as revisiting staples from years past that you won’t want to miss out on either.

 

Must-Have CMS Features Covered to Date

  1. Easy administration: it’s easy to manage and execute all of the tasks associated with content production.
  2. Great publishing tools: the publishing tools are robust enough to publish any type of content that you want, easily.
  3. Built in SEO: SEO can be tremendously time-consuming.  Your CMS should make it easy.
  4. Social media integration: your CMS should make it easy for your audience to share content via social media.
  5. Analytics: you should be able to understand what’s going on at a glance.
  6. Easy publishing controls: you want robust control over what goes live on your site.
  7. Security: ensure your data – and your customers’ data – is safe and secure
  8. Multi-site capabilities: you want a platform to support your organization’s growth
  9. Support: you want something to cover both your day-to-day and emergency needs
  10. Core functionality: you need a system that addresses your specific, unique requirements

With that in mind, here are 5 more things you might want to look out for.

 

5 New CMS Features to Consider

1. Tiered permissions that suit your organization

cms settings

One of the most common problems that we hear from customers about their current CMS is that it doesn’t offer permissions that can be tailored for them.

Most CMSs – including open source giants like WordPress – have some form of tiered access. But that’s not the whole story.

In order to have a CMS truly optimized for your organization, you need permissions that work for you.

For example, some organizations have many content writers but only one or two content publishers. Other organizations might need their content writers to be able to upload only certain types of content, while others might be able to publish – but only on certain parts of the site (e.g. non-static pages).

When you’re looking for a CMS, make sure that whatever tiered publishing options there are will work for you – what each level can do, if users can be designated with multiple roles, and in how many users there are for each permission level.

 

2. Robust content templates

content templates

We’ve talked a lot about business process automation recently, finding better ways of working to save time and make processes work better.

Another way your CMS can help with that is with templates.

Templates can help streamline processes by having all of the grunt work required for publishing done once upfront instead of every time a new page or post is published.

For example, imagine that you were publishing a new product to an e-commerce site. A solid template might:

  • Create a drop down list of categories
  • Pull a meta description from your product description
  • Add a recommended products widget
  • Resize your image to the right specs
  • Prompt you to add relevant tags

Each of these tasks is small, but over time (and many products), these small tasks add up and eat into how long it takes to make updates to your catalog – time that is expensive to your business.

 

3.  Microdata support

This is a feature that White Shark Media called out that we think is absolutely brilliant.

Microdata is data that’s published on a site that lets Google read it, and potentially include as rich snippets in search results, including answers to questions.

For example, if you Google ‘how to tie a tie’ you get a step by step guide that Google pulls from a website. That’s what microdata does.

how to tie a tie

Historically, this has been a nice-to-have rather than a need-to-have. But with voice search eating up more of the search volume, microdata-driven answers are moving front and centre as people use their phones to look not for information but for specific, clear answers.

The metaphor that’s usually used is that of a library – traditional search is like asking a librarian for help and getting them to point you to the right section (a list of URLs). Finding the actual answer is up to you.

Voice search is like asking the librarian for help and expecting them to give you the specific answer, straight away.

As this type of answer-driven rather than information-driven search increases in volume with the likes of Siri and Google Assistant, we can expect to see metadata results rise in priority. As such, your CMS should be working to optimize microdata for your content, and ensure answers relevant to your business are being offered by your company.

 

4. Clean and robust search

search

Your website needs to be searchable. Oftentimes, customers will be looking for a specific solution to a specific problem – and if you can provide that, you can drive a high conversion rate.

For example, imagine that you own an ecommerce site. Some customers will come to browse. But others are more likely to come looking for a specific product, and might not want to trawl through all your categories seeing if you have it.

Search makes your customers’ lives easier. It needs to be in depth, easy to use, and fast.

 

5. Easy versioning

Nobody’s perfect – and neither is your website.

Things are going to be posted by accident, and your CMS needs to be able to quickly solve that problem.

