Not all developers are created equal, Info-Tech says

IT leaders must do a better job of evaluating their Web developer talent before undertaking a Web site redesign, according to Info-Tech Research Group Ltd.


The London, Ont.-based research firm says 90 per cent of Web redesign projects, when executed without an effective strategy, fail to live up to their goals. Part of that strategy should be to plan out a redesign that’s supported by analytics as well as measureable and realistic goals.


“Some companies are automatically making changes (to their Web site) because they think it’s the right thing to do,” said Randy Hearn, a senior research analyst with Info-Tech. That kind of thinking, he added, will ensure companies end up struggling with multiple redesigns and budget overruns.


But the most important piece of planning advice — besides having a good reason to upgrade the site in the first place — is to ensure IT leaders evaluate the staff they allocate to the project.


Hearn said that even though many companies have a lot of highly skilled developers on staff, IT leaders often lump these developers into one category.


“The people who are really good at user interface or graphics won’t be the same people who can develop a robot brain,” he said. “You might also have a lot of talented developers that are lousy at user interface, so you really need people that can do all aspects of the product.”


If there is a gap in skills, he added, IT managers can consider either sending their developers for additional training or going the outsourcing route.


Besides having the right talent in place, Hearn said, IT leaders have to be realistic with their business leaders on potential features and functionality.


“If a request comes to IT or development, it’s incumbent for them to ask questions to management,” he said. “’Have we talked to the customers? Do they want this?’”


He added that if business leaders get hooked into the “wow” features, projects can often fail to materialize into something that’s relevant for the end-user.


In addition to an effective Web redesign strategy, Hearn said companies will also have to properly deal with the user criticism they might receive from the front-end changes they roll out.


Social media giants like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, have all faced heavy criticism when updating their Web sites in recent months.


Facebook, which has consistently updated its user interface over the last year, modified its “news feed” feature in late 2009. The change prompted hundreds of thousands of angry users to join a Faceboook protest group.


“You have to take all the criticism in context,” Hearn said. “You’re always going to hear from the complainers, but you’re not necessarily going to hear a lot from the people who like the changes.”


Hearn advised companies to conduct rigorous usability studies before rolling out any interface changes. He added that while some good can be gained from the constructive criticism, it’s important to remember that changes will sometimes take a bit of getting used to for customers.


The research firm added that organizations that measure redesign results through Web analytics and usability testing are about two times more likely to see a positive return on investment than a company that does not.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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