Welcome to Our Inaugural Blog Post!
Hello and thank you for joining us on this new journey!
After many years in the industry, we’ve chosen to embark on a more public venture. Our aim? To share valuable insights into our work, narrate amusing anecdotes, demystify critical concepts, and sprinkle in a variety of engaging content.
But first, a brief introduction.
Who Are We?
I’m Sid, the technical lead, and at the helm of a formidable team comprising skilled full-stack developers, QA engineers, DevOps and TechOps specialists, infrastructure experts, and an unparalleled project manager.
With over two decades in the web domain, we’ve dedicated a lion’s share of our time around 90% to e-commerce platforms, with a special focus on Magento. Our experience spans both independent endeavors and collaborations with top-tier Magento partners, catering to diverse clients, from solo entrepreneurs to expansive enterprises. Throughout our journey, we’ve been instrumental in crafting innovative solutions tailored to specific needs.
As veterans, we’ve had a front-row seat to the evolving landscape of our industry. For instance, a decade ago, only a fraction of my time was invested in guiding businesses technically. Today, however, I find myself dedicating almost 80% of my efforts in elucidating the intricacies of our work a testament to how perceptions and expertise have “evolved” over time.
To make thing worth, the chasm between tech aficionados and senior management continues to be widening. While it may not be ubiquitous, encountering a Senior IT Director unaware of basic terms like “code repository” is now within the realm of possibility. A decade ago, such a gap in knowledge would be inconceivable for someone in that position.
This blog aims to bridge this widening knowledge rift. As the guardians of your digital realm, we strive to make your online presence robust, efficient, and vibrant, all while maintaining our equilibrium. We hope to foster better understanding and communication between senior management and the IT community.
Our aspiration is simple: for decision-makers to speak tech lingo with clarity and confidence, rather than ambiguity and apprehension.
Subject of today’s blog post:
Running Projects the Right Way: Zeroing in on E-commerce Platforms & Making the Case for Magento
Before we continue – quick and absolutely relevant – and just as funny story.
A Cautionary Tale of Passion Misdirected
Let’s begin with an intriguing account about a renowned enterprise, which we’ll refer to as “Company X.”.
So in a land far far away, there’s been this “Company X.”.
Within its ranks was a mid-level manager (let’s call him Mister Y.), filled with a unique vision. He was fervently passionate about Salesforce, primarily known for its expertise in Customer Relationship Management (CRM). His ambitious idea? Repurpose Salesforce for e-commerce. However, using a CRM tool for e-commerce is akin to attempting to fit a square peg into a round hole. Despite this, he was determined to bridge this unconventional gap.
Interestingly, Company X had always utilized Magento, a leading force in the e-commerce platform domain. This led many to question: Why deviate from an industry-standard platform in favor of a CRM tool for e-commerce? Yet, the manager’s conviction was so persuasive that the company allocated an astounding $10 million to transition to Salesforce. However, as the project unfolded, costs escalated, far exceeding the original budget. And the fervent advocate for Salesforce? He departed long before the true financial consequences emerged.
This narrative brings to mind a revealing experiment from years past: A scientist introduced ten monkeys to a spacious enclosure, providing them with abundant food and freedom to move about. At the center was a tempting banana. But, when any monkey approached the banana, the entire group experienced a mild electric jolt. It didn't take long for them to understand that every activity was permitted, except touching that central banana. As the weeks progressed, the scientist replaced the monkeys one by one. Newcomers, unfamiliar with the unwritten rule, would invariably move towards the banana, only to be held back by their peers. In time, all the original monkeys those who had felt the shock were replaced. However, the subsequent generation continued to uphold a rule they'd never experienced firsthand: the banana remained untouched. This illustrates how practices can persist long after their original intent is lost. It's imperative to regularly review and understand our actions, ensuring we don't blindly continue traditions without comprehension. Now, ask yourself this question: How did an established enterprise like Company X stray so far from its expertise? Hold that thought, as the answer awaits at the end of this blog post. And let's continue.
Even as technology evolves at breakneck speeds, the underlying principles of successful project management remain consistent. It’s a universal truth, regardless of the size or scope of your initiative. Here’s a straightforward roadmap to guide you:
- Stakeholder Identification: Recognize and list down all parties invested in the project’s outcome.
