Today a large number of people have experience creating web pages of one kind or another. Your sister did one for her business and your son did one for his rock band. So the chances are, when you are trying to decide how to create a website for your club, you have some “local” alternatives. You may even have IT professionals on the staff who are itching to put up the website. We believe it would be a mistake to go with a local developer and would like to explain why we think so:
A professional vendor of club web sites, such as Clubessential, with over 750 clients, constantly improves their products by incorporating suggestions from their clients. This makes their products a consolidation of the “Web best practices” as seen through the eyes of 750 clients. At Clubessential we average three major enhancements per month and one minor enhancement every single day. We’ve built an infrastructure that lets us release a new enhancement in 15 minutes, even while our clients use their websites. So when we talk about an “ever improving” website, we’re not kidding.
A local developer, on the other hand, may be very smart, and may know the web, but they will not know all those best practices because they don’t have the breadth of clients to draw from. Nor will they have the time and funding to build a “rapid application development” infrastructure designed for club websites. As a result, a locally developed Web site will tend to be generic, static, and not have the latest features that your members are learning to expect.Security
Perhaps the biggest Internet headache is the constant and ever changing attacks of the hackers. A large vendor, like Clubessential, can afford to layer its systems with the latest security hardware and software from vendors like Barracuda and Netscreen. These industrial quality systems are expensive and require multiple servers organized in complex networks with redundancy, firewalls, backups, intrusion detection, intruder traps and the like. Just keeping up with the latest patches and virus updates can be a big job. Usually a local developer (and even your own in-house IT staff) don’t have the time or money to keep up. For example, one of our largest customers paid a very large fee to be allowed to host their own copy of our website software. They wanted this because they had an extensive and very competent IT staff and wanted to “keep the system safe behind their own firewalls.” Within months of installation, they had to re-install from scratch because their system had been successfully attacked by one of the new viruses before they applied the latest patches. The cost to re-create their systems and all their content was many times what they would have paid for us to host their system. Clubessential has the mass of 750 customers to support a very careful and elaborate security system along with professional level backups and redundancy. How can your local developer afford such luxuries?Architecture
The “design” of a static two or three page website is largely an artistic issue and can be done very well by any talented artist/technician. But what is offered by Clubessential is more than a “website,” and might be better called an “Internet communication system.” The differences are very deep and explain why it cost millions of dollars to create the Clubessential offering while the three page website can be constructed in a few hours. As an example, Clubessential’s architecture has been carefully layered so that the right group of people can perform the work appropriate to them. We have learned, for example, that the design of the layout of the website is a learned skill that can take many months and trial runs to mature. We know that our clients do not have the time to learn this skill, so our product architecture segregates the creation of the website layout to our Client Services team and our Studio Design Group, who have been trained over several years to translate a client’s needs into an appropriate design. On the other hand, we know that content creation is best left in the hands of the client’s staff, because they are the source of this knowledge. So we have empowered this staff with a very easy to use content editor to make content updates easy for the entire staff. There are many other aspects to the architecture that have been created based on years of experience and at the cost of millions of dollars. The key point is that a locally developed website cannot have such an architecture because the developers have not been through enough examples to even draw out the relevant principles. The difference will become obvious as more pages and functionality are added to the locally developed system: it will become harder to extend, harder to maintain, and eventually will need to be replaced.Interfaces
An Internet communication system multiplies its value as it is interconnected with other systems. Examples of integration might include: 1) displaying members’ statements online through an interface to the accounting system and then allowing them to pay their bills through an online payment system; 2) coordinating rosters with other products to avoid duplicate entry of member data; 3) interfacing with the client’s tee times reservation system or lottery system; 4) collaboration with leading photography firms to allow easy upload of optimized pictures; 5) display of weather information or maps and directions, etc. Clubessential currently has partnerships and interfaces with twenty-eight industry vendors, and is adding new vendors frequently. Clubessential can do all this interfacing for two reasons: 1) It can spread the cost of development and licensing over 750 customers; 2) Its partners are willing to cooperate because of the mass of business involved. Local developers asking vendors to participate in integration efforts are considered a nuisance by most vendors because the cost of those efforts is not justified by just one or a few customers. So if you use a local developer, don’t expect much in the way of interfacing to other vendors’ systems.Stability
