4 min read

Tracking Those Top Trends: Digital Governance in 2016 (So Far)

a pile of rectangular blocks piled on top of each other with each block offset so they look like steps
Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko / Unsplash

Things are starting to happen in the digital governance space. For the last couple of years, I’ve been and focused on a single Big Project: writing and supporting the release of my book Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design. That said, I’ve not had much chance to blog. But in surfacing again, I’ve noticed that some big changes have been happening in the digital governance landscape over the past 24 months — and in other areas, not at all.

Let’s start with the positive things:

1. People aren’t afraid to say “digital governance” out loud.

This shift is a huge and necessary step — and a great opportunity for a lot of professionals other than me. I can’t tell you how many digital teams in the past have asked me over not to use the “G-word.” Why? They felt that the term was alienating, which initially might have seemed true. But given the impact of digital on business and on society at large, organizations must consider the governing dynamics of their digital footprint. Particularly organizations that operate in a heavily regulated environment, avoidance of this business fundamental is simply irresponsible. Digital channels need to be governed.

As we forge into the middle of our third decade of Web development, we are creating more sophisticated virtual enterprises online that require the same standards of close governance as their real-world counterparts. In that regard, we must learn to govern digital not just in addressing obvious issues like privacy and security, but also in achieving a clear understanding of operational accountabilities for the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of an enterprise’s digital efforts. Ultimately, governance creates clarity around who has the authority to establish digital strategy, policy, and standards in your organization. Coming to grips with these responsibilities is well overdue in a lot of organizations.

2. Digital governance finally is being addressed at the right level of the organization.

Last year, during engagements with large multinational clients, I worked with several professionals at director-level and above who had the descriptor “Digital Governance” in their titles. By extension, I am running into organizations that have digital centers of excellence right in their legal departments. Imagine that, an attorney who “gets” the digital landscape and understands how certain functionalities could introduce risk in their organization! But keep in mind that these individuals and departments don’t exist to shut down digital ingenuity, as many digital practitioners might fear. In fact, they enable and support digital development by providing clear parameters and a balanced set of checks and balances for their digital teams.

3. Marketing and IT teams are collaborating more effectively.

Decades of analog practices by marketing departments and IT’s somewhat isolationist attitudes have left Marketing and IT in separate corners of the organization. This polarity has proved to be devastating as digital development and new functionalities were stalled by “who’s in charge” debates and a tug of war over various platforms and interfaces. Happily, I’m seeing that this divisiveness is disappearing. This is a good thing — and about time! Every truly great core digital team I’ve seen share a single strong characteristic — a strong cooperative alliance between Marketing and IT and an understanding of how each brings value to the table in digital operations.

So yes — the future is looking much brighter for governance. But there are a few stubborn sticking points that I should point out:

1. More often than I’d hope, I still get that deer in the headlights stare from folks when I ask them about their digital budget.

Traditionally, organizations are used to bootstrapping digital development by robbing from IT and Marketing to pay for the implementation of digital functionality. They often don’t consider the digital budget holistically in terms of capital expenditures and headcount. Of course, most organizations can quantify what they spend on IT-focused digital development. Their Marketing team can explain to me what they spend on corporate content development and brand-related digital development. However, very few can really explain what investment the enterprise makes in digital overall, including all of the stuff that falls between the cracks, like user experience, information architecture, and taxonomy development. Or, the human resource expense related to enterprise-wide content development and maintenance.

This narrow view of the digital budget makes it almost impossible to consider the ROI for certain types of digital investment and that makes it hard for digital teams to get taken seriously when they need to add headcount or otherwise invest in infrastructure for digital. Why can’t organizations get their arms around their digital budgets? I believe that the culprit is a serious lack of clarity around who is doing digital development; if you don’t know who your entire digital team is and what they do, you can’t build a budget around their efforts. Sounds too simple? The important stuff often is.

2. Weak internal communication on the digital team is still a maddening problem.

Almost every digital team I work with is siloed (though I’d argue that in many contexts, silos are important in getting work done.) But, overall, what I see in many organizations are a number of disconnected silos, often with similar intent but still somehow working at cross purposes, all because of poor internal communications. On many occasions, members of different digital teams in the same organization never effectively communicate about digital development, even though they work on the same website(s). But the strongest and most impactful disconnect is between the core corporate digital teams and distributed digital team groups out “in the business.” It’s an ironic situation, as these groups are often staffed by communications experts promoting better content strategy to support the needs of their online customers. All of this poor communication really points to the last trend I see…

3. Poorly architected digital teams still reign.

Traditionally, most organizations operate with digital teams that evolved organically, mirroring the organic growth of the online presence that they support. Most of the time, I’ve found that this “follow your nose” approach lead to problems. When a team isn’t organized intentionally with the best interests of the enterprise and the work at hand in mind, they have a hard time creating an effective online presence and digital quality suffers. As a result, that team may not receive the resources or budget they need to really bring the organization’s online presence into strategic alignment with the business. Most often the flaw in the thinking about the digital team is thinking about it too narrowly. Sitting down and considering the core, distributed, and external aspects of your team and then intentionally forming and resourcing each aspect is a foundation of sound digital governance — and cannot be neglected.

As I jump back into the mainstream of digital governance, these are just a few of the trends I see making waves for better or (until we fix them) for worse. Stay tuned to upcoming posts as I do a deeper dive into what’s next.