- Collaborative Definition: Engage collaboratively to define your business requirements, ensuring everyone’s needs are considered.
- Technical Translation: Involve a technical expert to convert business requirements into precise technical specifications.
- Potential Solution Compilation: With the technical blueprint ready and the expertise of your tech team, curate a list of potential solutions.
In-depth Solution Evaluation should be based on a range of factors:
Maintainability: Explore its popularity, usage frequency, community size, and vendor availability to gauge long-term sustainability.
Operational Costs: Factor in licensing fees, maintenance expenses, mandatory update frequency (like security patches), and hosting costs.
Requirement Alignment: Determine how the solution aligns with your requirements. Is heavy customization needed, or does it meet needs out-of-the-box? Also, consider third-party integration necessities. Often, fewer integrations result in fewer complexities.
- Stakeholder Presentation: Review and discuss solution options with stakeholders, shedding light on the strengths and weaknesses of each choice. Endorse open dialogue, presenting your insights to pave the way for an informed decision.
- Formalize Selection: After consensus on a platform, cement the decision. Though not always legally mandatory, obtaining signatures from stakeholders provides added commitment. This agreement is more than symbolic; it encourages mindfulness and thoroughness in decision-making.
Why emphasize this methodology? Because decision-making can sometimes be swayed by fleeting recommendations or personal biases. Formalizing commitments fosters accountability and a greater sense of responsibility. When one’s signature is on record, it’s a lasting reminder of the choice made, nudging individuals to prioritize the organization’s best interests over fleeting or personal gains.
Bypassing these guidelines, taking shortcuts, or neglecting these steps can be costly. You risk replicating the pitfalls experienced by the company in our earlier story, potentially leading to considerable financial losses without tangible outcomes.
With these principles in mind, let’s delve into the specifics of selecting an e-commerce platform.
Applying basic principles of running a project:
To choose E-Commerce platform.
Step One: Stakeholder Identification
Your business’s efficiency hinges on its core teams. Among the most pivotal are Finance, Inventory, ERP, and Tax. Ensuring their satisfaction and involvement is paramount for smooth operations.
Step Two: Engage in Constructive Dialogue
Open a channel of communication with these key teams. Understand their specific needs, pain points, and aspirations. Their insights form the foundational business requirements for your project. And while Marketing plays a role, it’s the aforementioned quartet that truly forms the heartbeat of most businesses.
Step Three: Technical Translation
Once you have those crucial business needs in hand, it’s time for a technical translation. If your in-house team lacks the expertise, don’t hesitate to reach out to an external expert someone with both depth and up-to-date knowledge in the domain. Hand them the business requirements and expect technical specification in return. It’s as straightforward as that.
Step Four: Informed Solution Exploration & Comparative Analysis
With a detailed technical specification now at your disposal, embark on the selection journey. But don’t do it alone. Continue to engage with your technical team or consultant, ensuring you’re an active participant in this phase. Remember, while the tech expert can provide insights, it’s ultimately your business. Equipped with the business requirements from step two, technical specification from step three, evaluate potential solutions based on how well they align. While this phase can be extensive and demanding, meticulous evaluation often narrows the field to a handful of top contenders, making your final decision more informed and strategic.
When you’re down to 2-3 potential options, the need for a detailed comparison becomes paramount. Structure your evaluation with a well-defined table reference for each option, focusing on:
a) Maintainability: Examine its widespread use, frequency of updates, community support, available off-the-shelf solutions, and the diversity of vendors who back it.
Tale Insight: Salesforce, with its 1,400 worldwide websites, paled in comparison to Magento’s impressive 500k+. This stark contrast is itself a clear warning sign indicating potential pitfalls.
b) Operational Costs: Scrutinize the recurring costs involved, such as licensing, updates, maintenance, and more.
Tale Insight: The annual licensing cost for Salesforce stood at a hefty $150k/year, whereas Magento only required a $20k/year commitment. For most businesses, such a price disparity demands rigorous justification.
c) Alignment with Requirements: Evaluate how closely each solution mirrors your needs. Is there room for customization? If so, can off-the-shelf solutions help bridge the gap?
Tale Insight: Salesforce’s lack of an Order Management System (OMS) is akin to a glaring red flag in the world of e-commerce. After all, an inherent OMS is a fundamental expectation of any e-commerce solution.
