A Model for Digital Governance
What is the purpose of Digital Governance?
At FROM, we work with many large enterprises on their digital initiatives. Within these companies, there are often many different divisions and functional groups creating properties for web, social, and mobile, and thus there is the potential for problems such as:
- Inconsistent branding and user experience across different digital platforms that target the same customer. Impact: at best this is an inconvenience to users and at worst it damages the brand, making it look like the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.
- Different groups choosing different solutions for similar purposes (content management, payment processing, search, even 'single sign on'). Impact: this can sub-optimize software and hardware costs and create the need for the organization to have competencies in overlapping technologies.
- Initiatives wasting resources by competing with each other within the enterprise. Impact, for example: different divisions outbidding each other for the company's name in Search Engine Marketing on Google (it happens!).
In our business we have regularly seen three main types of conflicts:
- Department vs. Department
Several different departments want the top spot on the home page, or want to control a certain domain name, or want to email customers on the same day. Governance can help to adjudicate these differences.
- Department vs. Enterprise
Department A wants to use Drupal as their CMS. Department B wants to use SharePoint. Perhaps neither really cares what the other does and each is perfectly happy "doing their own thing;" however the enterprise's overall investment is suboptimized by having to maintain these different infrastructures. Governance defines standards for the enterprise. Think of it like electrical sockets: Thank goodness someone has the job of determining a common standard for current and plug shape (at least in each country) so I don't need to install different outlets or buy weird adapters each time I buy a new appliance (like I do when I travel to Europe).
- Department vs. User
Governance standards can both dictate that individual properties comply with certain specific branding or interface standards to maintain a high quality and consistent user experience across properties. If the search in one area of your product catalog works arbitrarily differently than the search in a different area of your product catalog, and each only see the products from their own "department", this is likely to create frustration for your users.
Implementing a structured Digital Governance program is a best practice to address these types of conflicts, just as societies need to implement governance to allow people to co-exist with less conflict and to manage conflict when it occurs. After all, if there was only one person driving around Los Angeles, it would be fine for that person to drive pretty much however and wherever they wanted. But if we want to enable millions to drive around and share the same roads without killing each other, we have to define some rules.
What are the Primary Functions of Digital Governance?
Governance, whether pertaining to traffic or to your digital properties, has three basic functions:
- Defining Rules
Called laws in government, often called "standards" in corporate governance. These generally cover different categories of activities which are addressed later in this post.
- Enforcing Rules
We all know that if there wasn't the occasional cop behind a tree we'd speed like crazy and probably blow off a few stop signs or worse. Similarly, within corporate governance, someone has to have the speed gun, and some way of creating "pain" for groups who want to test the seriousness of the "rules of the road."
- Supporting the Law Abiding
Groups within the enterprise who want to "follow the rules" need to be clearly communicated to and sometimes need help interpreting the rules, as well as support in getting their initiatives "in line." For example, if a new Content Management standard is defined, departments may need help figuring out how they will move to the new platform and when. "Waivers" of rules may sometimes be warranted and there needs to be a way to request these (think parade permits, or zoning variances).
A robust governance model describes a matrix of these three key areas of responsibility across a number of functional areas that will be governed. While the list can vary, often different individuals or teams will be assigned to the three key functions above across different domains such as:
- Overall usability standards
- Domain/URL standards
- Accessibility (for the disabled)
- Infrastructure and hosting
- Development methodologies
- Coding standards
- Legal standards and review
- Search – onsite, offsite
- Email marketing
- Site measurement and reporting
Bear in mind, more governance is not necessarily better. Within each domain considered, each enterprise needs to consider the relative benefits and drawbacks of creating governance around that area. Potential benefits can include improved asset leverage, improved customer/brand experience, and reduced legal exposure. Drawbacks can include slowing down individual initiatives in favor of more coordinated approaches, and reducing entrepreneurialism within a company.
FROM works with our clients to define detailed governance frameworks tailored to individual companies that define the business' processes, roles, executive oversight, reporting and budgeting necessary to make digital governance programs effective.