OK, you finally get to the point where you need new software or need to refresh the software you’ve been running for the last 25 years.

For some companies this is a huge decision and is often a company-­defining event that will change the way it operates for years to come.  It will be an interesting time.

To help you along after you’ve taken the big step towards new software, I’ve included a few thoughts on the different types of software development companies you may encounter along the way and how you might choose between them.

Pretty and Geeky Living in Harmony

I often separate today’s web-­based software applications (are there any other kinds these days?) into two distinct areas – the user experience where your potential clients and customers will gather information about your company and its products, and the geeky technology portion that customers or clients interact with after logging into the ‘heart’ of a web application. A good analogy might be the creature comforts you find when sitting in a luxury car (user experience), and the incomprehensible mechanics beneath the hood (the geeky stuff).

More often than not, most companies are looking to create the user experience, a marketing website with its About, Contact Us, and Let Me Look at Your Products web pages. There may be a shopping cart and the ability to send an email to your company. This all fits within my definition of the user experience I mentioned above.

The geeky part beneath the surface of the user experience is where life gets interesting. Think about embodying the majority of a company’s business processes into a website. Or supporting a remote sales force’s order processing, shipping and commission structure via an intertwined set of web pages. All those business rules that your staff just ‘knows’ how to do on paper because they’ve been doing the same thing for years.

A favorite phrase of mine, ‘Data is the New Oil’, is a great mental visual for these two layers. Imagine a database containing the last 10 years of your corporate sales and client history (the geeky layer) – pretty complex stuff. Now bring that data to the surface in such a way that your father-­in-law can understand it (friendly, nicely presented, and easy to understand) – the focus is the user experience.

Web Designers and Software Geeks

As hard as this may be to believe, not all software folks are created the same. At the risk of offending many of my friends and associates, I like to divide the people that make their living in the software world as Website Designers and Software Geeks.

Website Designers are creative people that live their software lives artistically. They tend to focus on a company’s branding and whether the visual components and written content in a website fit the message the company wants to convey. Website Designers will often use popular Content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress to build a client’s website. A well-­executed WordPress site is a beauty to behold, both from its appeal to a company’s clients as well as ease of updating as a company matures.

Software Geeks, on the other hand, focus on technology – and are a rarer breed. Good technology software development requires a deep understanding of the lower levels of the Internet and a broad understanding of supporting technologies like databases, CRM’s, interfaces to third-­party applications, and security development. In addition, while a Website Designer can live within the single world of a CMS, Software Geeks are often forced to create their own environments. A few good Software Geeks can make your software do anything you want or need.

How to Choose a Software Development Company or Web Designer

As to whether to choose a Web Design or Software Technology company – it all depends on what your company needs. If all you want is a marketing website, then there are many great companies here in Indianapolis that will serve you well. They can help you with your company branding, SEO, in-­‐bound marketing and everything else that lies on the surface of the Internet. Pick one of the good companies and your software experience will be a delight.

If your new web application needs more than just a pretty face (or doesn’t need a pretty face at all) then you should consider a Software Technology company that can build the underlying technology that will interface with your databases and other in-­‐house systems. Or you may need custom software that supports your unique environment. Technology development is a bit riskier – with so many external systems and inherently complex environments you will need to insist on a structured development process and very frequent review points.

As you might imagine, the line between Web Design and Software Technology is not always black and white. While Web Designers and Software Geek tend not to work in the same company, the Indianapolis software community sees a lot of project cooperation. WDD (yes, we’re the geeky ones) will often bring in one of those good Web Design companies I mentioned above to provide the user experience portion of a web application. And, conversely, we frequently get calls from our design associates who realize a project requires our expertise in order to access the systems or data that is needed in order to achieve a client’s goals and objectives.

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