Entrepreneur Rescues Doomed E-Commerce Project

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HereÂ?s how a Web publisher and international consulting firm turned to a consultant recommending an open-source solution to launch their e-commerce Website in only two monthsÂ?after losing six months of work with a custom developer.

Tulsa-based publishing and consulting firm Write Solutions wanted to launch a fully-featured and easily managed e-commerce Website to help computer value added resellers (VARs) improve their technical know-how, consulting, marketing and management skills.

“An Internet portal, DoctorVAR.com (http://www.doctorvar.com) would aggregate up-to-date information technology news and some of the best articles and resources for VARs,” says Linda Christie, company president. “After talking to several Web developers, we chose a custom designed php solution with SQL databases to store thousands of stories and favorite links.”

However, two months into the project, it became evident that the developer didn’t have adequate programming staff to launch the site within the promised three-month schedule. Unfortunately, Christie felt she had few alternatives. “I’d already spent hundreds of hours working on the site design and adding thousands of favorite links and articles to the database—work that could be lost if I changed vendors.”

After returning from a two month assignment in Europe, during which no progress was made, Christie spent a couple of days with the programmer to iron out the final details. “At last we were making progress. I updated some of the content and began writing press releases for the big day.”

One night the site went offline. The next day it was still down. Then the dreaded call came: hackers had broken into the server hosting facility. “What about the backup? I asked.”

“The last backup file was corrupted,” was their answer. Christie says, “So at this point, I lost all confidence in the developer—not to mention over ten-thousand records I’d uploaded.”

Christie wasn’t sure what to do. “Our e-commerce project—a major commitment in time and resources--was already four months past due. And I couldn’t afford the time or money to start coding the site from scratch.”

Christie began searching online for a new developer. Soon, one of the people she contacted emailed her a slew of probing questions. “I felt like I was taking a test,” Christie says. “But the quality of his inquiries gave me confidence this person wanted to clearly understand the scope of the project, as well as my level of expertise to manage the site.”

Soon Christie scheduled a meeting with the web designer, to discuss the challenges of launching such a complex site on a limited budget. The developer recommended utilizing a proven and supported open source content manager: PostNuke. “Not only is this software free, but the friendly user interface would allow me to perform all of the daily administration, even make page layout changes,” Christie says.

“The company said their goal was to make me as independent of them as possible by the end of the project. I’d been burned once already,” Christie says. “So I was excited about integrating supported public domain software that could be maintained by a multitude of providers, should the developer and I part for whatever reason. Plus there would be no software debugging needed.”

After resolving some technical difficulties with the PostNuke implementation, the designer proceeded to deliver the site on schedule and within Christie’s limited budget. “Within two weeks, I was able to start laying out pages and uploading data. And by the end of two months the site was up,” Christie says. “We integrated free PostNuke modules to provide an ezine, forum, job bank, and banner/ad management, as well as an html-oriented content manager, Content Express, that simplifies adding html pages, uploading content, and searching the entire site.”

“A computer science student intern, working as my site administrator, is polishing some of the html pages, creating banner ads, and adding forms,” Christie says. “He’s providing inexpensive ongoing support, as well as gaining real world experience.”

Christie says that in retrospect she should have investigated open source solutions before trying to reinvent the wheel. “Before I began this project, I had limited exposure to open source Linux applications,” Christie says. “Now I realize there is a wide array of sophisticated, free or inexpensive applications available to meet a vast range of business needs. While you may need to pay a systems integrator to install and customize the solution to meet your specific needs, it’s still far less expensive, and possibly even more effective, than developing a customized program from scratch.”

For additional information about DoctorVAR.com visit their Web site at http://www.doctorvar.com.

Copyright 2003, Write Solutions, Inc., Tulsa OK. Reprinted by permission.

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