Questions to Ask Any Website Vendor

creaturewoodsInternet and Web Development

Dec 8, 2013 (3 years and 11 months ago)

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1

Questions to Ask Any Website Vendor



Question

IWS

Vendor A

Vendor B


GENERAL QUESTIONS

General Questions

How long have they been
in business?

IWS evolved from the Cornell Web
Production Group, starting in 2004.
Most
of
the IWS

staff have between
5 and 20 years’ experience in their
fields.



How large is their shop?

IWS has
8

full
-
time employees, and
maintains a roster of
8
-

12

contractors who can be brought in
as needed.



What are their areas of
expertise?


All
phases of website
planning,
design,
development
, testing, and
support, including accessibility and
content architecture.



What, if anything, do they
regularly contract out?

IWS has in
-
house expertise in every
service that they offer
:

design, pro
-
grammin
g, content man
agement,

content entry, project management,
Flash
animation,
quality assurance,
training and documentation.

We
contract out when needed
depending on staff workload. IWS
contractors work closely with the
full
-
time staff.



What’s their portf
olio of
completed sites?

See
http://iws.cit.cornell.edu/portfolio/



Have they done work for
academic clients before?
Have they
worked on

Cornell sites?

All of
IWS'

work has been

for
Cornell clients or closely
associated
partners such as the
Paleontological Research Institute
.






2


Question

IWS

Vendor A

Vendor B

GENERAL QUESTIONS

Have

they
built

sites with
features similar to your
new site, for example
(depending on your
requirements)
large sites,
dynamic sites,
Flash sites
,
intranets, etc.
?

IW
S has built all of these.



Can they
provide
references to satisfied
customers?


Yes, upon request.



Are they approved
contractors

for Cornell
University?

See list at
www.dfa.cornell.edu/dfa/s
upply/buyinginfo/suppliers/
preferred/webservices/


IW
S is part of Cornell University
and is listed as a preferred supplier.



WORK STYLE

Work Style

How do they prefer to
communicate
-

phone,
email, meetings, etc.?


IW
S uses all of these mean
s, as
well as project documents
,
according to communication plans
that are developed for each project
to meet
your

needs.




Do they present technical
ideas at the level of detail
that you’re comfortable
with?

IWS project managers

act as a
bridge between customers and
developers, providing the level of
technical detail that enables you to
make decisions about your web
project.



Do they return phone calls
and emails promptly?

IWS makes it a priority to respond
as quickly as the v
olume of
projects in progress permits.






3


Question

IWS

Vendor A

Vendor B

WORK STYLE









WO
RK

STYLE

How do they propose to
deal with possible
changes in the scope or
direction of the project as
it progresses?

It's

often impossible to anticipate
exactly what you want in any
technica
l project until you’ve
started working on it.
IWS staff are
committed

to help you recognize
new developments and make
informed decisions about how to
steer the project. As well as prompt
informal contacts, we use regular
status and financial reports

with
i
ssue and change tracking

to insure
that any changes to the p
l
an are
recognized, thoroughly scoped out
and authorized by our
customers
.



PROJECT
MANAGEMENT

Project Management

What

kind of experience
does their project
m
anager have?

IWS project managers a
ll have
training and extensive

experience
in managing
web

consulting and
development projects
, and

have
completed several of these for
project stakeholders

at Cornell. We
make a consider
able effort to
assign project managers who offer
the best skill set f
or the particular
project.



How much time do they
expect a project manager
to spend on your project?

This depends on the project; for
building a website, the IWS project
m
anager typically accounts for 19

-

25% of the total IWS time spent.



Do they al
so want a
project m
anager on your
side?

For large or complex projects,
IWS

prefer
s

to work with a dedicated
customer

point of contact

-

largely
because this makes the project
easier and less costly for
you
.





4


Question

IWS

Vendor A

Vendor B

PROJECT MGMT

Do they clearly define
what the
y expect each of
the team members, theirs
and yours, to do and be
responsible for?


IWS project m
anagers work with
you

to spell this out, and document
it in our Project Plan.




What kind of reporting,
issue tracking, and
financial statements will
they p
rovide?

H
ow often?

