3 ways to service big brand websites

Corporate, big brand websites, especially transactional sales channels, are never steady-state. They are constantly changing to meet new customer needs, product and service enhancements, site releases, and evolving technology and as such require ongoing maintenance resources.Also site support doesn’t generally follow a neat schedule or rate of throughput with a flood of problems suddenly appearing at once and sometimes during a bank holiday weekend or at 5:30 on a Friday evening. This lack of certainty makes budgeting, resourcing and scheduling for site support an ongoing headache. As big brands increasingly invest in online as an essential channel, then the variable costs of maintenance and support can lead to major challenges. Unpredictability also means that scheduling site maintenance/enhancements is less of a discipline and more of a juggling act. This can create serious imbalances and stresses on the resource team. The loudest voice in the room can often be the person whose request moves to the top of the ‘to-do’ list despite it not being the most urgent or important. The bigger the site, the larger the team, the deeper the skills needed and the bigger the business risk to keep the rate of change constant.

But who should do this?

Two traditional options are available: The organisation either directly employs an internal web / digital delivery team to manage everything or it outsources with a web partner.

Keeping it in the family

In-house site support has been popular with large online brands because it means the team can develop a deep and intimate understanding of the site, code-base, internal processes and accordingly retain important knowledge capital.

The support/site delivery team become seasoned campaigners who know all the design nuances, content traps, coding shortcuts as well as the key stakeholders and business processes within the organisation. Invariably, this means they’re able to deliver a more efficient service than can be offered by an anonymous team at the end of a phone line or via a support ticketing system.

However, the in-house option has serious challenges, principally relating to staff retention. Routine maintenance tasks don’t generally fire up the enthusiasm and imagination of ambitious developers, designers or analysts who let’s face it are now commanding good salaries and the interest of predatory recruiters. The day-to-day grind of patching up legacy-but-mission-critical code as seconds tick away and senior management scream for solutions isn’t many people’s idea of a fun day at work. It also isn’t the type of challenge that typically makes a CV shine as ambitious web professionals get bored working on the same site year after year. This can often build a hyper-dependency on staff member who becomes a single-point-of-failure, especially when they take a new role elsewhere. While having an in-house site support team is the preferred choice of many large organisations, there’s no getting away from the fact that putting a team in place isn’t enough; a management strategy to make the most efficient use of it is also essential. It also can’t be assumed that an in-house support team is a panacea.

A final issue is the growing cost of maintaining an in-house site support team, not just in terms of the increasing wage bill but the need to invest in continuous training and professional development to maintain staff motivation.

Outsource with a web agency

The usual alternative is an outsourced partnership arrangement with a web/digital agency or managed service provider. This is commercially attractive for the corporate as it means operating costs are lower and human resource challenges are avoided. The benefits are the ability to use the external resource pool especially for burst capacity and the range of experiences brings value to the brand that the internal team cannot attain working on a single set of web assets. This however is not a perfect solution as all client agency relationships ebb and flow and over-dependency on a 3rd-party agency is a risk for brands as important knowledge sits outside the organisation. With the best will in the world, bottlenecks will still occur and this means that a flexible and reliable out-sourced option needs to be available especially during busy sales periods.

A hybrid model

The usual alternative is an outsourced partnership arrangement with a web/digital agency or managed service provider. This is commercially attractive for the corporate as it means operating costs are lower and human resource challenges are avoided.

The benefits are the ability to use the external resource pool especially for burst capacity and the range of experiences brings value to the brand that the internal team cannot attain working on a single set of web assets. This however is not a perfect solution as all client agency relationships ebb and flow and over-dependency on a 3rd-party agency is a risk for brands as important knowledge sits outside the organisation. With the best will in the world, bottlenecks will still occur and this means that a flexible and reliable out-sourced option needs to be available especially during busy sales periods.


Originally published at blog.strata3.com.

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