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Does location matter in choosing a developer?

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This centralized knowledge base is critical to the communications process. In an ideal world, corporate marketers want their Web developers around the corner. Nothing, they say, replaces face-to-face meetings and the ability to drop in at a moment's notice.

But with the epicenter of digital talent located on the East and West Coasts, companies in between have been forced to make a difficult choice: Local or long-distance?

For some businesses, the decision has been easy. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and Eastman Kodak Co., for example, comfortably use Web shops 3,000 miles away, thanks to such bulletproof procedures as templates and documentation manuals. Web developers for Toshiba America Information Systems, Haagen Dazs and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines have also employed a variety of tactics, from project management Web sites to videoconferencing, to facilitate communication over long distances.

Projects get attention

And in developing a Web site for its Windows CE handheld device, Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft Corp. has ensured personal attention and frequent visits from its New York Web shop, T3 Media, by dangling future projects.

But for companies that require more personal attention, out-of-town developers pose time and money risks. Washington-based GE Information Services, for example, contracted with an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based shop to develop its Trading Process Network. The business unit of General Electric Co. later switched to a local boutique after communications problems required costly trips to shore up creative boondoggles.

"It was a painful process," says Craig Bednarovsky, Web master for GEIS. "Using a local firm has now allowed us to develop a personal relationship and trust that can't be duplicated using the Web, e-mail and voicemail."

Challenges

Indeed, long-distance Web relationships are fraught with challenges for both corporations and developers. In addition to issues of communication, trust and turnaround time, the cost of doing business is also higher.

T3 Media estimates it spends more than $20,000 a year in travel and administrative costs to service such high-profile clients as Microsoft and American Express, where T3 deals with a Phoenix office.

"This is still a face-to-face business and we consider this the cost of doing business with these firms," says Chris Bryant, managing partner at T3.

But even the extra expense â€" which is often borne by less influential clients â€" hasn't stopped a legion of corporations from reaching beyond their back yards for talent. Companies that can't pay the freight for personal appearances are relying on developers for creative communications solutions.

New York-based Thinking New Ideas, for example, uses videoconferencing and listservs such as Majordomo to facilitate dialogues, brainstorming and decisionmaking.

Password-protected project management Web sites are being used with much success. This allows companies to view pages as they're being developed.

Magnet Interactive, Washington, even sets up threaded discussions, as well as archives of meeting or call notes, on its sites.

"This centralized knowledge base is critical to the communications process," says Jerry MacLean, executive producer, Magnet. "It helps us deal with multiple project managers, Internet committees and new people who come on the project but can't be available at the same time for scheduled conference calls."

Not content to rely on such jury-rigged solutions alone, Kodak developed several procedures for ensuring success, regardless of where Web development is centered. To qualify for work on one of 50 projects for the Rochester, N.Y.-based company, Web shops must pass a certification process. Then they are required to follow templates contained in the Kodak Web Creative Process handbook.

"These are global communication tools and systems that we control from our Rochester-based Network Services Unit," says Wayne Neale, manager of the Kodak.com site.

Although Akron, Ohio-based Goodyear has also developed design and technical specs, which are posted on a password-protected site, Rob Elder, manager of site operations, is not as concerned about long-distance relationships.

"It's the ad agency and direct marketing model â€" rarely are they located in town, and we still manage to work well together," says Mr. Elder. But the Web relationship is easier to monitor. "Agencies will go right up to the deadline, then bring in a dog-and-pony show," he says. "With the Web, you can watch what's going on and make course corrections midstream."

Mr. Elder and other corporate marketers point out, however, that working Web sites cannot substitute for a live body when it comes to such complex tasks as systems integration.

Traveling staffers

For example, to integrate the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines legacy database with a pricing and availability function on its Web site, New York-based US Interactive sent its chief programmer to the client's Miami site for one week.

Yet despite assurances from Web firms that long-distance development really works, many companies have decided not to stray from their own back yard, even at the expense of finding better talent.

Arts & Entertainment TV chose local New York agency Interactive Eight after a bid process that included several out-of-town web boutiques. Not only does A&E now have the convenience of in-person meetings several times a week, but the president of the shop attends each one.

"When we went out to bid, location was one of our three main reasons, but not the top one," says Todd Tarpley, director of new media for A&E. "Looking back, it would become the No. 1 criteria."

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