Versioning ensures that you always have a copy you can revert back to if something gets posted by accident. After all, it’s much better to plan for the worst and catch problems quickly then just assume everything going to go perfectly.

This is also a valuable feature if you plan to update a page or section of your site for a seasonal event or promotion, and want to roll back to the previous version when it’s over.

 

Wrap up

As content management systems continue to evolve, we see continuing development of the features customers are demanding, and what you should be expecting out of your CMS.

From new microdata requirements, to robust, easy to use templates, your next CMS should take advantage of these cutting edge features to make your website and administration faster.

Not happy with your CMS? Get in touch to discuss with one of our experts.

E-commerce Projects to Consider for the Holidays

e-commerce

Welcome to the first of our two-part blog post on e-commerce holiday projects! We want to help you finish your year off strong, so we came up with a list of our top tips and tricks to help you make the most of the end of the year.


It’s that time again.

The holidays.

And you’ve got an e-commerce site to run. It’s both exciting and stressful. The holidays bring a great opportunity to grow your business, but it’s also easy to get lost in the mess of it all – especially online. Here we’re going to cover tip and tricks that we use with our clients to help them make the most of their holiday season.

After all, you’ve got to make hay while the sun shines!

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Don’t Think You Need a Custom Site? Think Again.

code on computer

In our experience we’ve found that a customized solution, be it an application, a CMS, or a website, usually performs better, for longer, than an out-of-the-box alternative. However, we find many businesses initially struggle to see the value of a custom option.

Here we look at three custom solutions we’ve developed to solve challenges that couldn’t have been done with an out-of-the-box solution.

 

1. e-commerce / e-procurement

credit card

The out-of-the-box solution

There are many e-commerce solutions that you can start with quickly. Shopify, Squarespace, Big Commerce, Volusion and more – they all offer an easy to build storefronts and allow you to quickly bring your products to your customers. And if that is all you want, these solutions could be a fit for you. However, sometimes that isn’t quite enough.

 

Our solution

bell corporate portal

Bell’s process of onboarding corporate customers wasn’t living up to the standard set by the telecom industry in general. It was a common story – their B2C experience was quickly evolving, while their B2B experience lagged behind, despite having the same users on both.

Moveable Online worked with Bell to identify specific problems within their procurement processes, such as their approvals workflow and lack of self-serve tools, that were becoming bottlenecks for their operations.

Moveable Online helped change Bell’s perspective on how e-procurement could be applied to the telecom/mobility space. By rolling out a robust e-procurement framework that introduced a number of self-serve functions, Bell was able to improve their corporate customer experience – making it easier for their business clients to procure their plans, devices and accessories online.

The procurement process was built on a customized e-commerce platform, using language and workflows that Bell corporate customers were already familiar with. With a personalized interface, different users engage with the system based on their own preferences, tied to their corporate agreements with Bell Mobility.

Now businesses can browse, research and purchase plans, devices and accessories more easily and without calling for help. Providing a solution that allowed users to easily manage their own accounts reduced service calls and administrative work internally, saving Bell both time and money. But, just as important, it also changed the way Bell sales reps engaged with their accounts allowing them to focus on being more proactive in developing new business and servicing clients as opposed to reacting to procurement related questions and calls

 

2. Microsites

microsites

The out-of-the-box solution

Building a microsite isn’t necessarily hard – all the major open source CMS solutions will help you with it, and plenty of services offer them as a cheap mobile site (rather than responsive design). And this may be all that most organizations need. However, The Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario (RCDSO) needed something more robust.

 

Our solution

RCDSO

The Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario (RCDSO) has many different audiences visiting their site, each requiring access to different information and tools. When evaluating RCDSO’s processes and strategy, we found that to properly serve the audiences they wanted to attract to their site, we needed multiple sites unique to each user group.

