Marketers see need to create developer pool

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To keep sites fresh, marketers increasingly are turning to a stable of developers rather than just one Web shop to meet their online needs. But the need to manage multiple developers brings with it a host of new management challenges, marketers agree.

For example, Nike, Beaverton, Ore., uses as many as 10 developers to create the multiple modules on its sites.


"We felt that we would have a greater creative range and we'd be able to better manage a rapid production schedule if we used more than one agency," says Lynne Pollard, business operations manager for Nike Interactive. "We rely on our primary agency [Organic Online, San Francisco] for the bigger site picture, with contributing agencies and developers adding different experiences within the site."

Under the umbrella are minisites that promote specific products and events. Coordinating all the developers requires constant communication among Nike's in-house Web team, its lead Web agency and the subcontractors.

Caroline Horner, director of client services for Organic, agrees that the complexity of the Nike site necessitates the work of several interactive shops.

Requires more than one

"The soul of Nike is innovation," Ms. Horner says. "It takes several developers to continue to innovate at the level they want. It requires injection of new types of ideas and emotions into the work."

Lisa Bertelsen of Vivid Studios, San Francisco, which has worked with Nike in the past, says: "The enormity of the project was challenging for both teams. We were executing two or three site builds per day on multiple sites; 24/7 coverage of the site; navigating legal issues with star athletes, handlers and the NCAA; managing many on-location teams; and dealing with acts of nature (rain-out of the U.S. Open) meant that both the Nike and Vivid teams had to come up with new process solutions and constantly think on our feet."

Now Nike does much of the daily updating in-house. Ms. Horner says the need for fresh content varies from marketer to marketer.

"It all depends on what you're trying to achieve," she says.

For Nike and others that have a constant need for current content, she suggests marketers "use the most efficient, best talent for what you need. Invest in a remote publishing tool from your developer if you do daily work on the site."

There are some costs, however.

"It probably takes more time," says Ms. Pollard. "There are simply more people involved, and it's more difficult to manage all the integration issues as each piece needs to work as part of the site as a whole."

Those costs don't always balance for some companies, with the extra time needed to manage the relationship. So Mobilesoft, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based division of Philips Electronics, which distributes software for handheld personal computers, used a pair of developers for the creation of its e-commerce site.

Cooperative work environments

Cambridge, Mass.-based Thunderhouse created and designed the front end for the site, in cooperation with Silcon Reef, San Francisco, which developed the rest of the site.

"We worked with Silcon Reef because they already knew the architecture of the site," says Fran Middleton, Thunderhouse's production manager. "Geography was not a problem at all, except for the time difference, which kept the East Coast up an extra three hours. It's easier to do it all in-house if you have the skills and the people to do it."

Although a multideveloper relationship can become tangled, interactions can be smooth if the parties agree on their roles up front.

"Without the definitions, people get a little funny and battle over turf," says Ms. Horner of Organic.

Among technical decisions to be made are which platforms will be used and whether key software packages will be off-the-shelf solutions or custom-built by developers.

Ms. Horner sees this as a crucial step, and a satisfying perk of being the coordinating developer.

Set the rules in the beginning

In terms of managerial issues, marketers and developers need to establish rules for contact from the outset, as well. Site management for Nike is coordinated by Ms. Pollard and her team at Nike. Ms. Horner is the main contact at Organic for Nike as well as the other developers on the site. Developers interact directly with Organic on more technical issues.

Organic also maintains an online staging area where all parties in the development process can view and comment on works in progress.

Creative issues must meet Nike's approval, but the marketer gives its developers fairly broad leeway.

"There [is] a basic set of specs," says Ms. Pollard, "but beyond that we encourage the agencies to be as creative as possible."

Organic enjoys its role juggling the different aspects of the Nike site. Ms. Horner says they strive for "total, comprehensive control of very complex situations."

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