Notes from Devs. 1 - Out of the Box

Welcome to the first post in hopefully a series of many from members of our dev team. These posts will be an opportunity to inspire and enlighten non-tech people like me and other digital strategy and marketing types. We'll get thoughts and useful nuggets of information from the clever people who interpret, improve and implement our ideas at the coal-face of software development. It might be common misconceptions, new tech applications or anything else our dev team wants to get off their collective chest. Well that's the idea anyway. First up is some thoughts from our Lead Developer, Terence, who is probably very relieved I didn't call this series "Tez Talks" (I kind of wanted to though).

So, over to Terence...

What do I get 'out of the box' with this?

It's a question I get asked a lot when it comes to bigger systems, particularly for CMSs and Ecommerce solutions. And on the face of it it's a sensible question to ask. The theory being the more features of a particular platform that are advertised as 'out of the box', the more stable those will be and the lower the overall costs as you're not paying to implement something bespoke instead. However it's important to also ask the questions 'What does 'available out of the box' actually mean' and 'what do I still need to factor in'?

To take a few typical and big features that may often be advertised as out of the box:-

  • Marketing Automation - Great! But, you probably can't just press a button and suddenly you have 'marketing automation' usable through your site. To make that work, there's usually going to be a series of actual flows need setting up in a system to say when this condition happens, I want this result to come back. This may require additional content setting up, or extra pages. It may require certain places on the front end of your website to be configured to do something to trigger this automation at the right point.
  • Different User Levels - Another feature often supported 'out of the box'. However to actually do anything with those user levels is going to require build work on the main public facing side of the website. You may only want a 'salesperson' to be able to access certain tools. The 'out of the box' system may then support the concept of a 'salesperson'. But to just show them certain tools or provide them a special dashboard or a different place to login is often going to require bespoke development.
  • Email Campaigns - Again, a commonly advertised feature. However unless you're just sending people a basic plain text email (which is likely to engage no one), there's still a job to build up an overall template, or even a series of templates depending upon what you want to do. And there'll need to be something built on the public side of your website to get people's details into this system in the first place.
  • Fully flexible styling - Often CMSes will have Rich Text Editors that allow you to put bolding in, change font-sizes, change colours and so on all 'out of the box'. But again, how these styles are then interpreted and shown on the front end, especially once your actual website design and layout has been put over the top, is still a job to be done on top.
  • A common theme you may spot coming up with 'out of the box' or 'off the shelf' features is that they often concern tools being available on the admin side of a system, and this is where some time and cost saving can definitely come in as it is one less piece of the jigsaw to build. However nearly every website is going to have an even bigger 'front end' element to it which is what the public are going to see, and it's this side of the jigsaw which is still always going to require that extra bit of skill and care to make that out of the box feature... well... actually come out of the box!