Step Five: Stakeholder Presentation
This phase involves taking the comprehensive table from step five and laying it out for all decision-making parties. Engage in a candid conversation, discussing the pros, cons, and potential implications of each solution. Address any concerns by bringing in the technical team for clarity, ensuring that every aspect is thoroughly documented.
Step Six: The Decision Moment
After exhaustive discussions and considerations, it’s time for the stakeholders to cast their vote.
A ‘No’ Vote: Don’t see it as a setback. Instead, consider it an opportunity for further refinement. Engage with the dissenters to understand their reservations, address them, and iterate the process.
A ‘Yes’ Vote: Celebrate this consensus but make it official. Draft an agreement or a memorandum of understanding, capturing the essence of the decision. This formal documentation not only holds stakeholders accountable but also serves as a reference for the future.
By rigorously adhering to these steps, businesses can safeguard themselves from potential pitfalls, ensuring that every project decision is backed by meticulous research and collective agreement.
Key Considerations to Keep in Mind:
When assessing any business solution or venture, a paramount aspect often overlooked is the matter of ownership.
Let’s delve into why maintaining control of pivotal components of your business model is not just beneficial but crucial.
So why is Ownership Crucial?
Risk Mitigation: If a particular element (let’s call it X) constitutes a significant chunk of your revenue, any hiccups or challenges tied to X can severely impede your operations. When you have ownership, you have control. You set the pace, the direction, and the security measures, ensuring a smoother course for your revenue stream.
Business Continuity: Your business’s sustainability and growth are intertwined with its major revenue sources. If these are outsourced to third parties, you’re inherently risking your business’s continuity based on another entity’s operational stability.
Data Security: With the increasing significance of data in today’s digital age, ensuring its safety is not just a matter of compliance but also of competitive advantage. Ownership directly correlates to the ability to dictate the security measures in place.
A Practical Illustration:
Imagine a scenario where subscription services account for 60% of your revenue. Entrusting this colossal segment to an external entity might seem like a convenient option initially. Still, it comes with its set of perils:
Technological Mishaps: What if the third-party faces technological glitches, resulting in a massive loss of data? Such a scenario would instantly endanger 60% of your revenue.
Bankruptcy of Third-party: Companies fold for various reasons. If the third-party managing your subscriptions goes under, you risk losing a huge chunk of your operational revenue overnight.
Data Breach: In an era where data is as valuable as gold, entrusting sensitive customer data to another entity exposes you to potential leaks or misuse. This not only jeopardizes your revenue but can tarnish your brand’s reputation.
To contextualize this, if you owned and managed the subscription services:
You’d have stringent data backup and recovery systems in place.
The financial health of an external company wouldn’t directly threaten your revenue.
And, you’d ensure top-tier data security measures, significantly reducing the likelihood of breaches.
Integration Simplicity. Always opt for straightforward solutions. The fewer integrations you have, the sturdier and more dependable your system becomes.
A simple integration approach is not only more reliable but also lessens the potential for complications. Remember, it’s a direct principle that can spare you significant challenges in the future.
Tale Insight: A Deeper Dive into Key Considerations & Why Basic Principles Are Important
Recall the tale from the beginning, where CRM was chosen as an e-commerce solution? Let’s evaluate how the integration architecture evolved during this transition.
website <-> WMS (customer-facing)
website -> ERP
website <-> OMS (customer-facing)
OMS <-> subscription services (customer-facing)
OMS <-> WMS (customer-facing)
WMS -> subscription services (customer-facing)
OMS -> ERP
“Customer-facing” integrations are integrations that can directly affect the customer experience. Disruptions here erode trust and business rapidly.
In the original setup, the main vulnerability was the website-WMS interaction. A failure meant orders remained unsent, causing delays and customer dissatisfaction, resulting in business taking a hit.
However, in the new setup:
An order won’t ship if there’s a hiccup between the website and OMS.
It won’t ship if OMS and WMS can’t communicate.
It won’t ship if there’s a failure between subscription services and OMS.
Without WMS’s inventory data, subscription services can’t even create orders.
The new architecture magnified potential failure points, with most impacting order shipping and one stalling order creation a double jeopardy for the business.
