Pantheon CTO: How WebOps runs digital business

As the already-established workflow methodology of DevOps now grows, WebOps embraces and extends its core rationale to create principles and frameworks specifically honed to the needs of an enterprise web team that run the shop window (and warehouse) inside every business today.

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The web is business. It could almost be a marketing slogan or the title of a technology conference in its own right. But in this case, the statement is simply meant to remind us that organisations of every kind now rely upon their web presence to act as the shop window, warehouse and employee workplace for all their daily operations.

Given the essential role that the internet plays in modern business, we need to stop and ask whether we have built the commercial frameworks that rely upon it with an overly assumptive approach. Ask the average marketing, sales or business development person how long they think it takes to move website mechanics around and the answer is typically quite dismissive.

Wrangle a few pixels?

“Umm, hello yes web team, this is commercial unit X on the top floor. We need new customer offers, a new login process for partners and some pretty colours to celebrate International Day of the [insert celebration here], so if you could just wrangle a few pixels around and do it, that’d be great, thanks.”

Of course, the commercial team isn’t quite that assumptive, dismissive and obnoxious in real life, or are they? We do tend to think of the web as a magically-fuelled self-perpetuating organism where things just happen; people that have never learned any HTML or ever spent time inside a Content Management System (CMS) might just think like this.

Always fixed with perpetual innovation and development, the technology industry has developed an answer to the challenges we have laid out here. After DevOps, we now have WebOps.

Built on the same workflow methodology, mindset and mantra that created the coming together of developers (Dev) and operations (Ops) that gave rise to DevOps, WebOps is a new point of union for the web team and its operations counterparts. But going further, WebOps also brings the commercial marketers into the mix so that the business function can understand whether it's just a few pixels, or in fact it’s a more complex CMS refit.

CTO and co-founder at Pantheon David Strauss insists that without WebOps, there is a real imbalance in any business. “WebOps builds on the same model that DevOps was developed for. It brings together different stakeholders that are all involved in how companies deploy and manage digital experiences, through websites and online services,” he said.

WebOps is a thing, not a job

We can all sit around and argue whether WebOps is a workflow style, a software development methodology, a workplace culture or a digital deployment paradigm. It doesn’t matter what we call it, it’s just important that we have it. One thing we can say for certain is that WebOps is not a job, it’s not a role for one person, it’s a team approach to countering complexity and enabling web-centric business.

WebOps has come about as a pretty much direct result of our reliance upon web apps for daily life and business. Obviously, a trend that has increased since Covid-19, consumers and commercial entities have turned to internet-based services more forcibly in recent times. In doing so, we have realised how much we need apps vs. web apps and how the two differ.

“The important differentiation between web apps and more traditional applications is why those web apps get created in the first place,” said Strauss. “Many web apps are tied to a specific temporal goal - a good example of this is when your web app is anchored around a marketing campaign or an event, so you will have an expected end of life date for its function and existence.”

Most enterprises can create these kinds of short-life web applications comparatively quickly right out of the box, using the browser to deliver that service to users as a common and standard platform. This requires an agile framework, with emphasis on the minimum complexity to achieve the best fit and fast development and deployment to those users.

Web apps that need WebOps

“Other web apps are meant to have a longer life. This means developers can take advantage of modern DevOps and WebOps best practices. While many enterprise applications are updated using slow unwieldy versioning and often require complete reinstallation, a web app can make small changes, sometimes to a smaller segment of users. This allows developers to gather more feedback quickly and helps them adjust when the results are unexpected, for example if bugs occur or users weren’t as keen as expected about a new feature,” explained Strauss.

Companies can run hundreds of different landing pages as part of their commercial campaigns and constantly test how those pages or web apps perform against each other. As a real world example, the marketing team at data visualisation company Tableau uses Pantheon for its website, which contains hundreds of landing pages that are constantly being tested.

Pantheon’s Strauss says that a modern WebOps practice takes into account a business’s existing application infrastructure and uses these tools to connect services and content to the customers who need to hear it the most. This may mean accessing enterprise application data via APIs, before then using personalisation or other modern techniques to render data in a format most relevant to a user.

Using web apps for this purpose is more agile in terms of delivering services to users. It also makes the whole process around getting data related to user behaviour easier.

Building the changeable web nation

The Pantheon team say that they recognise how modern web-centric organisations work and they know that without the right tools and process, organisations often find it difficult to iterate or respond to change quickly.

“There can be both technological and cultural silos that prevent more collaborative use of data around how customers respond to your product. This gets harder as you scale up as well - imagine how much harder it is to achieve this when you have dozens of web apps or online services to support, not just one or two,” concluded Pantheon’s Strauss.

Many of the thoughts here resonate with the central themes driving the wider development of enterprise technology at large.

We need functional web systems that run with the same precision-engineered control as the rest of the business. We need API connectivity and data exchange. We need iteration control to work on a continuous development and deployment cycle for enterprise software that is waiting for its next change update a nanosecond after being deployed. We need human workplace culture to accurately reflect the digital resources that the business runs on.

This is where WebOps resides.

The internet can still be a place of pixelated magic and wonder for most people on the planet, but for those of us who are putting on the show… we need to know what size hat we have and just exactly how big that rabbit is.