At Taoti, we often talk about how people “come to us for the hard stuff.” This includes things like integrations with third-party platforms. And while we are proud of our ability to undertake complex integrations, we also know that it’s not always the best use of a client’s time and money. Sometimes, just having a nice platform that you can link to, with a vendor who doesn’t force you to up your ibuprofen intake, is all you really need.
The following post was in written in response to a recent request for tips on how to evaluate third-party platforms.
Does the platform cover all of your needs?
Having an internally defined and agreed-upon list of requirements can help you more clearly and efficiently determine an ideal fit. Sometimes a platform might not heavily promote some of the features that are atop your list. Getting them to customize a response to your needs can help you make an apples-to-apples comparison.
What is its track record / history?
Is it a relatively new platform? This isn’t intrinsically bad, but seeing a changelog of how it’s evolved can be helpful in determining how it might evolve to meet your needs.
How well-documented is its API?
Many of the platforms can handle the same data storage and processing tasks. The challenge can often lie in making sure developers are able to discern how to leverage the platform’s API.
At Taoti, we prefer if a platform’s API is REST-based instead of SOAP-based. It’s not that we can’t work with SOAP, but it can end up taking more effort to accomplish various integrations.
When evaluating firms from an integration perspective, I personally believe that going with firms that have experience with a range of platforms is crucial. This is because it helps establish an understanding of what’s possible that you don’t get from just working with one or two platforms.
What organizations currently use it?
It’s ideal not to be a platform’s biggest customer. That can often mean that it isn’t able to handle all of your needs or might not be able to in the future. I could tell you a story about a major metropolitan newspaper that was the largest user of a particular CMS and how its website once kind of brought Saddam Hussein back to life.
What use cases do you have for the platform and how well do they address them?
It’s easy to fall in love with videos of a platform and verbiage on a website about a platform. Ultimately, however, individuals are going to have to use the platform (to donate, to sign up, to run reports etc.). Understanding what your specific use cases are and getting them to demo those specific use cases will help you dig deeper to understand if it’s a good fit.
Can you easily see answers to people’s unique issues being addressed? How active is the support community / FAQ pages?
Feeling reassured at their level of engagement when people have issues is key.
How skinnable is the platform and how would that work?
For third-party platforms that you might link to instead of fully ingest into your site, understanding what flexibility you have to make the look and feel consistent with your main site is helpful. Look at other sites that do the same thing. Reach out to those organizations about how happy they are with the vendor. Be able to understand if you can only tweak colors and fonts or if you can apply your entire header and footer into their platform. Ask if the third-party vendor needs full, coded templates or if they can work from a layered PSD file.
Leverage Communities and go social
I’ve been impressed with answers I’ve gotten when I post questions to LinkedIn. The answers can sometimes be self-serving but they’re well-behaved and professional.
Obviously, this eight-point list isn’t enough to cover every contingency and platform out there. We welcome the opportunity to discuss your specific needs further. Feel free to drop us a line!