WebOps is How
For most companies today, virtually all marketing roads lead to a website: the email campaigns, landing pages on third-party sites, mobile apps, SEO, the paid online ads. Even direct mail relies on a URL as the call to action these days. This is all great, except that for so many marketing organizations their website is their greatest nemesis.
Keeping a website fresh in functionality, visual design, and substance is expensive. It’s time-consuming, complex, and frequently a painful process, so people tend to avoid it. Alarmingly, most organizations delay substantial changes until it’s time for a refresh, redesign or a re-platforming project, which happens at most once a year. That means one chance every 12 to 24 months to get it right, in what frequently becomes a contentious design-by-committee exercise. The result is a solution that is harder to use, less focused, and ironically even more restrictive, because of the complexity of trying to satisfy all kinds of stakeholders and still launching in a reasonable amount of time. It’s one-size-fits-all and optimal for none. No one is happy.
And how long before such a creation starts showing its age? Before it falls out of step with the marketing vision? In an era when browsers update (visibly) once a week and cloud software nearly as often; when platforms like Slack or WebEx enable real-time group dialogue and instantaneous decision making; when social media propel a news item, rumor, joke, or photo around the globe in seconds, the inability to sustain even a modicum of currency in one’s website seems downright archaic. Multiply that by a factor of X--the average publicly traded company has more than 180 sites to maintain, and some organizations have well over 1,000—and you see the magnitude of the problem. It’s no wonder that the average tenure of marketing leaders is 18 months: they get one at-bat, and chances are that they won’t hit a home run, so they’re out.
Settling for a second- (or even third-) class web experience is a problem not just because it yields sub-optimal results for the businesses. The delays, frustrations, and high-pressure work cycles that are a part of this status quo frequently lead to staff burnout. This is yet another reason we see such high churn across so many marketing teams, compounding the difficulty of building a high-performance organization.
This is insanity. What CEO in her right mind would run the business by going all-in once every other year and hoping they hit the jackpot? What marketing organization would knowingly decide to present a face to the world that consistently lags behind its product or brand vision? Who would design a work style that chews up talent and spits it out as fast as it can be re-hired? Sadly, this has become normalized, almost institutionalized. “The website is always broken and behind. That’s just the way it is.” Believing there is no alternative, marketers and business leaders fall into a vicious cycle, further perpetuating the status quo.
Thankfully, there is a better way. We call it WebOps—a variation on DevOps, a relatively new approach that brings together developers and operational teams to create and revise software products more frequently with lower costs and less risk. WebOps is DevOps optimized for the web teams who live at the center of most digital marketing operations.
Both still-nascent approaches are based on the principles of Agile, which over the past 15 years or so has transformed software development. Agile’s effectiveness is well established: research by the Standish Group, among others, has shown that Agile projects are statistically twice as likely to succeed as traditional waterfall projects. That’s because quick iteration and data-driven decisions will out-perform a “master plan” almost every time. When people say “software is eating the world,” Agile is doing the chewing.
WebOps combines agile tools and processes to streamline website work, whether it’s launching a new product, new web content, a specific feature, or a more ambitious revamp of the overall digital experience. A WebOps platform simplifies and drives down the cost of making changes in three important ways:
Its foundation—what powers the site(s)—is a serverless content management system (CMS) platform. This takes the traditional issues surrounding infrastructure management off the table and provides first-class tools for both content editors and web developers. Teams can focus 100% on the website and its objectives, not the plumbing further down the stack (or lack thereof).
It automates many of the central tasks: upgrading the core CMS, moving code from development to testing to production, and syncing production data and content back to the development environment. Automation not only improves raw velocity, but it also reduces human error, allowing teams to move faster with increased confidence.
Through structured agile processes, WebOps manages handoffs and creates safeguards so that no code or content gets dropped or that anything is lost in the fray.
By contrast, the standard big-bang approach makes it functionally impossible to ensure that a business’s websites keep pace with the demands of the market. Big builds and manual processes just can’t move fast enough without introducing untenable amounts of risk. On top of performance and quality issues, companies often face downtime and security problems, and the human resources to deal with them are always scarce. In the best of circumstances, the website is just one of many applications or platforms a company’s technical resources must support. Whether the work is outsourced or done internally by IT, maintaining an ambitious website by hand becomes prohibitively expensive--fast.
The three central features of WebOps enable companies to shift from big-bang, high-risk releases to smaller, more frequent, lower-risk changes. It also lets companies sustainably manage many different websites at scale, versus one big mega-site, which always comes with an abundance of governance pain, complexity, and cost. With WebOps, the people accountable for driving results through a website can take full control of that site’s roadmap and the pace of iterations. Companies can scale up their use of the web without having to add IT personnel.
Shifting to this new gear isn’t just about shipping faster or beating competitors to market. More frequent iteration enables more frequent feedback, which allows teams to correct faulty assumptions sooner, never allowing those assumptions to metastasize. By making web changes routine and low cost, WebOps lets teams focus on the outcome they want from their website rather than the herculean output of just getting the dang thing live (and then living with it for another year or three).
Organizations today compete on the global stage and face constant pressures of commoditization and disruption. The more time people can spend on higher-value work, the better off any organization will be. The promise of automation is that the more you can implement, the more you can free up talent to focus on higher-value, strategic activities; put the humans at the top of the stack. As the marketing technology field explodes, it’s easy for companies and marketing heads to overlook the one area underlying everything that could also make a critical difference. It may not be a bright shiny object, but the web is where it’s happening, and WebOps is what can make it all happen.