The ‘lazy’ option: Should you let a third-party outfit manage your website?

Read enough business journals, and you’ll encounter the expression ‘core business’ on a regular basis. 

The phrase refers to the part of the company that creates, produces or services those things which are the intrinsic reason that the business exists. Most firms have departments like human resources and accounts that are important in operational terms, but aren’t ‘core business’ functions. 

Some companies will review the various components of their business on a regular basis to determine which parts are core, and which aren’t – potentially outsourcing the latter to other firms, who can then take responsibility for, say, cleaning the offices, finding new recruits, and so on.

In a similar vein, hosting a website, updating the contents and managing any web-related security issues are all complex jobs that require experienced staff to handle. Therefore, rather than accepting those additional tasks, many businesses outsource the whole problem, and have their entire web solution managed by another company. 

In these scenarios, the website is designed and developed, then ultimately hosted and managed by a third-party, with minimal contribution from the client company. 

This might seem like the ‘lazy’ option on the face of it, but it could also be the most sensible one too. Let’s look at the arguments for doing things this way first, and then the cons, before weighing up the relative merits in our conclusion.

Peace of mind

The advantages

An obvious benefit of having the website created and maintained independently is that it won’t involve the hiring of expensive specialist technical staff. 

This is especially important if the web project is going to be a relatively short-lived exercise, followed by an update and maintenance phase that can be overseen by less knowledgeable folks. 

A big company could easily justify having a web expert, but smaller operations might not need one. 

Where the full service agreement is most valuable is if the website must go live within a tight timescale, as that can be specified within the contract and resources allocated accordingly. 

On the client side, there needs to be a dedicated project manager to parallel that of the development team, with this manager making sure that milestones are achieved on schedule, and that the live date is still achievable. 

This person should also be involved in the creation of the website specification that the developers will subsequently use to construct the site. 

Don’t think that because much of the work is done for the client company, that this disconnects the firm from all responsibility, as without branded graphics, content guides and sign-offs, the development team is effectively rudderless. 

Costs are traditionally regarded as a disadvantage (more on that shortly). However, with a properly defined specification, delivery schedule and maintenance quote, the costs should at least be ring-fenced.

Internal web projects have a knack of spiralling over their previously agreed budget, and very rarely take into account the hidden impact on staff members who are employed to do other things the majority of their working days. 

The companies that provide the full web design, development and maintenance cycle are usually very experienced at delivering these things without stressing their clients, and that peace of mind is really what you’re paying for. 

Headaches

The disadvantages

One obvious disadvantage of managed web facilities is the inherent lack of control. 

The service and the website provided by a managed service will deliver exactly what the original contract specified, no more or less. Therefore, any major expansions or revisions, or the addition of new technology, will cost extra. 

Any company entering into one of these agreements should have a clear understanding of what will happen to the site and its contents when the contract ends – since the line between ownership of code and content might easily be blurred. 

Those outfits providing this type of service often have bespoke internal web development tools that are then licensed for use on each project, and without access to those, further changes might not be practical or possible. 

But the biggest disadvantage of the lazy approach is undoubtedly cost. The initial design overheads and monthly charges aren’t likely to be cheap, and those providing these services obviously need to make a profit.

Right tools to do the job

What’s the best choice?

How well a full service solution fits a given company will depend on the human resources available, the immediacy of the need for the site, and the level of control and involvement that is required. 

A simple website doesn’t need this commercial hammer to be cracked, but those wanting to jump straight into e-commerce might require it. 

Bigger companies usually have internal resources; smaller ones would balk at the cost. So, middle-order organizations that are in the process of expanding are the most likely candidates. For them, being able to deliver a professional web solution without becoming web experts is an ideal option. 

At any rate, the decision should ultimately be one that reduces the number of senior management headaches, rather than creating extra ones.

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