IWS
uses

a reporting structure,
based on the Cornell Project
Management Methodology, that
includes
bi
weekly status/

financial
reports

with

ongoing

change and

issue
tracking
, and a closeout
report.




CONSULTATION


CONSULTATION

Consultation

Do they have a standard
consulting/discovery
process?

If so, c
an they
tell you how long it will
take and what it will cost?

IWS always provides a time
-
and
-
cost estimate for the consulting
phase.

A lot of the cost depends on

how well you have defined your
needs, so you can minimize
expenses by advance planning.




What are the deliverables
from this process?

The usual
IWS
deliverable is a
project plan that includes a full
statement of work (which, for a
website, comprises a

site map,
content list, and functional spec.),
schedule, budget, assumptions,
risk analysis, statement of scope,
and possibly

a training plan
.




Can they show

you a
sample project plan? A
functional specification?

IWS can provide both on request.





5


Question

IWS

Vendor A

Vendor B

CO
NSULTATION

If you review a functional
specification, does it
contain enough clear
information that the speci
-
fied function could be built
from it, and tested to it?


This is the standard that IWS
functional specs must meet.

Please
note that these are funct
ional
specifications, not technical
specifications.



Can they conduct focus
groups or usability
studies?

IWS can coordinate with other
groups within CIT to provide these
services.







Will they discuss costs
and benefits of
different

ap
proaches to
implement
-
ing functionality and
accessi
bility, and help you
choose
the
options that
best suit your needs and
budget?

Yes, although time spent
investigating multiple approaches
typically adds to the cost of a
project.



If they don't have a
consulting pr
ocess, how
do they determine and
document requirements,
schedule, and budget?

N/A




DESIGN







DESIGN


DESIGN

Design

Is their design portfolio
good
-
sized and diverse?

See

the portfol
io on
IWS'

website,
http://iws.cit.cornell.edu/portfolio/




Do you like their designs?
Are they readable? When
you look at them, is it
immediately obvious what
you should do to find
information on the

site?


These are standards that we
evaluate our designs against.
Please

look
at

the sites
that IWS
has

built and judge for yourself.






6


Question

IWS

Vendor A

Vendor B

DESIGN

Do they offer different
levels of customization
based on your needs and
budget?

IWS offers three levels of desi
gn,
from layouts based on
the Cornell
identity templates

to
unique,
sophisticated designs based on
extensive market research.



What’s their process for
design approval? How
long does it take? How
many alternative designs
and cycles of review do
they pro
pose?


Do they ask you about
sites or features that you
like (or don’t like)? How do
they learn about and react
to your preferences?


The IWS

process starts with a
kickoff meeting at which we learn
as much as possible about your
goals, needs, and preferenc
es. We
also look at a variety of designs
t
ogether
-

perhaps those of peer

institutions, or examples of sites or
features that you like. Based on
this, our designers prepare
“comps” (illust
rations of site
designs, with no

programming)
which you review and c
omment on.
From this

point, the IWS team
work
s

with you to converge on the
best design as quickly as possible.
The number of
alternate designs or
cycles of review
is tailored
to your
needs and your budget.



How have they presented
the issues that should

inform design choices
such as branding,
compatibility with print,
cost tradeoffs, usability
and accessibility issues?

While planning your project, IWS
asks about marketing materials you
may already have that should
coordinate with your web design.
We di
scuss cost and accessibility
issues.




Have they worked with the
Cornell University identity
standards
?

IWS has

been
a partner

in the
Identity project from its inception.





7


Question

IWS

Vendor A

Vendor B

DESIGN

Do

they offer image
de
velopment? I
mage
processing?

Yes, IWS can locate images
suitable for your site and process
images to look right on the web.




Will they make an effort to
work from images you
already have, or royalty
-
free images?

Yes. IWS recommends using local
photogra
phs if you have any. If not
we're willing to help search for the
lowest cost images.




Have they clearly ex
-
plained
the image quality
and formats

to use for any
images you provide?

IWS

provide
s

you

with a
Guide to
Images for the Web
, and usually
work
s

with
you

on image selection
and development.




Have they clearly explain
-
ed about image copyright
and royalty issues?

These issues are covered in the
image guide that IWS provides.



