One of the sore points of our profession, but often a sore point for our clients too, is having to offer (or request) a quote for a website. When it comes to showcase sites, ordinary corporate or e-commerce sites with standard functions, there are hardly ever any problems. With our vast experience and a couple of well-placed questions, we can provide a quote that is almost always spot-on, right down to the last penny.

Things get more complicated when faced with a client that sees a famous site (e-commerce, auctions, etc,…) and says “I want a site that works like that”. (Apologies to those who fall into this category, but perhaps you are the ones who will find this article the most useful).

I’m not joking when I say that we have received requests asking us, for example, if it’s possible to clone Amazon. Apart from the obvious reply, which is, “With the right budget anything is possible on the internet!”, the result is always a discussion with the client about the features of the site, which often leads to the client abandoning the discussion considering us to be “too meticulous” for their tastes.

Clients need to understand one essential fact: sites like Ebay, Amazon, Facebook, etc, are not just what the user sees when browsing them.

The majority of the planning and programming is in the back end, that is to say, in the set of functions that the administrator (or administrators) of the site can choose to manage the site in its entirety and which none of the famous sites mentioned above is about to disclose so freely.

These functions can only be guessed at by us professionals, we might have a pretty good idea, but we can never be entirely sure!

It should be the client’s job to have studied the site that they have taken as their example and to have already drafted a business model and the flow of actions that are needed to manage the actual site, considering that in 90% of cases they will be managing the site themselves.

A practical example

Client: “I want a site that’s just like Amazon”

Infinity: “Ok. In how many languages? Do you need to handle automated or manual cross selling? Will there be just one administrator or several with different rights? How will shipping be handled? And stocks? Is customer service going to be outsourced or handled internally? What integrated statistics do you need? …”

Client: *passes out*

You must remember that those who handle website development do not generally handle business development, feasibility studies, logistics, company organisation or planning.
Or rather….they may be able to cooperate, or handle these stages, but then we are no longer talking about a free quote for a site or IT consultancy, but rather a good deal of planning that needs to be done beforehand, and of course, needs to be paid for.

In a nutshell, and using quite an extreme example: if a plumber is asked to plan and build the drains for the staff bathrooms in a nuclear power plant, he shouldn’t have to get a degree in nuclear physics and explain how the plant works to those who commissioned the job in the first place!

If it should turn out that the plumber is actually a nuclear physicist and is able to contribute to the building of a more efficient power plant well then that’s fine… but certainly the quotes for the two jobs that he can do, will be very different, just like the type of working relationship in the two cases.

To get an accurate quote that isn’t going to be constantly reviewed and readjusted, and which makes the life of analysts and programmers just that little bit easier, always try to have very clear idea before contacting any company to develop your website. Try to create something that looks vaguely like good old technical specifications: a list of specific requests.

Nobody expects you to know whether to carry out a specific operation it would be better to use a pre-existing CMS or develop one from scratch, whether you need a POST or GET method, whether a mySQL or Oracle database is more suitable for the purpose… but you really should know whether or not you actually need to carry out that specific operation (for example: automatic backup of the site that can be handled by the administrator) and in what way you would like it to be performed (for example: sending a copy of the database to a specific e-mail address or leaving it on the server in a specific area).

Then it will be up to us to question your choices, if necessary, while offering what we believe to be more suitable alternatives, but with the final decision always being the client’s.

Start with a brain storming session on all the functions that you think might be of use to someone reaching your site, all the statistics that may be needed by the administrator to manage the site etc., and then discuss it with the web agency you request the quote from….. That way everyone will be spared a real headache!


Who wants to pick the Apple?

For those who may never have heard of him, Carl Icahn is a famous corporate raider with a fortune of more than 20 billion dollars, and his Ichan Enterprises is his “secret weapon” to achieve the objectives that he has been pursuing for years. These objectives can be summarised as: to take a prominent position on the boards of major corporations and drive them towards change.

Change, for a corporate rider, means relaunching or dismembering a company that is almost always indebted or undervalued on the stock exchange.

Icahn’s target for 2013 was (and is) Apple. He would, in fact, like to be able take control of it by acquiring a sufficient number of shares to then force the company to use its profits to repay its investors, thus regaining ownership of most of the shares issued (buyback).

This strategy certainly has a positive effect on the shareholders portfolio in the short term. In actual fact, if this should happen, there would be an immediate rise in the value of shares, to the benefit of those who wish to sell.


What is the flip side?

This approach is certainly profitable if adopted with companies that are teetering on the brink of disaster or that have a low level of technology, but becomes much riskier if applied to a company like Apple.

Apple thrives (like all companies in the sector) on a combination of research and innovation, design, technology and futuristic vision. Like all those businesses with a very high level of technology, Apple is a “colossus with feet of silicon” that must battle it out with competitors and ideas that are more than fierce. These types of company often have hyperbolic success, but their base is still a product that is, to some extent, ephemeral. In fact, we’re not talking about a company that produces primary goods, such as food commodities, for example, which never run the risk of going out of fashion, here it all comes down to always being just one step ahead of others, technologically speaking, not to mention in terms of image.

So using profits to buy back shares, instead of pursuing targets to improve products, could be, in the long run, corporate suicide.

There is an infinite number of ways to better reinvest capital, even crazy ideas like drastically lowering the prices of devices using revenue would be, in the long run, more profitable. Doing so would, in fact, encourage penetration of the brand on a wider scale and, as a consequence, also the ancillary services provided by Apple, which over time would be a way to recover lost earnings. Also seeking to acquire or build their own cellular communication network could be a smart way to strengthen the company.

We’ll just have to wait and see if Tim Cook can stand up to Carl Icahn!