This sudden inclusion of a subscription service hints at a lack of foresight. Choosing an e-commerce platform without adequate stakeholder consultation seemed to have overlooked the need for integrated subscription services. This scenario underscores a crucial question on ownership: Does the business truly have command over its critical subscription services? All signs point to “no”, opening doors to data breaches, business losses, and data loss. Such blunders emphasize the importance of meticulous planning and in-depth discussions.
Every overlooked step in the initial phases of project planning can escalate into significant complications later on. Bypassing essential conversations with stakeholders, neglecting to gather all business requirements, or failing to communicate these insights to the technical team can result in projects that are fundamentally flawed. In an attempt to correct these oversights, projects can shift from a pro-active approach, grounded in foresight and prevention, to a retro-active one, where solutions are hastily patched together.
In instances of retroactive modewhich, let’s candidly acknowledge, occur more frequently than many of us care to admitthe role of technical leadership, and especially a holistic architectural overview led by such leadership, is paramount. This oversight ensures that teams don’t resort to a mere “band-aid” approach but are steered toward genuine, long-term solutions. What we’re witnessing here is a textbook case of the repercussions in the absence of technical expertise: rather than a comprehensive solution, we’re presented with a makeshift, retroactive “band-aid.”
Retroactive “band-aids” typically lead to escalated complexities within systems. Take the case in point: a system that once had a streamlined structure with two key integrationsone of which was customer-facingeventually transformed into a more tangled setup with five critical integrations. Notably, four of these have direct implications for the customer journey. This increased intricacy not only intensifies the necessity for rigorous monitoring and ongoing maintenance but also exponentially raises operational costs.
Note: what leads me to another question to everyone: what was the most likely step that transition team failed at?
In the vast expanse of the corporate world, where the ability to scale and the pursuit of operational efficiency reign supreme, a muddled system emerges as a significant impediment. The sharp rise in monitoring expenses and looming technical dilemmas exemplify the hazards of bypassing preliminary due diligence. This scenario underscores a vital lesson: exhaustive preparations, careful orchestration, and adherence to well-established protocols from inception are imperative. By doing so, companies can sidestep monumental obstacles and financial burdens in their journey forward.
Embarking on system integrations or their modifications mandates a keen awareness of potential risks, inherent complexities, and possible failure points. Introducing unwarranted intricacies without clear benefits can usher in unforeseen challenges, which inevitably trickle down to affect the end customer. This ripple effect, in turn, can translate to diminished profitability for businesses. Thus, a holistic and anticipatory approach to system alterations remains non-negotiable.
Alright, readers, we’ve covered a substantial portion of our blog post. Through our journey so far, we’ve mapped out the steps to:
- Identify our stakeholders
- Define clear business requirements
- Bring aboard a technical expert & draft a meticulous technical specification
- Work with technical people, Figure out the platform, present it to the stakeholders, and get it signed off.
So if we are at the “figure out platform” step, how Magento looks in comparison to alternative solutions?
And why is Magento likely a 100% match for our business requirements, regardless of their nature?
a) Worldwide Reach: Magento powers over 500k websites globally. This immense number underscores its maintainability and robustness. With the largest community for an e-commerce platform, you’re never short of data, vendors, solutions, or integrations. As for the license cost, it’s based on volume. And a little insider tip for those new to this negotiating for license discounts often yields fruitful results. As anyone seasoned in sales would attest, a little bargaining can go a long way.
b) Versatility: Magento is your Swiss Army knife of e-commerce platforms. Need it to replace your OMS, WMS, or CRM systems? Check. Want it to handle your marketing and even ERP needs? Check. While it’s versatile, like any tool trying to be a jack-of-all-trades, it might not excel in every single area. But here’s the kicker – it gets the job done. So, whether you’re an enterprise-level giant or a fledgling startup, Magento has got you covered. Larger organizations might lean towards third-party integrations for specific functionalities like ERP, whereas smaller entities might find everything they need right out of the box.
c) Vendor Availability: With the vast Magento community comes a broad spectrum of vendors. However, there’s a caveat: the larger the pool, the higher the chances of running into subpar vendors. But fret not, the silver lining is the sheer number of choices available. Whether you’re budgeting $3 or $300 an hour, there’s likely a vendor out there that fits your requirements. And for those curious about vendor selection, stay tuned for an upcoming dedicated post on that very topic.