We solved their problem by customizing Advantage CMS to produce a solution that fit their exact needs. To make everything simple to manage, we provided a single back-end CMS that allowed content to be shared across multiple sites and also had the ability to send out updates for important notifications.

The new RCDSO network of custom sites gives different departments in the organization the ability to work and update the site autonomously without running through a central structure. But, the central RCDSO administrators still retained control of the site (to prevent it from getting too out of control).

Moveable Online also developed an online web portal to facilitate its continuing education program, making it easy to complete courses and log hours. Working with RCDSO we found that a key problem for them was in the amount of administration required to properly manage their continuing education offering for the association and its members.

RCDSO’s e-Portfolio accreditation platform

RCDSO’s e-Portfolio accreditation platform

Our solution was to leverage their enterprise CMS to automate much of the CE administration, creating a custom online educational portal that dentists could access from anywhere, browse the full range of courses available, select courses and log hours, while also reducing the time needed to complete the required education.

 

3. Multiple user bases

crowds of people

The out-of-the-box solution

Some businesses are focused on a single audience, or offering a single product. For these simple sites, an out of the box solution might be the right investment to produce an effective site. But what if you had multiple product lines, for multiple audiences across multiple countries? How do you build an effective website that serves up relevant content to all your visitors without having an unmanageable site? In Iridium‘s case, the answer was to build a custom solution to make the task manageable.

Our solution

iridium

We worked with Iridium to launch its new website on a customized enterprise-CMS platform, optimized for its unique business needs. Iridium’s key challenge was that it had multiple different user groups, each with unique demands. Iridium needed a single site that catered to the global demands from:

  • Employees
  • Corporate partners
  • End users

To allow Iridium to serve all of its diverse audiences from a single site, we created a custom site on Advantage CMS with an extranet that automatically serves up content Iridium has decided is relevant content to its audience by recognizing their role, geography and permissions. The result is a custom site that works well for all audiences who engage with it, and reduces the amount of time visitors spend discovering content – all while being managed by Iridium through a single backend .

 

Conclusion

Believing an out-of-the-box piece of software will be able to address all the unique needs of your site, is similar to believing that you’ll always be able to find a suit or dress that fits perfectly off the rack (and on sale!). It can happen, but more often than not to get the perfect fit requires a lot of work.

The good news is that getting that right solution that does fit isn’t impossible. A bit of tailoring here, a new lining and refresh on the cuffs, and you can be closer to your perfect fit than you may realize.

So while you may think that the solution you’ve found will work fine right out of the box, there’s often going to be something you can make a little better.

A custom site doesn’t have to be a huge project. No matter now generic you think your business is, each one is unique and a little bit of customization goes a long way when building your online presence.

Standard CMS Features: Plugins Not Included

typing on computer

The overarching goal of any content management system (CMS) is to make using your website easy – easy to manage content and information, easy to change and edit your design elements, and easy to produce the work you want and get it in front of your customers.

But as clients often discover, many of the ‘standard’ features of popular CMSes that are key to making things easy are not actually core features – they’re plugins. And while this might not seem particularly important, relying on plugins apart from the core CMS adds another layer of complexity to managing your website.

Additionally, adding on numerous plugins can have an impact on your site speed and in turn how effective your website is.

Here’s a quick rundown of a few standard CMS features that do not in fact come as standard.

Continue reading

How to Avoid Becoming a Rescue Project: Part 1

business person on computer

This article is the first in a series on how to avoid having your CMS implementation become a rescue project (we’ll get to what that is in a minute). We’ll be covering everything from early vendor selection to feature creep, scope creep, handling change requests, and other tips on keeping your project on time and on budget. 


 

What is a rescue project?

How many times have you heard about or been part of a project where an enterprise company decided to carry out a new website implementation in-house, only to need to call in a vendor halfway through the project when it was realized they didn’t have the required resources?

Or perhaps an existing vendor (say, a digital agency specializing in SEO) was tasked with a large-scale CMS implementation, despite not truly have the capacity or expertise to do it, and halfway through the project it needed to be handed off to another provider.

