Collaboration, Not Confusion: How to Improve Web Operations

Scott Massey, Managing Director, International Markets, Pantheon, offers plenty of ideas on how to understand all the moving parts, improve your approach and take the pain out of the WebOps process.

According to Internet Live Stats, there are around 1.96 billion websites. Each of these sites, from the smallest microsite to the largest brand websites are like people: they have objectives and goals, and they also have needs: they need monitoring, updates, and general upkeep. 

An average business site may be charged with keeping customers informed, attracting new prospects, or earning revenue. Managing them involves both technical skills and domain knowledge – they have to be on-brand for content and technically secure.

IDC estimates that the spend on tools to manage these sites is going up rapidly – worldwide spending on what the firm calls ‘persuasive content management systems’ is expected to grow at a CAGR of 14.9% from 2020 to 2025.

This management overhead is something that can all too easily be taken for granted, especially when only some costs, such as hardware costs, are calculated. There are many different tasks that all go into this overhead and they are split across multiple roles and responsibilities. So how can you understand all the moving parts, improve your approach and take the pain out of this process?

Teamwork and Learning from DevOps

As with people, there is a popular phrase “It takes a village to raise a child”. In the business world, these children can be our websites, raised by teams across the business. There can be just as much passion involved in the creation or update of a website, and everyone has their own opinion on what is best. And just like children, no-one wants to think that their website is ugly.

When you have to manage these sites, picking your way through all the stakeholders can be challenging. However, breaking down those roles and what they care about can do more than just build your understanding. It can also help you develop better processes and get to results faster.

The starting point for this is to understand all the teams that are involved, and what their individual responsibilities are. Alongside the developers that are directly involved in building a site, there are normally IT operations staff that take care of how that site and any attendant infrastructure is managed over time.

There will be the security team that is responsible for preventing any risks to the business. And there will be the marketing team that uses the website to create engaging content, support the brand, and provide information to customers or prospects.

All these teams have their own goals in mind. They should all ladder back up to a bigger business objective, but this is often obscured and siloed. Rather than pulling together, each team cares only about their own metrics and performance indicators.

To solve this, you can take some lessons from the approach that DevOps teams have put in place. DevOps was developed to help companies release better software faster, and Website Operations (WebOps) can use some of those lessons.

What’s the Goal of WebOps?

As an approach, WebOps aims to make it easier and more efficient for businesses to manage their websites. This involves looking at all the different elements that go into keeping a site up to date – security, hosting, optimisations, content management – and then making the process for carrying out those tasks easier.

As an example, developers are often held to be responsible for making any changes to the site. However, many of those edits will be around content hosted on pages rather than technical edits to the site infrastructure for those pages.

Similarly, marketers will be responsible for the branding and content side, but they may not have the tools required to carry out those changes themselves. They rely on the developer team carrying out those edits in a timely manner, when those developers are more likely to want to concentrate on code rather than content.

Rather than only letting developers make changes, decoupling the content management from the code and website infrastructure side can help both teams to concentrate on what they care about. This makes it easier to keep the site up to date, and both teams can focus on their goals.

Similarly, security, IT operations and developers have to look at how they all work around keeping sites running and secure. This is important for two reasons – firstly, research from Westphalian University found that 95% of Internet sites had at least one vulnerability over time, based on tracking 5.6 million websites with 246 different software set-ups.

Secondly, poor performance turns customers away. Just over a third – 36% of customers – would refuse to give their business to a company with a poorly performing website, according to Yell.

These two areas both need to be considered. However, they are often run by different teams with conflicting interests around availability versus making updates.

For example, updates require downtime, which can affect performance service levels. Any time that the developer team spends on checking plug-ins or site components are up to date gets in the way of building. Conversely, for the IT security teams, getting updates implemented will rely on developers taking action. In these circumstances, goals are misaligned.

Let’s Get it Together for WebOps

To improve on this, all the teams involved should look at the wider approach to keeping the site happy, safe, and well-provided for. Security flaws should be treated as issues that should be added to the developer workflow with the appropriate level of severity.

A critical security issue should get the same level of attention as a problem in the user experience. Alongside this, any approach that can take the hard work out of the developer’s hands entirely should also be considered.

This can involve using automation to deploy updates to website components and plug-ins as quickly as possible, as well as regularly checking that those updates have been made effectively. While the security team will retain responsibility for checking vulnerabilities have been fixed, they can reduce or remove the overhead for the developers involved.

This also means that other teams: marketers, developers, operations, should unify on a workflow that allows for regular updates but doesn’t block immediate security updates. This is the foundation of continuous deployment, the end goal of DevOps, and when it includes these non-technical teams, the northstar of WebOps.

WebOps involves getting everyone involved around websites to look at the big picture for the organisation. This helps get people talking to each other, rather than looking solely at their own Key Performance Indicators. By looking at the business goal, rather than individual tasks, WebOps helps teams focus their efforts and get results faster.

By Scott Massey, Managing Director, International Markets, Pantheon.

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