The Website Lifecycle and a New Agency/Hotel Relationship?

  ·  11th May 2018

It quite often breaks my heart launching a new website. The square eyes, time, late nights, caffeine-induced hysteria, endless lines of code. Why? Because it is likely that everything that we have written is likely to go to code heaven after three years or so.

Without risking sounding like an old fart, doesn’t technology move fast these days?! From a website standpoint, it is likely that within three years, we will have gone through numerous versions of WordPress, at least a few of renditions of Chrome, Internet Explorer and Firefox and the screens we view our websites on will be totally different. Probably buried in our arm or something.

While everyone at Umi gets jumped up about all the exciting advances in technology, there is still that underlying knowledge that whatever we learn now will most likely be superseded in a couple of years. Yet despite this slight tug, it’s essential to keep abreast of it so that we all keep those incremental steps going and delivering each website that is ever-so-slightly more advanced than the last.

If I have one message to hoteliers it is to understand that sadly this is the world we live in and to assure them that it is not entirely ‘sales chat’ about staying up to date with the latest and greatest technology. It pains us too when we have to put a whole website in the bin.

So with this being the case, surely there must be ways for companies like Umi to permanently keep things up to date? Well yes, there are, but it requires a very different business model and buy-in from agency and hotel alike. I’m not talking about putting in place your standard maintenance contract to keep things secure and backed up, I’m talking about something that likens itself more to a mobile phone contract or renting a flat. I think a new model would involve monthly amounts being paid into the future and in return, the website is kept not just up to date, but actually re-engineered as you go to keep it at the bleeding-edge of technology. So what kind of re-engineering am I talking about? It involves things that you simply can’t cover in your regular maintenance contracts.

  • Let’s say there is a new version of PHP (as we had recently with the jump from PHP5 to PHP7), the agency needs to check all previous code and fix the very core of the website so that it works on a faster language and provides support for future code developments. Sadly code is not always backwards compatible. This is why updates in software regularly cause upsets.
  • HTML5 and CSS3 offer lots of great front-end development capabilities, but new front-end technologies are coming thick and fast – What if in 2 years there was something that blew the socks off the technology we have today? I have no doubt that new javascript frameworks and libraries will do just that. An alternative to flex-box is coming up that we’re pretty sure will completely change how responsive sites are made.
  • Developments in content management might leave us in a position where all our pages are actually controlled dynamically by AI and tailored to each individual customer? That certainly will need quite a heavy revamp.
  • Our browsers might soon support websites in 3D,  allowing the user an entirely different experience. This is already happening with some VR and AR but no doubt, your standard website will soon follow this trend.

Ok, so there are some interesting developments on the horizon. How might this actually work in the real world and what might the business model look like to cater for these significant pieces of re-engineering?

I need only look back a few years to my ‘sustainable business’ module at university. In those under-appreciated, bleary-eyed lectures our business course was introduced to the concept of product-service systems. In a nutshell, these are business processes that approach commerce as a cohesive delivery of both products (the website) and the support (the standard maintenance). Rather than focus on selling websites, we shift to selling “direct bookings” or “an ongoing strong brand image online”. The concept relies on us treating general consumption like we do with our houses and other rental items and consuming a service and a producing simultaneously. We are already highly accustomed to this idea for property and vehicles, indeed the whole car industry is propped up on hire-purchase and other financing/service schemes. We see this in the travel industry where major airlines buy “flight miles” as a product/service as opposed to ever owning the engine. We see the likes of Rolls Royce providing Virgin with ongoing, supported airtime. So I ask the question are we ready to apply this properly to software development? Here are a few pros and cons to weigh up the debate:

Pros

  • Predictable costs for both businesses
  • Agencies incentivised to build scalable websites as they know they will have to build on it later.
  • Brings the focus of each business to keeping on top of technology, rather than burying their head in the sand to developments to avoid further costs.
  • Lower risk contracts, each party knows that all things over time are possible and the only limiting factor is the technology available and reasonable timescales.
  • Hotels being delivered with the end goal of the website as opposed to the product itself, just like the jet engines by Rolls Royce.
  • Longer timescales allow for more trust to build to support a deep understanding of each other’s businesses.
  • Dedicated resources available to each and every client on a monthly month reflected by the retainer fee.

Cons

  • Longer contracts meaning less flexibility between providers.
  • Agency will need to incur much higher costs at the start which might not be viable to some people
  • No knowing where websites will be exactly in 3-5 years so

So I’ll close with this – Does anyone want to give it a go? Very open to discussing the concept with you.