We outsource our public web presence and that's fine

February 17, 2024

I work for a pretty large Computer Science department, one where we have the expertise and need to do a bunch of internal development and in general we maintain plenty of things, including websites. Thus, it may surprise some people to learn that the department's public-focused web site is currently hosted externally on a SaaS provider. Even the previous generation of our outside-facing web presence was hosted and managed outside of the department. To some, this might seem like the wrong decision for a department of Computer Science (of all people) to make; surely we're capable of operating our own web presence and thus should as a matter of principle (and independence).

Well, yes and no. There are two realities. The first is that a modern content management system is both a complex thing (to develop and to generally to operate and maintain securely) and a commodity, with many organizations able to provide good ones at competitive prices. The second is that both the system administration and the publicity side of the department only have so many people and so much time. Or, to put it another way, all of us have work to get done.

The department has no particular 'competitive advantage' in running a CMS website; in fact, we're almost certain to be worse at it than someone doing it at scale commercially, much like what happened with webmail. If the department decided to operate its own CMS anyway, it would be as a matter of principle (which principles would depend on whether the CMS was free or paid for). So far, the department has not decided that this particular principle is worth paying for, both in direct costs and in the opportunity costs of what that money and staff time could otherwise be used for.

Personally I agree with that decision. As mentioned, CMSes are a widely available (but specialized) commodity. Were we to do it ourselves, we wouldn't be, say, making a gesture of principle against the centralization of CMSes. We would merely be another CMS operator in an already crowded pond that has many options.

(And people here do operate plenty of websites and web content on our own resources. It's just that the group here responsible for our public web presence found it most effective and efficient to use a SaaS provider for this particular job.)

Written on 17 February 2024.
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Last modified: Sat Feb 17 21:39:20 2024
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