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10 guidelines to outsourcing web development

 

One issue that has recently attained center stage in the business world is the debate over whether outsourcing web development is a good business strategy or not.

Proponents point among other things to local shortage of highly qualified web developers and to cost savings. Critics on the other hand remain skeptical and often point to the potential loss of control over some aspects of a company’s business processes that outsourcing requires. To add to the dilemma, some use the term interchangeably with offshoring.

So let us begin by defining exactly what outsourcing is and how it differs from offshoring.

Outsourcing is a general term used to describe the act of delegating an entire business function or part of a business process to a third party or contractor. Despite its techie-sounding name, the idea of outsourcing, is a very ordinary one.

When you don’t have money, you borrow from those that have it and when you lack talent or experience in one area, you seek it from those that have it. That is what outsourcing is all about.

Businesses outsource when they determine that they either do not have the expertise they need to accomplish a given objective or, when they just want to maximize benefits and reduce cost. Outsourcing allows businesses to lower costs, take advantage of skilled experts, and to increase productivity and efficiency. Unlike offshoring, it does not imply work done in a different country and therefore does not entail the same risks inherent in offshoring such as project delivery failures due to political unrest, poor communication, and language barriers in the contractor’s country.

 

In this article, we will focus on outsourcing web development as a major business venture that should be carefully planned and executed.

Here are 10 guidelines to help you outsource web development successfully.

1. The first thing you need to do before even considering who to partner with for your outsourcing needs is to specify exactly what business objective you want fulfilled with the finished website. Will the website be a fully functional, highly interactive website where people can conduct commercial transactions at all times of the day or will it used to simply list detailed information about the business? Do you expect the website to evolve at some point or will this development be the final rendition? In general, most websites evolve in response to changing business demands. So it is wiser to plan ahead with changes in mind. Having a clear vision of what you want the website to do for you will help the contractor and you to tailor the project to the specific long term goals of your business.

2. After defining the general business objective, consider what functionality you want the website to provide. Will the website or some parts of it require a secure login? If so, what will be the requirements or access levels? Will the website include an online demo or a forum? How about databases and calculations?

3. Specify exactly how you will measure success. The main reason why you would develop a website in the first place is to enable people to do certain tasks at your website. So you need a way to measure this and a means to evaluate success or failure when the contractor completes the project. There are many tools you can use including one free one: Google Analytics.

4. Research similar sites. Visit websites of businesses that have already created sites similar to the one you are envisioning. The goal is not to simply copy or emulate them but to learn from them. Examine the design and functionality of these websites and write your impressions about what you like and what you don’t like about them. You can also request friends or other dis-interested parties to visit these sites and give you their opinions. Additionally, read customer comments (if available) and carefully note what problems users complain about and what they like or do not like about such websites. With this knowledge under your belt, you can then craft a better website that avoids the common pitfalls and incorporates all the features visitors find valuable. This will give you a definitive edge over your competitors.

5. Prioritize your needs. It is not always possible to include all the things you want in a website due to budget, time, and other constraints. It is therefore important to begin by categorizing your needs into “must haves” and “wish to haves.” Then make sure you consider optional features only after you have budgeted for those features that you absolutely must have.

6. Prepare a brief or summary for prospective contractors. This should include a short introduction of your company; what it does; and what its overall goals are. The brief should also include the purpose of the website; who the target audience will be; anticipated functionality (ecommerce, advertising etc…); how you will evaluate success; and who will be responsible for creating and maintaining content. You should also state whether you will be doing maintenance in-house or expect the contractor to do it for you.

7. After you have completed the above steps, it is time to look for a business partner. Make phone calls to several businesses who have the expertise you need and then draw up a list of those that meet the criteria you set in your brief (step #6 above). You can then send your brief to the few you have selected along with a request for a proposal. When you receive a proposal, look over its provisions very carefully. It is more important particularly at this stage to make sure that you get the most important features you identified in step #4. Price is important of course but don’t make the mistake of focusing only on cost. Though cost saving is a major reason for outsourcing, it should never be at the expense of quality. Moreover, a well developed site will save you more money in the long run than a mediocre site.

8. Ask prospective contractors for details about the staff that will be handling your project. If you will be outsourcing the entire web development life cycle, you want to know if subject-matter experts will be managing each phase of the project. In other words, you want to know if the task will be divided in such a way that dedicated web design specialists will be doing the design phase while software developers will handle the nuts and bolts of software development.