These are examples of rescue projects – web projects that, for whatever reason, need to be rescued with a new vendor partway through implementation.

This is not where you want to be.

First, it’s time consuming – far more so than if one company handles the work from the start.

Second, it’s expensive, not only because, as a client, you’re in a poor position to negotiate, but also because it’s hard to come into a project halfway through and pick up the pieces. And that extra challenge will cost you.

Finally, the end result is rarely something anyone is happy with. More often than not, it’s a hodge-podge system that achieves the original objectives, but has a host of underlying problems, such as:

  • Inability to scale effectively
  • Poor backend systems (that are difficult to fix)
  • Some (or perhaps most) non-core features are either missing or poorly implemented
  • A disjointed user experience
  • A lack of expertise, as both staff and agencies struggle with project churn

All in all, while it is definitely possible to stage an effective project rescue, it’s far better to avoid needing one in the first place.

And the first step to avoiding becoming a rescue project is picking the right vendor from the start.

 

The golden rules of CMS vendor selection

CMS vendors search

With 779,000 potential vendors out there, vendor selection is understandably an intimidating undertaking. Fortunately, there are some golden rules that can help you narrow down the search.

 

Rule 1: Hire a vendor who knows and understands content management systems

This seems like a no-brainer; ‘duh, of course I’m going to hire an expert!’ we hear you saying. However, many CMS providers are not CMS experts at all, but rather agencies that offer a jack-of-all-trades approach to digital services. Sure, they can offer you a CMS – but they also run your ad buying platforms, your SEO, your social media optimizations, your app store listing, and probably make great coffee too.

Of course, some of these companies are fantastic and truly can do everything, however, for something as integral to your company’s day-to-day operations as a CMS, we strongly recommend you consult an expert.

 

Rule 2: Hire a vendor who knows and understands your business

Not all CMS providers are specialists in every field. It’s just not possible. We recommend going with a vendor who has past experience in your own vertical. Most verticals, say, banking, have specific and unique requirements. Projects tend to run smoother when vendors have a clear understanding of the industry requirements and nuances before they start.

Of course, there are some exceptions to this – a shoe company, for example, has likely much the same requirements as a mattress company. So if you find a perfect vendor who just doesn’t have the exact experience you’re looking for, then fair enough. But it’s worth checking out old clients and case studies to whittle down your list early on.

The vendor should also have analysts on staff prepared to sit down with your stakeholders and truly understand the business’s goals, operational workflows, and project objectives before getting started. This, paired with vertical experience, is a key factor for success on CMS projects.

 

Rule 3: Get buy-in for your new CMS from everyone

A study conducted in 2012 found that the single biggest barrier to a CMS implementation is corporate culture and politics. A CMS project is seven times more likely to fail for these reasons than because of inadequate features.

What this means is that it is absolutely essential to get every single stakeholder – from the lowliest grunt to highest executive – to participate in what they want from a CMS early. And while this scope gathering is a time consuming and oftentimes emotionally exhausting process, extra legwork here will pay off in the long run. Early buy in:

  • Reduces the potential for nasty budgetary changes down the line
  • Helps reduce change requests (and gives you a better platform to deny them)
  • Increases the organizational support for the project
  • Gives ownership (avoiding project churn should things turn south)

 

Rule 4: Before you start looking, know what you’re looking for

This is an extension of the previous rule. After you’ve chatted to everyone about what they want from a CMS, filter that feedback and distil it down to exactly what each user group is looking for.

You can likely guess a lot of this ahead of time, but going through this process means that you don’t miss any key requirements. It also means you can quickly narrow your search for a vendor if some of your stakeholders have edge case needs (e.g. a bank’s legal department might require audit trail capabilities from their CMS – a feature not offered by all CMS platforms).

