Commerce on the cloud: Ask the right questions

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Commerce on the cloud covers a wide range of options, but at the basic level it is having your storefront hosted by a cloud service.

This could be on either a private or public cloud, and in this post we’ll focus mostly on public. When looking at the options for commerce on the cloud, it helps to make sure you ask the right questions so that you don’t get something that doesn’t fit your needs. You might think you know what questions to ask, but commerce on the cloud presents an interesting dynamic to the cloud model. Many cloud offerings are on demand, in a use-it-as-you-need-it model. But with commerce, you will need your site up and running all the time. Down time means lost sales, and this is to be avoided.

Pricing model

The first thing to look at is the pricing model. Will this model include revenue sharing, which is common? Will it be a flat monthly fee? What is included in the initial package? These are all good things to be aware of when you start your search.

Ask about the pricing mode, not just for the initial setup but for the support over the years—as this could change things considerably. Make sure to understand the underlying technology if you want the option to take over support of the code at some time.

Commerce on the cloud pricing model


Customization

Another big area to investigate is what customization can be allowed.

For smaller companies a simple rebranding of the site may be fine, but larger companies may want more customization. In the basic multi-tenant environment the allowed customization may be very minor. You may be able to do basic promotions and allow only a few payment types. Additionally you may not have much order management capability or flexibility with marketing activities. The limitations may be dictated by the underlying technology.

Or you may need to move to a higher-level offering that allows greater customization. These offerings may have been redesigned to allow the underlying technologies to better support a multi-tenant environment. At this level you probably have great customization of the order flow process as well as the promotion process. You may also have additional hooks into various order management software, as well as the ability to do punch outs and dynamic kits with third-party configurators.

Dedicated environments

You can also move to a single-tenant environment, which is basically a hosted services arrangement. This way you won’t be constrained to changes that only effect your store, but could make changes that will effect the entire product. Some of these changes may be in regards to how specific adapters listen for incoming messages or auditing of messages, or security enablement. Keep in mind what your needs are when deciding on the best configuration.

Code ownership

The final thing to keep in mind is who owns the code. Many of these packages include service work to set up and provide initial customizations of the store for your needs, but then what? Do you own the code and now have to do all of the changes yourself? Is there a specific way you must follow to upload the code? Is a source control repository provided? Does the vendor provide a certification path for your developers to get them ready to own the code after turnover? Having those questions in mind can help you decide what to look for in a vendor.

If we examine the flip side of this, that the vendor still owns the code, this scenario keeps you, the customer, from having to have your own IT shop for changes and defect support. Now you have different questions, like what is covered under the support agreement? Can you make small layout changes, or will each change require a new statement of work? What is the turn-around time on defects after pointed out?

Commerce on the cloud has many options for your business. Here are some final thoughts on choosing the right solution:

  • Look at what kind of options your current solution offers and see what you will need going forward. You want to ensure your chosen option will help increase rather than limit sales.
  • You also want to ensure that you can easily move options if you need to in the future.
  • Make sure to understand the cost model and what you will be able to do and not do with the level you are paying for.
  • Also ask if they have any bundles into ancillary products, like Coremetrics, configurators, Sterling Order Management or anything like that.

There are many options out there; get the one that suits your goals best and helps drive sales higher.

Do you think moving your store to the cloud is worth it? Let me know in the comments or connect with me on Twitter @JimBarnesRTP.

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James Barnes

About James Barnes

Jim is currently a consulting software engineer with the IBM Business Partner Asponte, INC. He has more than 12 years of J2EE development and server administration experience, having worked with both customers while at IBM and having worked directly for others. His focus has been on commerce since August 2011 and transitioned onto the Commerce as a Service team as the Level 3 team lead. Before that he was with WebSphere Portal since 2003. Jim is also an IBM Portal Certified Developer for 7.0 as well as an Oracle Certified Professional, Java SE 6 Programmer. Jim worked on the team for "IBM WebSphere Portal for Multiplatforms V5.1 Handbook" and has written several articles for developerworks on the areas of portals and commerce.
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