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What is the best digital platform?

One of the questions I’m often asked in regards to website development is, “What is the best platform to use?”.

The one certainty is that there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution. Your choice will depend on what you want to achieve online – knowing your current and long term online objectives are key when choosing a solution. Your basic high level choices are:

  • Existing online tools such as Wix and Shopify, for the do-it-yourself (DIY) market
  • Templated, free to use CMS solutions like WordPress, for DIYers and those with development partners
  • Free to use, CMS custom solutions like WordPress, for those with development partners
  • Custom open source solutions like PHP Laravel, for those with full-stack development partners

Going with an open source solution, a free to use CMS or custom code build, is your most flexible option. While some proprietary offerings like Wix and Shopify seem great at the outset, they can become less friendly when trying to integrate with third party solutions and can bring long term expense in navigating compatibility issues for online businesses and services.

WordPress and other popular CMS options provide a range of options from basic templated sites, which are more rigid and less flexible, through to custom designed frontend sites with a range of flexibility provided by popular ecommerce, online booking or social integrations plugins. One thing to be aware of is that adding functionality via plugins does carry a measure of risk, as these programs are created and maintained by third party developers and require updating to be secure.

Choosing open source development results in a wide range of developers available to work with for ongoing support and new feature creation, as your site demands growth. Advantages of working with open source CMS’ like WordPress can include:

  • Quick to develop from templated solutions
  • Can have custom designed solutions
  • Has the ability to extend functionality via third party plugins
  • Can extend functionality with custom coding
  • Choices of CMS to select from

Of course, every option does come with its challenges in development. The disadvantages of an open source, off-the-shelf CMS include:

  • Templated solutions are difficult to update to add new functionality
  • Third party plugins can potentially be a security risk as they are dependent on other developers keeping up-to-date
  • Has defined limitations if complex functionality is required
  • Scalability can be an issue if you’re expecting lots of concurrent visitors

In development, the alternate solution to an off-the-shelf or customised CMS is a custom coded open source solution, created exclusively for a company or specific use-case – for example, a custom development can create a tailored inventory management system with custom integrations to internal finance or ERP system. With a custom solution your business has total control over the platform’s functionality, interface and updates. With custom solutions, the system’s workflow, design and usability can be tailored to a business’ specific needs.

Advantages of a custom solution:

  • Totally flexible in functionality and interface design
  • Can be integrated into most systems
  • Enhanced ROI as it is custom developed to fit the business or service
  • Is not dependant on third party plugins
  • Scalable as traffic to the platform grows

Disadvantages of a custom solution:

  • Longer to develop depending on requirements and functionality

How should you make a decision?

While a custom CMS option sounds much more exciting, it isn’t the solution for everyone. If your planned operation doesn’t require scalability and you have a limited budget and timeframe, perhaps a more standard choice would be best. If that’s not the case and your requirements are more technical, a custom development should be your choice. Custom development will let you create digital platform that will adjust to your needs and assist you to position yourself, and your business objectives, better.

One size fits all? Doing your research will help you find the best fit.

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