UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Scenario Planning For Institutional Web Managers

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4 Oct 2010

It´s not too long before the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review takes place – and current speculation suggests that higher education is due for cuts between 20-40% over the next three years.  Whilst I’m sure that institutional Web management teams are currently developing plans for coping with the new spending regime (and the University of Southampton’s ECS Web team blog has recently announced how it intends to cope with voluntary severances for two members of staff) I thought I could help such activities by outlining some thoughts on possible scenarios for institutional Web teams over this period.

1. Gentle downsizing: Changes in staffing levels in institutional Web teams will be addressed by early retirements.  There’s no real need to be worried.

2. Outsourcing of Web teams: Web teams will be closed, with staff facing redundancies, to be replaced by outsourced provision of activities previously carried out by Web teams. Staff in the institution will be responsible for managing the contractual agreements with outsourced providers.

3. Greater use of outsourced Web technologies: Staff in institutional Web teams will move away from using internal CMSs and make greater use of externally-provided services.

4. Greater use of cheap labour!:  The University of Southampton’s ECS Web team blog has stated that it intends to address the redundancies which is taking place within the team: “Other tasks we may hire students for. There’s some great talent amongst our students and they work relatively cheaply, but gain experience and it looks good on the CV“.

5. Move towards centralisation: Web content providers and developers in departments will face redundancies, as greater emphasis is placed on provision of Web services from central Web teams.

6. Move towards devolution: The central Web team is down-sized and Web content provision is delegated to departments.

7. Time for growth and expansion: Policy makers within the institution agreed that the Web provides a cost-effective service. Greater responsibilities – and resources – and given to institutional Web teams.

Of course such scenarios are not mutually exclusive.  But I´d be interested in which scenario appear to be most likely – and how Web teams are preparing for the various scenarios.

For what it´s worth I think that scenario (1) is being too complacent; (2) I believe is already happening (see, for example Lucy Burrow’s talk on Partnering with third parties and vendor management at Kings College London which she gave at the UCISA CISG 2009 conference); (3) I think is not only inevitable but also, in many cases desirable, as discussed recently in the context of event Web sites; (4) whilst seeming threatening to Web professions can provide benefits to students who, we need to remember, will also be suffering from changes to students grants;  (5) seems to be happening in the case of IT Service departments in a number of institutions; (6) could happen if a smaller central Web team resulted in departments taking responsibilities for Web work which cannot be done by a shrunken central Web team and (7) whilst appearing unlikely reflects the ideas given by Ranjit Sidhu in his IWMW 2010 plenary talk in which he reminded the audience that the Web is a much more cost effective way of recruiting overseas students than traditional approaches.

I´ve given my thoughts on these scenarios. What are your thoughts?

7 Responses to “Scenario Planning For Institutional Web Managers”

  1. We do appear to be in higher demand as structures change, and the demands on the website’s remit increase. Many of the features we’ve not had the chance to develop from prototype to production (Mobile friendly website, usability improvements on recruitment hotspots) now look to be moving closer to completion.

    Day to day we’re stretched to meet our developing, maintaining, troubleshooting and training remit. We devolved content many years ago, and now support the work of hundreds of website authors in our CMS. It wasn’t so long ago we’d hoped to add a member of staff.

    Hopefully that rising demand, our ability to meet it and do so with innovative responses will prove our continued worth.

  2. I should stress that the use of students is not ideal, but preferable to outsourcing to a company. There’s already well established ways to pay students for a handful of hours work here-and-there.

    Brian didn’t mention the main part of our plan, which is to reduce the bespoke work we do. It’s a luxury for the web team to design and build entirely new looks for sites for tools, projects and events. While I’d rather not, it’s where we have a little slack. We can tighten our belt by insisting that websites projects, conferences, research groups etc. take our standard solutions. (or build it themselves).

    • Interesting, in our case we have a corporate directive that the only option for any University-business web site is ‘take our standard solution’, with very few exceptions where the corporate look and feel does not apply.

      With all we do, we would not have time to do bespoke design/layout/markup. The nearest we get is bespoke forms and integration.

      • Yes – we’re very much take our standard template or nothing these days. The downside is that “cheeky” depts try to get round this by going to external agencies and hosts which wastes even *more* institutional money…grrr.

  3. Marcellina Boyle said

    The revisit of a web strategy (if in existence!) or restructuring of responsibilities could reap rewards. A greater emphasis on content structure, style and portability is already being debated increasingly in our institution. Therefore, I feel your last point of greater responsibility to web teams may result but with a widening remit and change in focus. However, centralised web teams tend to be small in numbers so something’s got to give. For example, in an environment where effort and skills are replicated elsewhere in an insitution, could this mean that some of those staffs are brought into the centre to benefit the greater good as opposed to their more niche areas of support?

  4. (1) Has happened (vacancy rather than ER of Web Manager) and I am (again!) managing the Web team directly. Short-term saving for this year and unlikley to continue. The senior management give me to understand that they do not want (2). Elements of (3) creeping in for particular systems (Events Calendar / iTunes U) but no mass move predicted. (4) no, (5) yes, and to be combined with restructuring which may impact the way the Web is managed, (6) no. (7) strangely yes at present as we’re seen to be underinvested – but ask me again after the spending review…

  5. Note that on the website-info-mgt JISCMail list Dave Newman suggested a couple of further scenarios:

    8. Turn the web team into a commercial web development company, serving external clients as well as the internal ones. Charge the external clients.

    9. Work with academics to get lots of research grants (from Europe as the UK is cutting back) that will involve web development, instead of relying on commercial web development partners

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