Can they provide illus
-
tration?

Photography?

Yes



PROGRAMMING

Programming

Do they have a particular
template or technology
that they prefer to work in?

IWS has done development work in
many technologies and can discuss
your needs with you. Our particular

expertise and technologies we
support on a regular basis are
ColdFusion, CommonSpot,
and
Oracle databases
.




Can they work within a
content
-
management
system, such as Common
-
Spot (
for which Cornell
has a university license
)?


Yes, many sites developed
by IWS
use a content management system
such as CommonSpot or
Macromedia Contribute.





8


Question

IWS

Vendor A

Vendor B

PROGRAMMING

What language(s) do they
use for functional pro
-
gramming?

(You might
want to ask for css and
code samples to be
reviewed by a
programmer you trust.)

P
rimaril
y ColdFusion; we can also
work in
Javascript, Ajax, PHP,
and
some others; Oracle and
MySQL

for database programming.



Do they maintain
standards or work to
develop a set of “best
practices”?

Yes



Will they document their
work so you, or others,
can m
odify it later?

IWS uses a set of documentation
standards.



Can they work on your site
even if they don’t host it?


Yes, as long as your hosting
service will provide access.



What experience do they
have with remote
-
access
situations?

IWS programmers

have worked on
controlled
-
access non
-
CIT servers
within Cornell, and on servers
outside of Cornell. They’ve also
helped other website programmers
arrange access to secure servers
and databases at Cornell.



If you need controlled
access (such as to a
co
nfidential faculty
-
only
section of your site), how
would they implement
tha
t; do they have
experience with

Ke
rberos

and CUWebLogin
(a
Cornell standard)?

IWS programmers have used
K
erbero
s authentication
extensively. They can also provide
simple password protection code,
or set up an access control
structure in CommonSpot to
whatever degree of complexity you
require.





9


Question

IWS

Vendor A

Vendor B


If you want to do
transaction processing,
have they implemented
secur
e certificate (SSL)

access before?

Yes



ACCESSIBILITY

Accessibility

Do they understand and
comply with
Section 508
Accessibility guidelines
?

IWS designers are always mindful
of
accessibility issues, but not all
web tools are fully compliant with
standards.



Can they test your site for
compliance with
accessibility guidelines?

IWS has the expertise to use
Cornell's licensed Lift tool and
interpret the results, both for sites
we

build and for other Cornell sites
that request this testing.



Do they implement their
sites using
css

(cascading
style sheets)? If so, do
they use separate css
files?

Always. IWS desi
gners follow the
strictest standards in this regard
and check every page for
compliance.




Do their sites ever use
tables for layout, rather
than the recommended
div
-
based layout? Have
they explained the
difference between these
approaches?

IWS has buil
t only div
-
based sites
fo
r some years now. (This is
cons
dered the best practice in web
development; by separating content
from layout and formatting, it
makes

sites consistent, easy to change,
and
able to

render properly in many
browsers.)




Content

Can
they help
you with
content development?
E
diting/proofing?

Yes.





10


Question

IWS

Vendor A

Vendor B

CONTENT

Are they knowledgeable
about writing for the web?

Yes, IWS can help you develop
expertise in this area, and provide
you with written guides to assist.



Can they help you choose
or

develop a style manual
for your site?

Yes.



Can they enter and format
content? At what rate is
this work charged?

Yes; this can be done at a rate
considerably below
the

full
professional hourly rate.



Alternatively, can they
deliver an “empty” site
for
you to put content into?

Yes.
IWS

can also provide you with
a copy of our Content Tracker
spreadsheet set up for your site, in
which you can record and monitor
the status of all of the copy,
images, and programmed elements
on your site.



How is cont
ent changed or
updated?

IWS can support many different
approaches to managing content,
from having
you

send us changes
to be implemented, to training
you

to manage
the

site
entirely on your
own
. For “plain” sites, content is
updated using a program such as

Dreamweaver; in CommonSpot
sites, content is updated by going
into the site and bringing up simple
dialogs

that make it easy to enter
and format text, or to add images.



Can they work with a
content
-
management
system, such as
CommonSpot
?

Yes; IWS has also developed a
number of form
-
based utilities that
make it much easier for non
-
technical people to update dynamic
content in CommonSpot websites.





