A while back a friend of mine posted a comment here asking me to describe what it's like developing with Commerce Server 2007. Initially I wanted to reply to him in comments but thinking more on it I really want to provide a different and real perspective on how Commerce Server is to work with as a product, a perspective in which I want to dig a deeper than the usual how-to and tutorials you see on the various Commerce Server blogs; mine included.
Check out part 1 Secure By Default where I discuss the security aspects of Commerce Server, part 2 Three-way Data Access in which I write about the various ways of getting data into your applications, part 3 Testability which not surprisingly is all about how CS lends itself to unit testing, part 4 Magic Strings Galore where I take on low level aspects of the APIs, part 5 Pipelines where COM makes a guest appearance in our mini series, part 6 which is all about getting your solution into production, and part 7 where I rip into the reference shop implementation: The Starter Site.
In this the final part of my mini series about developing Commerce Server I'm going to cover the stuff that I love about working with Commerce Server 2007. While I didn't start out with a particular roadmap for this series of articles I've noticed a trend when I look back over the posts: They aren't very positive about Commerce Server. Why is that? Does it mean that Commerce Server is a bad product? The answer to that eluded me for a while until our salesman pointed out a particular fact about engineers: Our job is to know the weak spots of the technology we're working with in order to produce the best possible solutions. While this is great trait for an engineer it certainly doesn't make for a great sales person :). I guess the reason for my negative slant stems from this fact: For me and my team to deliver the very best Commerce Server solutions we have to be constantly aware of any and all weaknesses of the product which is why I naturally gravitate towards that mode of describing the development experience.
So to answer the question posed above: Is Commerce Server a bad product? Certainly not, actually I enjoy working with a very mature platform which provides a lot of great features out of the box. Actually I've found myself in the fortunate situation of being able to tell a customer that, "yes we can do that out of the box", more often than not. I truly enjoy that part of my job because I find that customers are used to not getting anything out of the box if they're coming from the traditional business which started out on the web on a custom solution.
Actually I come across two types of distinct businesses when I go out and do Commerce Server work in the field: The business which primarily grew out of the web with the webshop at the core and the traditional business with the ERP at the center. As I mentioned above Commerce Server is a very compelling offer for the webshop-centered business because it provides a much more sound foundation than the custom built solution. The benefits for the traditional business are of course the same but interestingly I've found that Commerce Server is aligned very well with the way ERP guys typically think about a business. A good example of this is the rich way in which we can express business data in Commerce Server, in the areas of the ERP which concern a webshop we're able to not only match the capabilities of ERP systems but in some cases even surpass them, e.g. richness of the order schema and the way shipping is handled, the flexibility of the catalog, etc..
Were I to use a single word to describe Commerce Server it would be "flexible". Flexible in every sense of word as you can customize every aspect of the product to the suit the needs of the customer. Pretty the only limitation you'll come across is your own knowledge about the platform. With the right knowledge you can shape Commerce Server to suit the particular requirements of your customer which is why getting the right people working on your Commerce Server-project is essential for the success of it. You might argue that this is the case for all types of projects but I've seen how bad I project can go if the people working on a Commerce Server project lacks the proper skills to do so. The sound foundation I wrote about previously suddenly starts to look pretty wobbly and you end up in a situation where the platform is working actively against your business instead of with it.
So what happens if you get the right people working on your project creating the right architecture? Something akin to magic that's what. With the projects we've got going on right now I see one particular trend: The architecture that we're putting in place on top of Commerce Server leveraging the platform without working against it is actually opening up new avenues of possibilities for us as the projects move forward. Instead of feeling barred in by the choices we make I increasingly find that our solutions just support new requirements from the customer either "automagically", with reconfiguration of the existing system, or with very little modification to the system because the features were built on the sound foundation that is Commerce Server. That and of course the fact that I've got the privilege of working with the best damn e-commerce team out there :)
The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent
my employer's view in any way.