It should be noted here that there are some web developers who are also excellent web designers and vice versa. This should not be a problem and in fact can be preferable because such an expert can match development to design more easily to create a well-balanced and harmonious website.

9. Discuss a timeline for in-person or electronic progress report. How often will the prospective contractor provide you with a progress report? Does their proposal give a phased outline of what will be accomplished when? If they can’t provide a reasonable response to this, look elsewhere.

10. Finally, ask for references and check them thoroughly. Inquire about their customer service, their task completion history, and their general professionalism.

 

If you follow the above steps faithfully, you will be rewarded with the proven cost-saving benefits of outsourcing. Carefully managed and executed, outsourcing is a strategic business move and a great boon to all types of businesses.

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One CakePHP Project Per Day

The whole team here at CakeDC are big supporters and contributors of the CakePHP community. For this month, I decided to do “one CakePHP project per day” to share with the community.  Here are some of my projects so far:

Project 01 - Notes App

A one page note application using CakePHP 4 and Bootstrap 5. This project is  a good starting point to learn the framework. Link: https://github.com/rochamarcelo/one-project-a-day-challenge-01-notes  

Project 02 - Contact List

An application to manage contacts - you are able to list, add, edit and delete contacts, upload contact avatar images or use avatar images from gravatar.com . It was built using CakePHP 4, plugin friendsofcake/search, plugin josegonzalez/cakephp-upload, Gravatar, and Bootstrap 5.  Link: https://github.com/rochamarcelo/one-project-a-day-challenge-02-contact-list  

Project 03 - Recipe Box

An application to manage recipes, using CakePHP 4,  CouchDB and Bootstrap 5. This one is a good starting point to learn to use CouchDB with CakePHP, including how to list, add and edit recipes (documents). Link: https://github.com/rochamarcelo/one-cakephp-project-a-day-challenge-03-recipe-box  

Project 04 - Service Plan with Exchange rate

An application to list services and apply exchange rate using the api https://exchangeratesapi.io/documentation/ and CakePHP 4. In this one you see the custom namespace WebService to handle logic related to api as client. Link: https://github.com/rochamarcelo/one-cakephp-project-a-day-challenge-04-service-plans-ex-rate  

Project 05 - Polls

A fun poll app, using the awesome Bulma CSS Framework and CakePHP 4. A good example of model association and the CounterCache Behavior. Link: https://github.com/rochamarcelo/one-cakephp-project-a-day-challenge-05-polls-emmy  

Project 06 - Movie Theater Schedule

An application to see which movies are in the theaters and which hours by screen each day of the week. A good example of complex queries, model associations and seed data. Link: https://github.com/rochamarcelo/one-cakephp-project-a-day-challenge-06-movie-theater-schedule  

Project 07 - Podcast Finder

An application to help easily find podcasts and download episodes. In the source code you’ll find how to use the itunes api,  a structure to handle Model actions (that I think is a good option to make your models cleaner), and a way to parse podcasts feed (XML); example usage of dependency injection. The application was built with CakePHP 4 and Bulma CSS Framework. Link: https://github.com/rochamarcelo/one-cakephp-project-a-day-challenge-07-podcast-finder  

Project 08 - Url Shortener

An application to create short urls - a good example of how to create custom routes and use custom primary key types for a model. The application was built with CakePHP 4. Link: https://github.com/rochamarcelo/one-cakephp-project-a-day-challenge-08-url-shortener  

Project 09 - Quiz

Users can list quizzes, create quizzes and answer at any time. A good example of how to use MongoDB with CakePHP 4 with a base structure for Collection classes.  Link: https://github.com/rochamarcelo/one-cakephp-project-a-day-challenge-09-quiz  

Project 10 - File Transfer

An application to easily send files to anyone, create an account, upload the file and inform the person email to send to. Built with CakePHP 4, plugin CakeDC/Users,  plugin Josegonzalez/Upload,  plugin friendsofcake/bootstrap-ui, SMTP and Bootstrap. A good example to see the usage of these plugins. Link: https://github.com/rochamarcelo/one-cakephp-project-a-day-challenge-10-file-transfer  

Project 11 - Tasks

A one page application for  users to manage their tasks. The user can create and remove decks, create and complete tasks, and list tasks grouped by decks. Built with CakePHP 4, plugin CakeDC/Users and Bootstrap 5 Link: https://github.com/rochamarcelo/one-cakephp-project-a-day-challenge-11-tasks  

Project 12 - Blog

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Project 13 - Olympic Medal Count