11


Question

IWS

Vendor A

Vendor B

MULTIMEDIA

Multimedia

How much experience do
they have doing
an
imations or video for the
web?

IWS staff have a great deal of
experience with creating animations
and video for the web. We’ve
produced literally hundreds of
interactive instructional pieces
(audio, video, and animated) for
eCornell

courses, several online
video lectures for
Cybertower

and
for the
School of Operations
Research and Industrial
Engineering
, podcasts for the
College of Human Ecology

and
others, interactive maps and
panoramas for the
Law School
,
even an animate
d, interactive game
in which children can
explore an
ancient Chinese tomb

for the
Johnson Art Museum.



Do you like their demos?
(They should be able to
show you demos.)


Can they offer a v
isual
style that you like, and that
fits with the design you
envision for your website?


You're invited

to look

at the pieces
referenced above, and decide for
yourself:

eCornell
http://www.ecornell.com/

Cybertower

http://cybertower.cornell.edu/

OR&I
E
http://www.orie.cornell.
edu/research/demos/

CHE
http://www.human.
cornell.edu/

Law School Virtual Tour

http://www.lawschool.cornell.edu/ad
missions/gallery/virtual_tour.cfm

Tomb Exploration

http://www.museum.cornell.edu/HF
J/edu/journey/)





12



Question

IWS

Vendor A

Vendor B

MULTIMEDIA

Do they have existing
modules that they can
adapt for your use at lower
cost than developing from
scratch?


Yes
, quite a few



What techni
ques do they
use to maximize
performance and minimize
download time?

Many, including image format
choice and compression, video
shooting techniques specifically for
streaming, alternate video/audio
streams for different bandwidths
.




What formats do the
y
support?

Flash, QTVR, progressive
download, streamed audio or video
.
We can also write custom players.




TESTING AND QA

Testing and
QA

What kind(s) of testing

/

quality assurance do they
offer for pages,
interactives, etc.?

IWS tests pages

for browse
r
rendering, link integrity, and site
search functionality on a set of
mainstream browsers that’s
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13


Question

IWS

Vendor A

Vendor B

TESTING AND QA

At what point(s) can
you

inspect and review the site

as it’s built?

Each project plan includes specific
points for review, always including a
final approval inspection after QA
and before going live.
If needed
,
you can

have access to the site
throughout the development
process.



What range of browsers
do

they support?

At any time, IWS tests on what we
consider to be the full range of
current browsers, covering at least
95% of the potential user base for
the site.
Additional browsers can be
included at your request, and the
cost of testing adjusted accordi
ngly
The browsers to be tested will be
listed in your project plan
.



TRAINING
;

MANUALS

Training; Manuals

What can they offer for
training and documenta
-
tion? Is the expectation
that you’ll be able to take
over the maintenance of
your site, or that you’ll

return to them for any
additions or changes?

You

decide what

training and
document
ation

you will need
,
depending on your site and who will
maintain it.
For CommonSpot sites,
CIT's web hosting group provides
basic instruction free of charge. For
all sites
, IWS also offers
custom
training in site
maintenance and
administration, css and code
documentation
, and manuals
documenting your site's features,
particularly custom interfaces that
you will use to update dynamic
areas of the site.





14


Question

IWS

Vendor A

Vendor B

SUPPORT

Support &

M
aintenance

Do they offer ongoing site
support and maintenance?

If so, how do they charge
for support?

IWS offers several
support plans
,
from which you choose one based
on your anticipat
ed needs for the
fiscal year
.

Your IWS project
manager will discuss this with you.



Will your website need
ongoing maintenance?

Yes. Technology changes so
rapidly that every website needs its
underlying code refreshed to keep it
working as well as it di
d when new.
It's wisest to plan for this expense
up front.



Do they charge for
correcting errors they
made in development?

An IWS support agreement covers
all work done after the site is live.



What’s their process for
requesting support or
opening a

ticket?

Support requests are
submitted via
an
online form
.
We offer a choice of
support plans

to meet the
ant
icipated needs of your site.




What response time do
they offer?


IWS
reserves time for your support
plan so that requests can be
resolved promptly.