What Kind of Shop are You?

Very few non-technical organizations ever declare themselves ‘open source’, ‘Microsoft based’, etc. but they become that way by the technology choices they make (many times without knowing it).

Sure enterprise organizations have IT teams that can steer the organization to use certain technologies through licensing deals and support of legacy systems, but I’m not talking about the big boys with small army’s of IT men and women… I’m talking about small business and organizations without such dedicated teams, how do they become so committed to various technologies and why do some act so surprised when find themselves ’stuck’ to a certain platform?

Most the clients and potential clients I work with and talk to in the course of my website maintenance business, never give much thought to what ‘kind’ of shop they are. However many of them find themselves dedicated to various technologies because of the choices they made years ago and are surprised to the limitations this may have brought on today.

How Did We Become a ___________ Shop?

The Pitch

When an organization makes a large technology purchase such as a new Website, CRM, AMS or other system they typically go through a pitch process. During this process, people like myself (back when I wasn’t just website maintenance focused) would put on our long pants, a pressed shirt and go do our song and dance for the potential client we were trying to win. We would rave about the technologies our particular product was based on.

It’s an enterprise licensed platform and therefore has the backing of a large trusted company (Microsoft for example), and our team holds several approved certifications by this company. With a few modules we can make it work with your other IT systems.

Or

It’s open source and therefore there are hundreds of thousands of people around the world working to make this the greatest platform ever, patch security holes and come up wit the next great thing via plugin or module. Source code is free and therefore the cost of ownership is much lower (besides our team’s time of course) than what those licensed software guys are trying to sell you.

These are of course just examples, the open source vs enterprise example is low hanging fruit to pick on.

We are All Evangelists (guilty as charged)

Whether we know it or not, those of use that work in the technology field become evangelists for the languages and platforms we know best. We can site all kind solid arguments to why our chosen platform is better than the other guy’s and why there’s is just about the worst decision you can make.

Ok so maybe its not always that bad, but by selling a client on a particular platform, we are asking them to invest into that platform. This decision could effect future decisions made for their organizations, limit or open new opportunities for them down the road. Many times organization don’t even know what those challenges will be when they make the initial investment.

A Roller Coster Example

Sold on One Platform
I have a long term client whom I sold a Coldfusion site to over 10 years ago – this thing has remained solid and has served them well. Back when we sold this WordPress, Drupal and other popular open source systems where not around and/or in their infancy. We pitched and won the job partially because we were able to sell the fact that ColdFusion (a Macromedia platform at the time) was well supported, relatively secure and scaleable. We beat out the ASP (not even sure it was .Net back then) and open source shops.

Challenges Noted
As I mentioned this site has served them well and there really are no complaints. However over the years (a very long time in terms of supporting a website) there have been attempts to integrate this site with other enterprise systems such as CRMs, AMSs and other websites. Due to the platform that we chose so many years ago, these attempts were very challenging, we often had to settle for partial capability and/or were simply not able to get the systems to work as desired.

Upgrade Planned
It came time to evaluate our upgrade (site replacement) strategy and because of the many lessons learned over the years and my new focus on open source technologies (see who the evangelist is?), we decided that an open source platform would be the way to go. Ultimately we chose Drupal as the CMS as it seemed to fit our needs the best and was compatible with other systems currently in place.

Surprise, Change of Plans
Boom… before the first line of code was written (good thing we caught this in time) management announced that they just went through the whole song and dance pitch thing and have chosen to replace their AMS (association management software) suite. The chosen platform: .NET. Current documentation and case studies for integration with websites all called for a .NET based website…. Overnight this organization became a Microsoft shop.

Its decisions like this that mold an organization into being based on certain technologies and when such decisions are made they effect the entire organization and not just the particular group that manages a certain piece.

There is no ‘right’ platform, they all have their advantages and disadvantages but regardless can shape an organization, enable it or even hinder it for years to come.