- In a public cloud solution, you make use of a hosted, already build e-webshop solution. The only thing to do is you have to create layout, add text and products. No worries about technical management, security patching, technical incidents, as all this is offered by the provider.
- You can go for an “Open Source” solution. In this case, you get the software from the “community” for free. You might need a paid service contract for support though. Or you could pay a license for a COTS (Commercial Of-The-Shelve) Software. Maybe one of the vendors you are already using in your company (e.g. ERP, Billing,...) has an e-commerce module integrated with their other products. In such scenario, you will need to provision yourself the server infrastructure and the technical management and monitoring of it.
- Or you can go for a “Custom Solution”. In this case a solution is developed really tuned towards your needs. It could be that such a solution uses a core of open source, but you are deviating so much from the standard release that it becomes a custom solution. In such a scenario, you need to identify the resources needed for designing, implementing, operating and maintaining the software architecture. And just as in the case of Open Source, you still need the infrastructure to run it upon.
Public cloud solutions come in free and paid versions. The free versions are actually almost never free (e.g. transaction fee, advertising with revenue to provider). Paid versions are typically a monthly fee, although there could also be a transaction fee. You should be wary of this, as alternatives such as an open source or COTS (*) package will not be much sensitive to increasing costs if your transaction volume grows high. The advantage of a public cloud solution is that you are quick in the air, don’t require complex technical skills, don’t have to worry about hardware, software, technical issues. Although this may be tempting, there is also a serious drawback: It might be impossible to integrate tightly with the backend processes in your company. Public cloud solutions are by definition very “plain vanilla”. It’s a standard hamburger you get served... You can’t ask Mc-Donalds to serve you a modified version of its hamburger: you take a cheeseburger or a big Mac, or go elsewhere... The recipe for the hamburger is secret and the property of Mc-Donalds: so is also your webshop – you will not be the owner of the code supporting it, so if this service provider goes bust, you might be in a lot of trouble to recover your work and get it in the air somewhere else.
(*) COTS =
Commercial off the shelve software = software you can buy ready made. Microsoft Office is an example of a COTS
Open Source Packages
Going for an Open Source solution or COTS, and there a quite some around, gives you a quick start. As you have access to the code, building integration gateways with other components in your environment can typically be done, given you find the resources with the right skills. You will have to look for a solution to host the package. You can host in your own datacenter, if you have one, or rent server capacity from a datacenter service provider. You must also decide on who will manage and monitor the solution in a professional way. If you are in the SME space, you probably don’t have the ICT resources for a 24x7 management – so look into out-tasking this for a professional job. Be careful with patching: Not keeping your solution up to date from a security perspective in the hostile internet world could be quite a bad idea. With “garage hosting”, you do run that risk... Luckily, there are a couple of well known open source e-commerce packages around, and quite some consultancy firms know them and provide project services for them. So you will have more then one option to buy service from. A disadvantage from using an Open Source package or a COTS is that you can not force the community to add in the release the functionality you need – you can only asks and argument... On the positive side, by organizing the hosting yourself, you really own the application and development. So you will suffer less if somebody goes bust...
Custom Development is something you should only consider if you are a large company, and really want to do special things not available from the open source space. Be careful: if you do this, all the development and maintenance costs will go into the ROI figures of your webshop. This could go sky-high and kill any ROI perspective. So really only a large company with a huge e-commerce volume should consider this. On the other hand, you are completely free in what you design. You don’t have to take in account general usability for other users of your e-commerce solution – you are the only user. Try to stay away from a small consulting firm pretending to use their own e-commerce solution instead of providing services on top of an open source package.