Perfect time for this project, right?! An application to display olympic medal count by country and sports. The source code uses CouterCache behavior and aggregated query. Built with CakePHP 4 and Bootstrap 5. Link: https://github.com/rochamarcelo/one-cakephp-project-a-day-challenge-13-olympic-medal-count
 

Project 14 - Smart Home Dashboard

An awesome dashboard to manage smart devices using MQTT Messaging, CakePHP 4, CakeDC/Users plugin, php-mqtt/client (testing with Mosquitto Broker) and Bootstrap 5. The application is able to publish messages to change device status and subscribe for status changes. Link: https://github.com/rochamarcelo/one-cakephp-project-a-day-challenge-14-smart-home-dashboard-mqtt    I hope that this initiative will somehow inspire others to put their Cake skills to work, and share their projects with the community. If you’d like to see my future projects and posts, you can follow me on Twitter, and I will share them all there! https://twitter.com/mrcodex

Logging CakePHP Applications To Team Communication

The log of applications is gold. It's an important part of the software, they represent the health of the application. By default, CakePHP will use the FileLog adapter which will write to /logs/ folder. It's hard to track the live issues, and by hard I mean you will need to connect to the server, open the file on /logs/ and look at the issue which you want to investigate.   What do you think if your application sends the error directly to your team communication (Slack, Teams, RocketChat) application? Will be easier to know about a new error after some deployment? This error is sneaky, and can be in command applications. Often, we only look at the errors when the users report it.   For this sample I will use Slack, but this approach can be implemented for any application.  All we need is to create a Log adapter and configure it. So…let’s bake that:     Now we may get errors like this:   That’s all bakers! I hope this article can be useful and you can improve your logs.  

A CakePHP Docker Development Environment

We sponsor a monthly CakePHP training session (register here https://training.cakephp.org ) where we cover different topics about the framework. One of our sessions, the "Getting Started with CakePHP 4" is aimed to help developers starting a new project quickly and following the best practices.   Our previous "recommended" quick setting for a CakePHP development environment was using a vagrant box. See details here:  https://www.cakedc.com/jorge_gonzalez/2018/01/17/using-a-vagrant-box-as-quick-environment-for-the-getting-started-with-cakephp-training-session. However, we've switched internally to use docker as our primary development environment and also we started using docker in our training sessions.   Here's a quick overview of a simple docker based development environment for CakePHP.  

1. Create a new CakePHP project skeleton using 

composer create-project cakephp/app myproject   A new folder "myproject" will be created with a CakePHP project skeleton inside. Go to this new directory and proceed.  

2. Create a new "docker-compose.yaml" file with the following contents

version: '3' services:   mysql8:     image: mysql:8     restart: always     container_name: mysql     environment:         MYSQL_ROOT_PASSWORD: root         MYSQL_DATABASE: my_app         MYSQL_USER: my_app         MYSQL_PASSWORD: secret     volumes:       - ./:/application     ports:       - '9306:3306'     cakephp:     image: webdevops/php-apache:8.0     container_name: cakephp     working_dir: /application/webroot     volumes:       - ./:/application     environment:       - WEB_DOCUMENT_ROOT=/application/webroot       - DATABASE_URL=mysql://my_app:secret@mysql/my_app     ports:       - "8099:80"
 

3. Run "docker-compose up"

You'll create 2 containers named mysql and cakephp -  check the docker-compose configuration to see default database and users created in the mysql container, and the same environment params passed to the cakephp container via DATABASE_URL to allow the cakephp container to connect with the mysql database.   NOTE: the ports exposed are 9306 for mysql and 8099 for cakephp webserver. You can list them using docker-compose ps.  

4. Access your database and cakephp shell

  • To access the database you can use the command:
mysql --port 9306 -umy_app -psecret my_app   To restore a database dump for example, you can use the command: curl -L https://raw.githubusercontent.com/CakeDC/cakephp4-getting-started-session/master/my_app.sql |mysql --port 9306 -umy_app -psecret my_app   You can also configure any database tool to access the database in: localhost:9306  
  • To access the cakephp environment and shell you can use the command:
docker exec -it --user application cakephp bash   You'll go to the webroot folder, so in order to run the cake shell you'll need to: cd .. bin/cake 
  Now you have a working environment to play with the training session contents.   In this previous article, we covered another approach to setting up a local docker environment: https://www.cakedc.com/rochamarcelo/2020/07/20/a-quick-cakephp-local-environment-with-docker    We hope to see you in our next training session! https://training.cakephp.org   

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