Planning for Ongoing Maintenance



June 05, 2012

Golden Gate Bridge in the Rear View MirrorIt is pretty much expected that most organizations will go through the process of re-launching their website every few years. The process of deciding to abandon the old site, negotiating with a vendor to build it and finally deploying the new site can easily take a year. This is often a consuming process that leaves organizations happy to resume their day to day operations, and happy that they don't have to worry about the website for a while. Most small organizations don't have the luxury of having full-time web staff working proactively on their web presence. 

Things on the Web evolve very quickly. At OpenConcept, all we do is Web work, but even if our team was 10X the size we wouldn't be able to keep up with the rate of change. Organizations need to be aware that both the risks and opportunities are in many cases different than they were a year ago. In working with the Drupal community, OpenConcept is often able to leverage & build on work contributed by others who are also striving to keep up with the changes. 

We try to encourage our clients to continue thinking about their website after launch and use it as a starting point for their business rather than the end. It is only after a website launches that you can really begin to understand how it is being used. 

Looking back on DrupalCon San Francisco, I remember hearing that the Golden Gate Bridge is painted from end to end each year to avoid corrosion. Not only is the bridge a great landmark for the city, but it is also responsible for carrying 112,000 vehicles per day. The bridge is a critical transportation line for the city and there are lots of stories about it, unfortunately this one isn't quite accurate. Although the corrosive impacts of the salty water/air are still the same as when the bridge was first started in 1933, the technology for fighting rust technology continues to improve. Nevertheless, it takes a team of 50 people to ensure that corroded iron is replaced and that the paint (International Orange) is constantly being touched up. I've gone over the bridge dozens of times, but can't recall seeing construction workers doing this critical work on maintaining it. It is an ongoing expense, which would have disastrous impacts if it were not being carefully done.

Most websites aren't quite as mission critical to so many people as this bridge, yet they now play so many critical communications functions for organizations. Websites are so much more powerful now, especially with Drupal, and can convey much more than an organization's brand. Any Content Management System depends on hundreds, if not thousands, of distinct software packages to deliver pages.  This complex flexibility is worth ongoing investment.

Looking Up at the Golden Gate BridgeWe provide support agreements for some of the proactive work that needs to be done to support our client's sites. We work to build long-term relationships with our clients to help support their sites between major overhauls. We can help our clients find the right mix of approaches to see that they get the most out of their site. However, no consultant can really understand the business needs of an organization as well as an internal advocate. We encourage our clients to foster an expertise and to experiment with new approaches to use this very flexible platform. 

The process of doing a full re-launch and redesign will most likely need to happen every 3-5 years, however between those years organizations need to keep up with security, watch user behavior, and look for opportunities with social networks and search engines. Once the site has been launched an organization also needs to dedicate ongoing time to figuring out how to make best use of the technology. With so much rapid change in the Internet, it's impossible to dedicate enough time to this, but organizations should budget for an ongoing fraction of the original development costs & human resource time every year to ensure that they are keeping up with (or staying ahead of) their competition.

About The Author

Mike Gifford is the founder of OpenConcept Consulting Inc, which he started in 1999. Since then, he has been particularly active in developing and extending open source content management systems to allow people to get closer to their content. Before starting OpenConcept, Mike had worked for a number of national NGOs including Oxfam Canada and Friends of the Earth.