How much should you spend on your charity intranet or website?

John Newton's picture
John Newton
Table surface covered in pound coins

How much should your next website or intranet cost? It's almost always the starting point for internal discussions among Comms teams who are looking to improve their web presence or intranet. So how are decisions reached? Over many years of conversations with clients we can outline some of the processes that go into decision-making.

  1. Use the previous build as a starting point.
  2. Ask colleagues in other organisations.
  3. Do some googling to find any tenders from other organisations in your sector.
  4. Ask your internal IT team if they can help.

The difficulty for Comms professionals with all these approaches is in trying to establish a broad ball-park cost for an item that is essentially tailored to meet your specific need whereas guide-price costings tend to be better suited to buying off-the-shelf products. Websites and intranets vary hugely in terms of sophistication and cost but more importantly your organisation may well have unique requirements that will skew ball-park costings. For example, if your competitors are offering essential chat services or interactive forms, how do you go about costing this if you have never offered these services before?

We review existing websites that we are being asked to replace and use analytics in conjunction with a really detailed process to help understand organisational and user needs before beginning to develop a feature set. Fixed or ball-park pricing militates against this as the team will find that the price tag dictates the outcomes. It productises the requirements-gathering process because it anchors thinking against a rule - it's hard to resist comparing costs and features against other websites that have been built to a common budget. If the budget is set too quickly, then there's an expectation that the site will deliver a certain set of core features. This often deforms development towards 'just another website' syndrome. If your new site has features you see in your competitors' sites, and maybe even looks a bit more shiny, then surely this is a successful project?

The challenge is to move thinking towards measurable goals and away from visual improvements. It's about looking honestly at your stats, resisting demands from above where these don't accord with your stated aims, and building what you know your users need. In order for successful projects like this there has to be a great deal of trust between clients and suppliers. It's for this reason that you should meet with your suppliers, talk to their existing clients and seek to develop a working relationship before committing to anything. This takes time for you and your supplier. If your supplier is serious about working with and isn't simply seeking to sell you another (profitable for them) cloned website or intranet and is genuinely committed to working in partnership to help you get the best possible outcome then they will be prepared to spend the time with you.

I've said a lot here about why you should be suspicious of setting a budget too early. However, you will have budgetary constraints and there are a number of factors and metrics that can help you make better decisions about costings. These include reviewing open source or free software against closed proprietary systems in terms of total cost of ownership, the maintenance and patching cycle, hosting options, back-ups, social media integration, publishing workflows and staff time. There are studies that help us understand how staff use tech time in organisations. Good starting points on technology and social media usage in the workplace include, and I am aiming to cover these topics in more detail my next post. If you have any particular issues you'd like me to discuss, please leave a comment here or else tweet me or use the contact form.

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