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Automated Websites - what do I need to consider?

We see enough requests from clients at Anchor wanting to know how they can provide a service that lets them provide some form of automated system to deploy websites for clients to warrant writing an article about it. Most of these requests come from clients that run a directory of some form and would like to be able to offer the clients the ability to have their own website or domain name in conjunction with the directory listing.

In most cases we get the impression that there's not an entirely clear picture from the clients perspective of all the things that go into providing such a service - they think it will be easier than it usually proves to be. The completely integrated application processes that exist on hosting company websites are usually supported by a significant investment in custom software design and integration backed by years of systems administration experience.

This article makes no attempt to provide a guide for providing such a service, but rather provide some insight into the different factors that must be considered in providing such a service. If you're intending to build such a service at the very least this article will hopefully act as a checklist for some (probably not all) of the things you need to think about.

From our experience two biggest misconceptions in embarking on such a project are:

  1. Under estimation of the human time in providing the associated customer support, and
  2. Under estimation of the cost associated with the software development to glue all of the systems together.

This type of service is not a unique idea nor are the components that make up such a service unique requirements. There are constantly new pieces of software and applications coming on to the market that will deal with some or perhaps even all of these issues. Before deciding to "roll your own", do the boring task of researching such products.

Overview

At a very high level we can break the task down into:

Customer records management

We're assuming that you're intending to get lots of customers, if you weren't there's no need to automate any of this. Lots could mean anything from 50 to 100 upwards. If this project is going to get off the ground it wont be just one person talking to the customers, you're going to have staff and they all can't know everything about every customer.

With your lots of customers you'll have lots of information about each of them and the customer will expect that you know who they are and what you do for them and have it at hand when they call or email you. You need a system which:

Domain names

If the customer doesn't have a domain name, sell them a new one.

For the customers that you've sold domain names to, you need to support them:

For the customers that already have domain names which are registered with another provider:

If registering the domain name, or re-delegating the domain name to your server, configure the server:

Other miscellaneous support requests associated with domain names:

Email

If the customer is getting a new domain name, or doesn't currently have email address on their domain you're lucky, you're working with a clean slate:

If the customer already has email services, migration needs to occur with minimal interuption:

Website automation

Since this article is about providing websites to people that don't have one we only need to deal with provisioning new websites, you'll need systems in place which:

Accounts

On the accounting side you'll need to:

Miscellaneous support requirements

Process automation

In most cases the interest in providing the above service is being able to automate as much of it as possible. The key automation points, the bits of glue to that will hold the system together will be:


See also:

Wiki: development/automated_websites (last edited 2009-02-16 08:43:50 by BarneyDesmond)