How to avoid vendor lock-in with your digital development agency

Author: Harry Cobbold
Laptop showing a screen of code written by a web developer

Previously, we’ve discussed how to know whether you’ll require a custom vs an off-the-shelf platform for your business. For the purpose of this article we’re going to assume that you’ve chosen to go down the custom-built route. If you’re not sure whether you’ll need a custom solution or not, check out this article first.

We’re often approached by businesses who want to know how to avoid vendor lock-in. They have solicited the help of developers in building their web app or website, but have had their fingers burnt by the realisation that they can’t maintain or update the platforms they’ve paid for, without the assistance of the agency which built the tech. There are a number of factors which contribute to this problem, but the core issues are ensuring that the chosen tech is popular, well supported and future proofed.

Well supported vs niche technologies

When we say “well supported” technologies, we’re talking about technologies which are more mature (have been around for longer). Whilst it can be tempting to utilise new and trendy tech for your development, for several reasons this isn’t always the best route. Technologies come and go, and you don’t want to end up locked into one which has been and gone. With no-one else around to work on your application you can end up locked into using a specific agency or developer with no means of escape. A good development team will use tech which considers how to avoid vendor lock-in; offers you freedom, autonomy, and supports your business into the future. 

“Tech for the future” is one of our three core principles at Unfold. We don’t prescribe a tech stack until we’ve completed the discovery process because we want to make sure the platform we create is future-proofed

Here are a few of the reasons why we normally opt for established tech for our client builds:

The features you need already exist: Technologies which are in their infancy are often still a work in progress and they probably won’t have all the features you need yet. Whereas more mature options will have many of these already, so you won’t need to do so much customisation – making them easier to build on and maintain.

Lots of supporting resources: With years of use behind them, mature technologies will likely have more of a community surrounding them. The longevity of these platforms means that any problems you experience are likely to have happened to others before you, leaving lots of resources and forums to resort to for solutions. The availability of quick solutions in this way can save you heaps of man-hours.

A larger talent pool: Inevitably, with technologies which have been around for longer and are more mainstream, there will be a wider pool of developers who are familiar with the technology, offering you a wider (and less expensive) talent pool to choose from for development. Ultimately, using more niche technologies can mean you’re locked into an expensive agency and struggle to hire talent to bring the development in-house.

The tech is future-proofed: Longer standing tech is also less likely to fall out of favour. A common issue we see from new clients is that they’re operating on legacy systems which leave them with outdated tech and little support from the platform’s creators. Going with more popular tech options negates the chance of this happening. 

Autonomy of content management: another common problem we see with new clients is that their team struggles to update the website’s content, meaning they require developer support to complete even the smallest of changes. This can either be because the CMS is badly structured and difficult to pick up, or simply because the customisability isn’t available. Needing developers for small changes like this can eat into retainer time, leaving less for the important updates. We hugely favour WordPress for marketing websites for this exact reason. WordPress is familiar to many people and easy to pick up. Customisability and ease of use is a key consideration here – we’ll make sure you can edit all the bits you need to take charge of, giving you greater autonomy and minimising the man-hours required by your team.

“Tech for the future” is one of our three core principles at Unfold. We don’t prescribe a tech stack until we’ve completed the discovery process because we want to make sure the platform we create is future-proofed and that you’re not locked into us as an agency – or anyone else for that matter!