Despite the ever increasing complexities involved in building and running websites, there is now a way to simplify the process. Ten years ago, the Internet was far less complex and prevalent than it is today.

Back then, Firefox and Internet Explorer had over 90% of the market, and websites virtually dropped support for anything else. Windows XP was by far the most common operating system for several years, as Vista didn’t take off as expected.

These factors meant that it was much easier to develop websites. Incredibly, one of the only questions that site designers and developers needed to discuss was, “What screen resolution are we designing this for, is it going to be 800 or 1024 pixels wide?”

The front-end challenge 

Fast forward to 2011, now when developing a site, we are faced with many more challenges. Firstly, we have to cater for five different browsers, each achieving more than 10% of the market share, and three operating systems (still all Windows) with a huge market share.

We now also have to cater for vastly disparate download speeds, ranging from broadband to mobile connections. When establishing screen resolutions, the biggest category is now known as ‘Other’, which means non-standard resolutions – either very small or very large.

This makes developing and testing websites much more difficult and so far I have only covered the challenges that focus on building a website’s front end!

The back-end challenge

When creating the back end of a website, the technology has become equally as complex. For example, linking to external feeds such as Facebook, Twitter and other social networks didn’t exist ten years ago. Now they are prolific.

At least a dozen vendors are required to cater for the numerous functions needed by the modern website. These include content management, community, analytics, video, CRM, social media, content moderation, translation, data feeds, search, personalisation, email newsletters, mobile SMS, content delivery network, digital asset management. This list keeps growing, and it doesn’t even include the non-functional aspects of the website.

The growth of the Internet has meant that more users visit sites in spikier traffic patterns, demanding more complex hosting solutions. End users need sites to be available 24 hours a day, which means that brands must pay close attention to hosting service level agreements. All these requirements mean that the demands of a typical website creation outweigh the capabilities of most internal development teams.

Solving the headache

When creating a new website I advocate using a complete Platform as a Service (PaaS) model, using best of breed, off-the-shelf components. PaaS is attracting a lot of interest at the moment, and I believe it is the future of the super-brand website development. Brands are quickly realising it’s much more efficient to run a single platform which all their sites are developed on rather than creating bespoke solutions per site.

The PaaS approach means no more internal fighting between marketing, development and IT teams, because all departments can use a common platform which provides benefits to each of them. Marketing can have more customer insight rather than multiple user databases.

IT teams can focus on their core business – letting the Digital Media PaaS provider to concentrate on the website. IT departments no longer have to worry about the overheads of multiple development and testing environments or about upgrades and patches of a dozen vendors.

There are also other advantages to this approach. The PaaS provider can suggest best practices across a number of clients, which internal IT divisions are usually unable to access, or have little interest in, such as content, moderation and digital media trends. The PaaS provider will be responsible for a proactive technology and feature roadmap to ensure the brand’s digital media plans are future proofed.

PaaS will be even more critical as digital media becomes more complex – once tablet computing settles down, expect TV apps to take off. This means that the number of devices websites must cater for won’t consolidate in the short term, they will multiply – making the near future even more complex.