 

Two pitfalls of vendor selection

vendor selection

Of course, vendor selection is as much about what you don’t do as what you do. Here are the two most common pitfalls we see clients stumble into:

 

1. Picking a vendor just because you’ve worked with them before

There is definitely a home-field advantage when it comes to suppliers. It’s easier for a company to work with someone they have before, they usually know (and like) the people involved, and there’s a lot less paperwork. However, for a CMS, this can create problems down the line.

Choosing an existing supplier for familiarity rather than credentials means you’re probably not using a CMS expert. It also means you’re willing to compromise the long-term benefits of your project for the short term convenience of the devil you know.

Combined, these can often result in rescue projects, as the supplier is unable to deliver the solution a client needs, and the CMS that is being built isn’t going to satisfy stakeholder requirements (which were bent in the first place to make the existing vendor a viable option).

So, while existing vendors should definitely be considered, don’t over-weight the benefit of having already worked with you.

 

2. Focusing on the what a CMS does, not how it does it

It’s easy to read ‘publish content at the tap of a finger’ and get excited, assuming the workflow is flawless. The problem with this approach to CMS features is that there is a wide variety of workflows across content management systems to achieve the same feature.

For example, one CMS might require five different screens to process one piece of content, whereas another might only require one. One CMS might need at least two approvals as a default setting, whereas others might not need any approvals at all.

The challenge is sorting out exactly what your organization needs given how it currently works, and then matching existing workflows to those of a CMS. It’s easy to focus on features, but it’s workflows that are going to make or break your CMS experience.

 

TL;DR

Short on time? Here’s a quick summary:

  • Rescue projects are projects that need a new vendor to step in and pick up the pieces. They are time consuming and expensive, and you definitely don’t want your CMS implementation to become one.
  • Vendor selection is a key step for getting the right CMS. We recommend working with a vendor who specializes in CMS implementations, and who knows and understands your business vertical
  • To find the right vendor, you need to have a clear idea of what you’re looking for in terms of features and benefits, as well as securing the buy-in for a particular approach from each and every possible stakeholder.
  • There are many potential pitfalls when it comes to vendor selection, especially going with a vendor you know to the exclusion of other viable candidates, and focusing on the features of a CMS, not the workflow that enables those features.

Stay tuned for how to avoid becoming a rescue part 2: creeping problems!

Web Trend: 360° Photos and Videos

360° video

via Giphy

Over the past year, 360° photos and videos have taken the internet by storm. We’ve seen them used in Redbull and GoPro marketing, computer-generated Star Wars planets, and even a LeBron James workout.

We have also seen tech giants getting in on the 360° movement: YouTube is charging ahead with 360° video, and Facebook has plans to load our newsfeeds with 360° photos and videos. And manufacturers like Samsung, GoPro, and Rico are working to create mass-market 360° cameras that will let any user create and upload 360° content.

With 360° content gaining traction, we take a look at where we 360° photos and videos stand today, where they are heading, and how they are being used effectively.

 

What is 360° Content?

Before we begin, let’s cover exactly what 360° content is.

360° or ‘spherical’ videos and photos are shot in all directions, which allows viewers to see the video or image from any angle, and get a more immersive, interactive look at the content.

This 360° YouTube video below is a great example of this type of content (note: requires Chrome browser).

As opposed to a traditional photo or video, a user’s experience isn’t constrained by the direction the camera is pointing. On a desktop, viewers can use a mouse or keyboard to scroll around and the image and change their perspective; on mobile, users pan around with their devices to change the view. The videos and photos can also be viewed through VR tech like Oculus Rift, or Google Cardboard.

Here’s another example of a 360° Photo on Facebook, posted by Mark Zuckerberg:

What distinguishes 360° videos or photos from traditional photos and videos is that you are allowing users to experience something as if they were actually there – like the front row of a concert or the driver’s seat of a race car – by giving you access to the whole moment, rather than the silver that was captured where the device was pointed.