Comparing the Competition: what are the alternatives?
WooCommerce: Picture WooCommerce as a handcrafted wooden ship sailing in pirate-infested waters. Based on WordPress, it shines with user-friendliness. But its very foundation, while popular, is notorious for security vulnerabilities. It’s more of an adaptable blogging platform than a purpose-built eCommerce solution. Essential features often seem like distant islands on the horizon, leaving users yearning for more.
Shopify: Imagine Shopify as a cabin rental for your weekend retreat – it’s convenient and no-fuss. But while it offers a speedy start, it lacks the structural flexibility of a permanent home. Tied to a single vendor, its bounds might feel constricting if you dream of vast customizations or long-term expansive plans.
Custom-Craft: Building your platform is akin to commissioning a masterpiece. The allure of complete customization is tempting, but the costs, both in time and money, can mount quickly. It’s a path for the tech aficionados with financial muscle, prepared for the long-haul of system upkeep.
Salesforce: Think of Salesforce as a sleek sports car. It’s a marvel in the CRM lane, but as an eCommerce vehicle, it might not be as nimble. The platform currently stands on a bifurcation:
Demandware: Its heyday seems to have sunsetted. From a technical perspective, its longevity is commendable, but its viability today seems waning.
In-House Development: Still in its infancy, this iteration lacks the maturity, features, and robustness one would expect. A mere 1450 websites bear its emblem, and its licensing model is a financial heavyweight.
This paints a stark contrast to our earlier anecdote. Would you tether your eCommerce ambitions to such fledgling platforms? Could systematic planning have been your safeguard?
Hybris: Envision Hybris as the Rolex of eCommerce solutions – a beacon of reliability and precision. But such luxury doesn’t come cheap. It’s a platform fit for the giants like Nike. And if you’re from Nike, well, welcome to my humble blog! The vendor pool, however, is more of a puddle, limiting your selection choices.
In Retrospect: When weighing your eCommerce platform options, Magento ascends as the standout. It harmoniously melds flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and an unparalleled community. While competitors might boast certain strengths, Magento doesn’t merely mirror them – it transcends, elevating its offerings to unmatched heights. It doesn’t just join the race; it champions the marathon.
As a summary:
If you’ve landed here because you’re short on time, here’s the quick version of our comprehensive guide on selecting the ideal e-commerce platform for your business & running it like a proper project:
Stakeholder Identification: Kick things off by pinpointing your key decision-makers. While this often comprises of finance, inventory, ERP, and tax personnel, your unique business structure might necessitate adding more.
Define Business Requirements: Remember, human imaginations know no bounds. Categorize your requirements under essential ‘must-haves’ and desirable ‘nice-to-haves’. The simpler, the better.
Tech Talk: Enlist a tech whiz capable of translating your business requirements into technical specifications.
The Shopping Spree: Dive deep into your research. Scout platforms, pinpointing your top 3 based on essentials. Mull over factors like operating costs, maintainability, ownership, community strength, ready-made solutions, and vendor availability.
The Presentation: Lay it all out for your stakeholders. Discuss pros and cons, provide a tentative implementation roadmap, including potential timelines and costs. Address concerns. Round it off with a vote.
Seal the Deal: If there’s consensus, make it official. Document your choice and ensure all key stakeholders sign off.
Pro Tip: During discussions, it’s handy to have a tech expert who can assuage concerns or offer alternative solutions. Documenting these concerns, negotiating outcomes, and translating them into business and tech requirements can be the key to ensuring success.
Remember, we’re dealing with people, not robots. Personal dynamics can sometimes override logical decisions. I’ve seen instances where interpersonal conflicts have led to substantial financial losses for businesses. But businesses thrive on rational decisions, not personal likes or dislikes. Always prioritize the greater good of the company.
Thank you kindly for your time, hopefully you found above useful!
P.S. And what about our question – how did enterprise company managed to screw up so royally?
Well, answer is below, as promised!
(and here we dive into: The Art of Subtle Influences: A Case of Mr. Y and Salesforce)
Have you ever wondered about the undercurrents that drive corporate decisions? The tale of Mr. Y and his admiration for Salesforce paints a vivid picture of this very phenomenon.
