While at #CapitalCampDC (Drupal Camp, for most of you), I attended a presentation about the process of building a modern day website.  There were lots of good tidbits (some of which I’m sure I’ll be blogging about soon.) But one that really hit home for me was a slide about “priority plotting.” Or, as I’m re-coining, “ROI-plotting.”

When we embark on the process of putting together a proposal for a new website (or major website overhaul, as is often the case), we’re asked to essentially put together timelines and budgets to accomplish everything in the client’s wish list.  But we’re seldom asked to consider each line-item feature of the project in relation to the real value it provides to the client’s organization. And too often, clients look at the big picture (in terms of time, costs, and features) as a lump sum instead of trying to optimize their resources by focusing on the best bang for the buck.

At Taoti, we advocate focusing the features that provide the most impact per dollar spent!

Making High-Impact Features Cost Less

This is fairly common-sensical at first glance, right?  Who wouldn’t want to pick the low hanging development fruit, as that clearly is where the return on your investment is maximized.  But the conversation that often gets short-changed is, “is there anything we can do to move high-effort features into the low-effort category such that their impact is still high, but the cost to implement them reduced?”  Let’s make that the conversation!  And a great way to do that is to leverage existing work.  There is no better way to get more out of your web development budget than to avoid reinventing the wheel.  You’ll get more features that have been better-vetted and refined, all for a fraction of the cost of trying to build it yourself.  Yes, even within Drupal.

Drupal Modules: Fact v. Fiction

Drupal is often sold with the promise that there are thousands of modules that do just about anything and that we developers can just magically identify and install them and voila, free functionality!  The reality is that all Drupal modules are not created equal.  Some work.  Some don’t.  Just finding and evaluating them is a task in and of itself. And when you do find the good ones, they were probably built for some other purpose, so there is always an element of pounding the proverbial square peg into the round hole.  (Don’t get me wrong—there are some great Drupal modules that are immensely useful and do in fact deliver on the promise that is modular development around the Drupal core.)  And even when you find that magical module that works well, has been tried and tested, and really does what you want it to do, there still may be a better option from a third-party vendor (so long as you don’t mind a bit of their branding in the mix.)

Case Study: A Newsletter System

Let’s consider a specific example: a newsletter system.  Something by which you, the site admin, can send email to all your users/members.  This is a fairly common request in our world.  Certainly, there are Drupal modules that do mass mailing.  But because Drupal modules run on your own server and consume your own resources, there is a load price to pay for using your own system.  Of course, you have to research and investigate which of the ~100 potential mailing modules (or groups of modules) comes closest to doing what you want to do.  Then you have to pay someone like Taoti to set up, configure, install, theme, and deploy the module.  You need to test it, learn how to use it, etc.  For a free module on an open source platform, this is all a lot of work and effort.  And realistically, the specific features of this mailing system probably pale in comparison to something like a third party service like Constant Contact or Mailchimp.

So let’s consider using one of those third party services.  They work out of the box.  They’re backed by major companies who have spent millions developing them.  Consider your own budget—did you set aside ‘millions’ just for the newsletter feature of your site?  (If so, please get in touch with our sales department ASAP! ;-).  So we can agree that it’s unrealistic that the ‘few days’ of budget set aside in your scope of work’s budget is ever going to produce a mailing system that would be comparable to the services offered by these companies, right?  So why not just use Mailchimp or Constant Contact?  (Both of whom have Drupal modules, FYI.)

These systems can be fully integrated into your site.  Sure, your dashboard for managing mass mail will still be on their sites, and you may not have the seamless login or one style of admin interface, but unless money is no object, these are small prices to pay for what is a dramatically better system than what any Drupal shop could implement for you in native Drupal.

Improving Features While Reduction Costs = Maximizing ROI

Which brings me back to my original point: moving high impact features into the low-cost arena so as to increase their ROI.  In my example, the effort to integrate a commercially-available newsletter service is probably about 20% of the cost to use existing Drupal modules to create a similar service.  And trust me folks, there is no comparison between even the best native Drupal modules and the caliber of features and refinement that you’d get from either of the aforementioned services.  Your users won’t care that you’re using the likes of MailChimp (they’ll probably prefer it since it’s a much better experience for them too.)  You’ve saved 80% of the cost of this feature of your website, and you’ve actually increased its impact and value since you’re getting features and details that you never would have specified in your initial RFP.  This is a win win.  An ROI no brainer.  It’s just smart.  And you know how we feel about making websites smarter.

Drop us a line if you’d like to know about other ways we can improve impact, reduce costs, and maximize ROI for your Drupal website.  hello@taoti.com or @TaotiCreative on Twitter.