How long do people stay in one job these days? How long do small businesses remain in business? If you hire a small organization or use an internal staff member to create your website, what happens when they move on? The website, if it is more than just a static display, will be a proprietary product at that point and very expensive to change. Someone new will need to learn all about the coding that was done before. Worst of all, the more functionality you build, the bigger the problem will be when a change eventually occurs. The advantage of a large established vendor like Clubessential (35 employees) is two-fold: 1) The company has reached critical mass and will stay in business a long time; 2) Even if there is turnover in the Clubessential staff, the business is large enough to make the transition to new employees. So by going with an established vendor, you can rest easy that your website investment will not be lost.Functionality
Clubessential has invested over thirty man-years of senior developer effort into its products, and its staff continues to grow. The results of those efforts can be seen in the broad functionality of Clubessential’s products. A few examples may illustrate why a local developer could not begin to match the richness of the Clubessential offering:
- Golf course hole by hole display. Any country club wants to show pictures of its course along with statistics. Knowing that a hole by hole display would be used by every golf club, Clubessential went to great lengths to create a pretty display that accommodates many graphics, can be edited by the club on a hole by hole basis, and can display several different courses. Construction of this module could not have been justified for just a few golf clubs.
Clubessential then went on to build an even more advanced “Interactive Scorecard” for those clubs that want to show off their course with a “flash animation.” Clubessential can charge a modest price for this Interactive Scorecard because it can spread the development cost across many customers. A local developer could also create a similar flash animation, but would need to charge agency rates in order to make ends meet.
- Picture gallery. Once a client realizes how easily they can upload and display pictures on their Clubessential website, they quickly build up a rather large number of pictures. Clubessential, realizing this, constructed a very elaborate photo gallery tool so that clients could manage their library of pictures. They can crop, flip, rotate, re-size, fade and otherwise manipulate these pictures. Clubessential added a high speed utility for uploading pictures ten times faster. And Clubessential purchased the rights to hundreds of stock photos so its clients could use them conveniently and royalty-free. How could a local developer fit all this into their pricing for your website?
- Targeted Email. Clubessential built an industrial-quality email engine to send mass emails to clients’ members. It has multiple streams to process the emails quickly. Each email is sent individually so SPAM filters don’t block them. Over 100 email templates make beautiful graphics easy to add. And Clubessential can track which members open their emails and which ones click on the links inside. How is the local developer going to build hundreds of artistic templates or the software to do all this tracking and reporting?
These are just three out of hundreds of features included in Clubessential’s Axis website product. A smart local developer could code any of them given enough time, but how could they afford to?Client Services
When considering what you are getting for the price of a website, don’t forget to include the associated human services. At Clubessential we employ more people in our client services group than we do in technical development. With a local developer, who will fill the role of a professional artist? Clubessential has five. Who will perform the work of the Information Architect, who designs a Web layout that exactly matches the needs of your organization? Who will be the professional trainers that teach your staff how to use and update the website? If the answer is the same local person in every case, then ask yourself this question: are the people you know who are skilled coders also skilled at teaching and also skilled in art? Isn’t it likely that building a beautiful, functional and popular Web site might require a team of people talented in different areas?Colleagues
One of the advantages of using a widely installed product is that you can participate in user group discussions with your colleagues who have installed the same kind of product. Clubessential provides a communication forum on its support website for just this purpose, and frequently gives local user group seminars on making the most of the Web, free of charge. Clubessential’s “Coffee-Break” sessions are like a community meeting where 50 or more website administrators can voice their questions and hear the questions of their colleagues. If you use a local developer, who will be at the user group meeting?Conclusion
Clubs are successful when they are recognized for their excellence. Your website is your window to the outside world: doesn’t it make sense to avoid using the Internet unless you can address it with the same level of excellence you insist on for your physical facilities? If you want a professional Internet communication system, you should seek out a vendor that has proven its excellence with hundreds of clubs whose names and general managers you recognize. Then you should talk to some of them to make sure they are satisfied with the results. Why risk getting trapped in a technological dead-end when a solution you know will be a success is readily available at affordable prices?