Managing a website is an enormous job. From creating, updating and deleting content to keep it current to deploying applications and then maintaining them after they go live – web-related careers have become the hottest commodity on the job market today. But once you take one of those fantastic web-related jobs, how do you get your arms around the day to day?
So who really “owns” the company website(s)? Is it the business or IT? A question that has plagued companies since the beginning. Here’s a little secret that most (good) information technology/e-business professionals will tell you – IT simply supports the web. If your business strategy (including your corporate goals, mission, vision, strategic intents) isn’t driving your website, you are failing at e-business. Ouch – painful isn’t it? That’s why partnerships are so important.
If your organization has your website split into several different segments, you have a model similar to about 80% of the rest of the world. Typically, the struggle for ownership is between IT and corporate relations/marketing communications. In order to accommodate both groups, website “duties” are often split up between the two organizations with the communications group being responsible for site content, look and feel, and navigation and IT being responsible for application development and deployment. The result? Total chaos. Oftentimes, things are deployed from both sides with little or no communication. There is duplicative work, shoddy integration, and missed cues. Websites oftentimes lose the overall e-business vision and instead of the two groups working together toward accomplishing a corporate goal, they end up vying for control.
The web is growing so fast and in order to accommodate it, we’ve all had to add more staff. More staff equals more hands in the pot. When you’ve got 30 people actively working on web-based projects, how do you keep control as well as keep everyone on course? Let’s take a look at the three most common problems and some suggested solutions.
Problem: Content Management
Over the past several years, the trend has been for the technical writers to become technical experts. It’s not uncommon for journalists or writers to be asked during an interview if they know how to use an HTML editor. Worse yet is when the IT professional is asked if they have any writing experience. And the all time worst scenario is what I call “bottle-neck syndrome.” It’s when the writers aren’t given access to the HTML and are forced to work through an IT person to do even simple tasks like dot the i’s or cross the t’s. Content management is a huge task. When you’ve got a website with tens of thousands of pages, how do you keep track of it all? The key is delegation.
Solution: Consider implementing a content management system.
CMS’s give you the freedom to delegate the updating of content to the content owners. Instead of a single content coordinator, you now have the benefit of tapping directly into the business expert. CMS’s have easy to use interfaces that allow even the most non-technical users to open and edit content. The best part? Built in workflow. Once the editor makes a change, built in workflow gives you the ability to send it to everyone in an organization who needs to bless it before it goes live to the web. Once the last person signs off, it goes to production – no manual intervention needed. CMS’s also give you the ability to re-use content, auto-expire it and deploy it to several place-holders simultaneously. I could go on and on about CMS’s and their place in the current and future web-world. Take a look for yourself and calculate the return on investment of actually having the business owners own their content.
Tough one. Seems like it shouldn’t be that hard, huh? Hard, no. Overwhelming, yes. A lot of times, this is the single point of failure in a multi-segmented shop. How do you ensure that everyone who needs information is communicated to when changes are made?
Solution: Use your Intranet Site
Set up a sub-site that contains all website related information. Our organization has what we call a “knowledge” site. It contains our process flows, maintenance/project documentation, troubleshooting tips, new additions, web style guides, the works. Whenever we update the site, an automatic message can be sent out notifying a global distribution list we set up containing the names of all individuals actively working on the sites. Your intranet is also a terrific place to set up discussion groups for developers, project leaders, etc. It’s an inexpensive way to share information.
Solution: Set up Weekly Meetings
Even if they’re only for 15 minutes, set up a weekly meeting to let people know what’s happening for the week. What’s being developed, what’s going into staging for user acceptance testing, what’s being deployed to production, who’s on point for test out. These are just examples of what types of things you can discuss that will help everyone – regardless of what team they’re on – to feel like they’re in the loop.
Solution: Send out Status Reports
Whether you choose voice mail, e-mail or the intranet as a delivery vehicle, send out a weekly status report to all team members to let them know what’s going on in the web-world. It’s a nice way to keep people informed and also keep an audit trail of progress.
Solution: Put together Check-lists
Oftentimes, when web-based projects are deployed, tasks are missed because no one is using a check-list. One of the biggest issues my organization faced was with regard to application deployment. When a big application was ready to go live, project managers were completely forgetting to integrate with the main site. We added tasks (with appropriate timelines – not the night before) to the project check-list like, call internet content coordinator to add links to site and write site copy.
Solution: Create a Program Management Office
It literally takes a full-time person to manage all the activities with regard to internet and intranet deployment. Consider appointing a program manager for all web-related activities. This person becomes a focal point for delegating tasks, managing site implementations, escalating issues, and communicating changes. It’s much easier to have one “go-to” person instead of several leaders or teams of people. It minimizes confusion and maximizes effectiveness.
A problem I touched on earlier was the issue of ownership and I want to make one additional important point about it – it’s not worth it. A company’s website is owned by the company, not by the individuals who manage its day to day existence. If you and another group are bickering over who owns it or who had more authority, stop it. If you’re a business owner, remember that if IT has to make strategy related decisions (i.e., a certain content management software’s architecture doesn’t fit into the IT strategic vision for software architecture) remember that they’re making the decision for the good of the company, not themselves. In the same light, if you’re an IT professional, remember that if the business owner has to make a strategy related decision (i.e., a certain section of the website has to be re-engineered to fit the business direction) the same thing applies. Here’s the hard part – you need to talk to each other before making the decision. Many, many times these decisions can have a detrimental effect on one organization while benefiting another. The key thing to remember is that the success of the website is dependent on all organizations working together toward the same goal.
Solution: Team Goal-setting
Treat your team like a cross-functional team and ensure both the content and IT side of the house are working toward the same goals.