 

360° Status Update

While 360° photo and video technology has existed since the 90’s, it’s only recently that it has moved into the mainstream – and it looks like it’s set to experience a boom in growth in the rest of 2016.

The biggest players in the 360° publishing world (for now) are the aforementioned Facebook and YouTube. They’re the only sites that display user-generated 360° content, and they’re both heavily investing in the technology.

Facebook, in particular, is forging ahead with their 360° push: they’re hosting 360° videos from high-profile content creators, including VICE, Saturday Night Live, Discovery, GoPro, and Star Wars.

The biggest development in 360° photos and videos, though, might be the long-anticipated arrival of mass-market 360° cameras. Until recently, 360° cameras were priced out of reach for average consumers, and while there are still only a few cameras with a sub-$1,000 price tag, their ranks are growing fast. Samsung has just released the Gear 360 VR camera, Ricoh has its Theta S, Kodak has the SP360 Action Cam and GoPro has announced its plans to release one soon.

Facebook has even produced its own 360° camera to drive adoption of the format.

facebook 360 camera

 

How are they being used?

As 360° photo and video become more ubiquitous and changes our thinking about what digital videos and images are, and can be – a new world of opportunity is opening up.

So how is 360° technology being used successfully today? Here’s how some brands we are effectively using this new technology:

 

Go Pro: Telling a brand story

360° content makes a great medium for telling meaningful, engaging stories to viewers and creating positive brand associations because it immerses viewers in the story in a way traditional photos and videos don’t, which .

GoPro is a great example of this. In the above video, they’ve used 360° tech to bring people in and experience what their brand is all about. It’s not about selling a product, necessarily – it’s about immersing people in an experience that best represents their brand and help create those positive brand associations.

The storytelling approach is one of the most common applications of 360° content, and it’s being used for things beyond commercial brand-awareness. For example, some charities have embraced 360° videos to tell stories about their causes.

 

Bjork’s Stonemilker video: Creating buzz


Right now 360° photos and videos benefit from still being novel: People aren’t used to seeing them, so they’re a great way to generate buzz and excitement. Since the marketplace isn’t crowded yet, anyone using 360° stands out.

Take the release of Bjork’s music video for her song ‘Stonemilker’ for example. It previewed at a Bjork retrospective at MOMA, and became a major talking point for the exhibition, and for Bjork’s music (the video has 3M views, her third most popular upload). The video is also worth a watch because its use of 360° views and user interactivity is particularly great.

 

Redbull: Showcasing products


360° views can also be used to give customers a super detailed, interactive look at products. There are many industries where this particular application could come in handy, from real estate to cars to clothes.

This Redbull video is a good indication of where this kind of application could take us. The video gives viewers an inside look at the car and let’s them experience it for themselves. It may be the closest thing to taking it for a test drive without having to leave your couch, and definitely a step beyond what a traditional video could do. Granted, most of us aren’t looking to actually buy a race car – but imagine if the video was showing you what it was like to stand in the living room of a house you want to rent, or trip you wanted to plan or gallery you wanted to visit. Pretty useful, right?

 

Saturday Night Live: Broadcasting live events


For their 40th anniversary special, Saturday Night Live broadcasted a 360° video of the Q and A portion of the event to give viewers the sensation of being there live, in the front row of the studio audience.

Music festivals and concerts are also using 360° videos to get people at home in on the action and drum up enthusiasm for their events. Check out this example from last year’s Bonnaroo festival.

 

Wrap Up

360° photos and videos will continue to evolve from where they are today, but they have started to give us a glimpse of a new world of opportunities. Whether sharing a story, a brand, a product or a live moment – 360° content is creating new ways for people to engage with those events.

2016 is expected to be a good year for 360° content as companies roll out new products making it cheaper to produce and easier to view. As the community around 360° visual content grows, more new and novel ways this technology is put to use will appear. For now, we are at an exciting point where costs are coming down and the technology is being democratised, allowing for a whole generation of visual artists to explore a new dimension to the content they create.