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Open source risks and rewards – why team structure matters

An impressive and user-friendly digital presence is an indispensable asset to any brand. It is often the first point of contact for customers who expect and demand great functionality and engaging content across multiple platforms. The finding that nearly half of us won't wait even three seconds for a website to load bears witness to ever increasing customer expectations which must be met.   

Partnership with a digital agency can be a great way to keep up to speed with rapid change and innovation but to ensure the very best outcome, both client and agency need to find an optimum commercial, creative and secure cultural fit.   This should be a priority for both sides from the very first pitch. The promise of exceptional creativity and customer experience is one thing, but considering the more practical aspects of how the relationship will work is entirely another.   

It is common that, behind permanent pitch teams, agencies who tender for outsourced digital projects often depend on high-turnover contract staff for the delivery of individual projects. The world of agency work is transient, and when a workforce that is powered by short-term contractors meets a brand with a longer-term business strategy, there is an inevitable conflict of interest. 

Rather than simply the delivery of a single project, many brands seek expertise that will allow them to keep pace in a dynamic and evolving digital world.  

Collaborative creative vision

Clearly, it’s a risk to invest in agencies selling a hope of delivery rather than the trusted talents of a solid, experienced team who are already in place. Often overlooked, the structure of technical teams, and how permanent and committed they are, is an important consideration from the outset of any digital project.   

The reality is that the delivery of complex work requires a great deal of investment. Knowledge of your team and systems needs to mesh with awareness of the subtle nuances of client need.   

The risks inherent in contractor-powered projects don’t just apply to clients– the agencies working in this way also have a lot to lose. Undoubtedly, there are many excellent reasons for agencies to hire specialists for a specific project or to help with short-term capacity. Nevertheless, issues arise when an entire delivery team is hired for one project and then all that knowledge walks out the door at the end. It’s not only goodbye to the task, it’s also goodbye to invaluable professional associations, technical synergies and creative commitments.   In an ideal world agencies and clients would view their relationships as long-term and synergistic. In working together, they would develop mutually beneficial expertise, with great creative outcomes.   

It is hard enough to get close to this ideal when both teams are equally committed and coherent. When teams are contracted and short-term, it is pretty much impossible. There just isn’t the same reason to buy and ultimately this will be reflected in the quality of output. Open source is, by its nature, long term and ongoing. It sits much more easily within a base of shared expertise and motivation. It is a product of the environment as a whole, as opposed to individual contractors.   

By nature, permanent teams are enabled to be more collaborative and committed to delivering a solution that fits with the true business drivers and pressure points of a clients.   Conversely, a team of contractors is more likely to experience pressure to take short cuts. Time and financial constraints don’t leave a lot of margin for the blue sky thinking often promised in initial pitches   Larger network agencies often have an entirely different mindset. 

When an agency invests in its employees, in terms of training, accreditation and benefits it can reap the rewards of longer term collaborations, i.e., a sum that is greater than the parts. Positive work environments also set a precedent for positive, mutually beneficial relationships with clients.

Sustaining security standards

Security considerations create questions about the constraints enforced by working with contractors who have been hired for a single project. Quality work demands quality teams. Security considerations makes them indispensable.   Whilst great design and user experience services are paramount to a successful website, an unshakeable and secure technology backbone is the only way to ensure lasting client satisfaction.   

C-Suite decision makers may take care to evaluate agency security accreditations, but such assurances will mean nothing if individual team members are not truly committed to upholding these standards. Security is an ongoing process and so one best delivered by people with a long term understanding and view of your platforms. The complexity of applying and testing security updates can often mean that teams focused on short-term goals put the task off until it’s too late. Mid-sized agencies like Deeson that are committed to retaining solid, dedicated teams can offer a more holistic service.   

The importance of security in an agency is often underestimated – from personal data, to confidential project work. In an unstable environment with high team churn, security is often the first thing to fall by the wayside. Although BYOD in the workplace is beneficial in so many ways, sharing access and documents outside the agency’s network of secure equipment can pose a real threat to the security of your project.   

Security accreditations such as CyberEssentialsPLUS and ISO27001 need to be considered in light of the specific team that will be working on your project. Have they undergone the correct training and had their working practices validated? With short term teams this step is often skipped in the rush to deliver.   

Highly sensitive briefs require an assurance of security across teams. Take for example Deeson’s work with the National Crime Agency, ITV Press Centre and Johnson & Johnson: meeting the requirements of security audits would not have been possible in an agency where the work was solely driven by contractors. This makes mid-sized agencies a more viable option for ensuring an enduring relationship.   

When hiring a digital agency, it is important to consider the team structure as seriously as you would if hiring internally. Neither creativity nor security are worth risking. A long-term relationship with an agency based on trust and mutual understanding will ultimately be much more rewarding than a short-term fling. 

Tim Deeson, Director, Deeson
Image source: Shutterstock/Imilian

Tim Deeson is the Director of specialist open source agency Deeson. Experts in Drupal, Laravel and WordPress, Deeson thinks differently about technology and is committed to the future of work too.