Scenario One: Envision this you present a direct proposal to Company X’s CFO about migrating to Salesforce. The anticipated answer? A resounding ‘no’. Established practices and pre-existing setups often resist such radical changes.
Scenario Two: Here’s where Mr. Y’s discreet tactics come into play. His actions might appear insignificant but are part of a well-orchestrated plan:
Casual Mention: Over lunch with a higher-up, he casually drops, “Salesforce seems to be pioneering in the e-commerce world. Came across an intriguing article recently.”
Strategic Placement: In a meeting, he strategically leaves his phone with an article on Salesforce visible. A passing glance from a colleague is all it takes to sow the seed.
Tactical Comparison: During a CRM-related conversation, Mr. Y juxtaposes, “Salesforce could produce this report instantly. With Magento, there’s a workaround.” It’s not an outright criticism but a shrewdly crafted comparison.
Technical Questions: Posing a technical question to a Magento expert, he follows up the detailed answer with, “Salesforce simplifies this process.”
While Mr. Y’s tactics don’t overtly champion Salesforce, they strategically cultivate skepticism about Magento, subtly emphasizing Salesforce’s strengths. Moreover, they subtly compromise the technical expert’s authority: He’s indirectly labeled as Magento’s spokesperson, and consequently viewed as ‘the outsider.’ The underlying sentiment becomes, “Why seek insights from him when he seems uninformed about Salesforce’s capabilities?”
Over time, Mr. Y adeptly exploits these crafted perceptions to sway pivotal investment deliberations. Yet, the ultimate irony lies in his departure from the company, even before these monumental decisions come to fruition.
This saga is reminiscent of the monkey experiment, illustrating how behaviors are conditioned indirectly. It’s an exemplar of how businesses often pivot based on hints rather than hard facts. Recalling Mark Twain’s, “The report of my death was an exaggeration,” we witness a similar distorted narrative.
In the aftermath, Company X faced significant financial repercussions. The initially chosen solution, questionable at its core using CRM as an e-commerce tool at a corporate scale? Deteriorated into a cumbersome system, chiefly due to a glaring lack of architectural oversight and technical leadership. While appointing a new Senior IT Director to oversee the transition appeared to be a strategic move to rein in the increasingly chaotic project, recruiting one whose knowledge appeared to be rudimentary at best only deepened the predicament.
If the intent behind such hiring was to designate a scapegoat for when the full magnitude of the issues became evident to the company’s leadership, it raises eyebrows. It begs the question: was the goal self-preservation at the leadership level? Such tactics might serve individual interests, but they are far removed from serving the greater good of the organization.
To avoid falling into such traps:
Commit to Established Protocols: Adhering to tried and tested processes minimizes risks and optimizes outcomes. These guidelines have often been developed through years of experience and expertise.
Seek Expert Guidance: Engage with technically proficient teams or experts who can validate decisions, provide clarity, and challenge prevailing assumptions. Their insights can help in navigating complex technical terrains effectively.
Periodic Re-assessment: Especially at the leadership level, regularly re-evaluate decisions made. This ensures that choices remain aligned with the organization’s best interests and aren’t influenced by individual biases or external pressures.
Guard Against Complacency: Use the monkey and banana tale as a metaphorical reminder. Ensure you’re making informed decisions based on current realities, not just because “that’s how it’s always been done.” It’s vital to differentiate between enduring principles and outdated practices.
Act in the Organization’s Best Interest: Ensure that decisions prioritize the well-being of the organization over personal interests or gains. This includes being transparent about potential conflicts of interest and ensuring a culture of accountability.
By adhering to these principles, companies can foster a culture of continuous improvement, ensuring that they remain relevant, adaptive, and forward-looking.
Company X’s narrative underscores the dire consequences of bypassing critical steps, the dangers of inadequate technical guidance, and the risks of neglecting proven methodologies. Their story serves as a stark reminder of the significance of meticulous planning and informed decision-making. To ensure sustained success, it’s crucial to learn from their missteps rather than repeat them. As the saying goes, if you’re going to err, blaze a new trail. However, the wisest path remains adherence to established protocols and processesthey’ve been crafted through experience and stand as safeguards against potential pitfalls.
Thank you for dedicating your time to this narrative. Join us in our upcoming discussion on “Selecting the Right Vendor: Ensuring a Robust Technical Partnership.” Stay tuned!