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Online technologies move at a frightening pace, and it is a big problem for businesses that operate online and that want to keep up with the latest new trend or technique.

Because of this, the shelf life of a website or mobile app seems to get shorter and shorter. For a brochure-ware site, this isn’t necessarily a massive issue as it is possible for redesigns to be rolled out with minimal effort, albeit at a cost.

But for more complex sites and web applications, managing upgrades and revamps becomes more difficult. And e-commerce sites are a perfect example.

That’s where the idea of replatforming comes it. This is the process by which an e-commerce site will move from one platform to another.

It’s a process that can strike fear into the heart of any web developer or e-commerce manager but actually, if approached in the right way, it can be incredibly beneficial.

Why replatforming might be necessary:

Legacy systems failing

In the early days of e-commerce, many companies rolled out bespoke platforms at a time when ‘off-the-shelf’ solutions just didn’t cut the mustard. But in time, these bespoke systems have become complicated and expensive to update.

New features needed

Linked to this last point will be a desire to add new features in a more efficient way. Often older platforms will struggle to scale with the demands of growing businesses, whereas modern platforms will be more ‘futureproof’.

A fresh start

Again, because things move so quickly, it gets to the stage where only so many redesigns and ‘add-ons’ can be rolled out before the site begins to look cluttered and badly thought through.

Occasionally it's necessary just to start again from scratch. Starting from a blank sheet of paper is beneficial in other senses too as often business aims and objectives will be very different from when the original site was created.

Outsourcing development

Moving from an on-premise, in-house development state to a hosted or fully managed platform could be a reason to move in itself, reducing long-term cost and complexity.

Integration

Increasingly, e-commerce platforms are required to integrate with a number of complex and sophisticated partners and third-party systems.

Many platforms now have these capabilities built-in as plugins, which eliminates the need to undergo costly development work every time.

So while replatforming will often require an upfront cash injection, the longer term ROI will be considerable compared to what was in place before, not to mention the additional features and functionality that will be available.

A better approach?

Before embarking on a replatforming strategy however, there are a number of key things to think about:

Cost

Just because you paid £20k five years ago for your new site, don’t expect to pay the same today. Having said that, you’ll want to make sure your project is fully costed from day one so that you don’t get any shocks further down the line.

If you’re going for a hosted option, there will be ongoing costs to bear in mind too. If you can, go for a fixed priced solution, but make sure you build in a contingency!

Specification

Linked to the previous point is the importance of coming up with a detailed specification before you enter into talks with suppliers. Make sure you are clear about what you want from your new site and the requirements you have now (and in the future).

Also ensure that the company you work with uses wireframes so that you are clear about how functionality will work before sign-off.

Functionality

Be very clear about what functionality comes as part of the platform and what has to be added on (at an additional cost).

Review internal processes

Sometimes, instead of finding a platform that matches your internal processes exactly, it is easier to modify your processes to fit the new platform.

This is an opportunity to sit back and reexamine how your business functions and if it could be improved. Better to do this now rather than in six months time when the site has already been built!

Service

While many platforms will be ‘off-the-shelf’, it’s very rare that you won’t need support or assistance, even if you plan to do the development work yourself or with another agency.

Check what support you will receive in the early days and on an ongoing basis too. Why not talk to other clients and get references?

Investigate all the options 

From low cost SaaS options to bespoke build and open source, there is an array of different options for ecommerce platforms. Make sure you consider them all and select the best fit for your business.

Strive to find a ‘partner’

Are you a problem client? Are you being too demanding? Treat your suppliers well and you’ll get a better deal in the long-term.

If it’s too good to be true, it probably is

Be wary of anyone that will offer to build you a site in a week or two and/or for a miniscule price. There are good deals to be done, but tread with care.

This is a big, strategic investment for your business, so it’s worth investing at this stage. It will pay off eventually.

So that’s replatforming!

It’s definitely a strategy that more and more ebusinesses will need to tackle sooner rather than later, but approaching it in the right way at this stage will ensure you are better prepared for anything that might materialise in the future.

Ben Staveley

Published 22 August, 2011 by Ben Staveley

Ben Staveley is Head of E-commerce at dotCommerce and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

5 more posts from this author

Comments (2)

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Luke Brynley-Jones

This is a major issue in social CRM at the moment - whether to stick with expensive legacy systems (primarily because they were expensive) or shift to better connected, API-led engagement tools. it's going to be a key discussion point at #SCRM11 in New York on 3rd Nov and 6th Dec in Paris.

about 5 years ago

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marek bober, Sales at Idosell Shop

Hi, Why do re-platforming- why not to choose something in Saas which makes all this simply not happened?

5 months ago

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