Web site technology promised organizations the ability to easily post information for employees, partners, suppliers, and customers; however, its simplicity was and still is rarely reined in through proper governance processes. Accordingly, customer-facing sites have been plagued by inconsistent design and branding, chaotic navigation and administration, and even conflicting information due to mergers, acquisitions, and divisional decentralization. Employee sites (intranets and employee portals) have faced isolated site development that makes finding information across sites difficult as well as inconsistent design that can diminish corporate unity and efficiency. Extranet sites (partners and suppliers) have created confusion among users by offering numerous seemingly separate systems to access relevant information, often with overlapping capabilities.
META Trend: By 2004, portal frameworks will become the centerpiece of a delivery infrastructure that acts as a fulcrum to aggregate reusable application, content, analytical, and collaboration components for highly dynamic user interfaces. By 2005, organizations will exploit portal frameworks to deliver contextual business workspaces, enabled via maturing XML and Web service standards. Through 2007, portal vendors will increasingly leverage enterprise infrastructure services.
Web governance uses people, policy, and process to resolve ambiguity, manage short- and long-range goals, and mitigate conflict within an organization. Organizations are often driven to put governance processes in place via their internal or external Web sites when inconsistency threatens brand image or corporate cohesiveness, or when software and maintenance costs increase due to redundancy. With proper governance policies, processes, procedures, and personnel, site owners should maintain the freedom to create, design, and implement sites freely based on business needs within an adaptive framework that ensures the organization’s overall objectives are not compromised.
Web governance must be more than a list of standards and a compliance warning. Indeed, we recommend a three-step approach: create a statement of governance that lays out principles, enact processes for compliance, and establish a committee that will create the actual governance rules. This approach has been much more effective than those that create rules immediately as part of the governance process, because it enables the creator of a statement of governance to start with policy, then assign roles responsibilities and analyze processes within a flexible framework.
Research has shown that an iron-fisted approach to governance is likely to fail. Web projects often demand an unprecedented level of horizontal cooperation among departments and organizations within the company. Corporate culture must be taken into account during the creation of the statement of governance, and any attempts to change the corporate culture must achieve buy-in at the highest levels and include a change-control plan, often stretching out three to five years. The results of a readiness assessment can be used to ensure the accuracy and achievability of timelines and goals:
The scope of the policy must be selected carefully. Scope can be narrowed to a particular organizational unit or horizontally for a particular process. Governance boards often start by governing the current pain point and expanding its scope later. Common pain points include the following:
The SOG should be kept as simple as possible. Deciding what not to govern is as critical as deciding what to govern. Voluntary information sharing should not be discounted for areas where formal governance is not necessary. An organization may decide not to govern a process (i.e., forcing portlet reuse) but may enable sharing mechanisms (i.e., creating a portlet library that all can contribute to).
The core of the SOG should address people, policy, and process (see Figure 2). It should be wrapped in an introductory section that describes scope of the document and conclude with a description of the metrics that will be put in place to measure the impact of the governance.
People Issues to be addressed in the SOG include the following:
It is inappropriate to have a chief executive (CEO or CIO) review and approve all the details of the processes, standards, and guidelines. The role of the executive is to approve policy and then publicly authorize an individual, role, or group to create and enforce processes, standards, and guidelines that implement this policy. For example, the following would be a reasonable description of the executive charter needed for the governance committee and the responsible individual: “We plan to continue a strategy of growth through acquisitions. To gain value from these acquisitions, we need to exploit synergies and help acquired companies become part of the Acme family. Consistency of information and branding across our internal sites is critical to this strategy. Therefore, I am appointing the vice president of the Advanced Technology Group to head a standing governance committee that will create and continually review processes to ensure that our Web sites leverage the value of the Acme name for all our employees.”
A table or organization chart in the SOG should show all the main roles involved in developing and maintaining Web sites and their responsibilities. Roles to be assigned include content creation, content approval, collaboration moderators, infomaster, site designers, site developers, and site architects (see WCS Delta 1216).
The SOG should address the following issues:
Policy is a set of principles that are used to guide action. Creation of a statement of governance creates challenges for executives and site owners. Executives do not have the time or knowledge to buy in to detailed process guidelines, but they will often endorse business principles and anoint people (the Web governance subcommittee) to create and enforce processes in accordance with these guidelines.
Note: If an enterprise architecture or a set of Web conceptual principles from a Web domain architecture exists, it can be used to create the policy statements in the SOG.
The following types of policy should be defined:
The SOG should address the following process issues:
Processes that define design, technology, and people processes for Web sites should be set up. Point-in-time snapshots of the sites should be evaluated in dynamic Web site reviews (see Delta 2579). A key problem for many organizations is that Web development processes have not been formalized to the point that governance and compliance checkpoints can be inserted.
Funding and compliance are complementary. Compliance should be cheaper than non-compliance. This will always be true from the long-term, corporate point of view, but it can also be made true in the short-term, tactical case if there is centrally funded technology.
Processes to be defined include the following:
Executives sponsoring governance initiatives are going to demand results. This makes metrics an imperative. Metrics should relate back to the desired outcomes specified in the SOG. For example, if “maintaining integrity of the global brand name” was a policy, then a measurement could be the number of regional sites that do not conform to design standards relating to the brand (e.g., logo, company colors). Measurements of secondary importance are those relating to processes rather than outcomes (e.g., number of compliance reviews performed per quarter). Once metrics are determined, reporting procedures that describe how and how often they will be reported should be developed.
Metrics must be determined before governance goes into place to demonstrate improvement. Therefore, benchmarks should be performed while the SOG is being created. In most situations (where some degree of chaos already exists), governance cannot be imposed overnight. A timeline that shows phase-in dates for various processes (SOG completion, training, start dates) should be developed. Goals should be set to demonstrate forward progress and reining in of chaos over time, but not with the expectation of 100% compliance on Day 1 (or possibly ever).
Business Impact: A governance process over Web activities can prevent inconsistencies that tarnish brand image, decrease customer loyalty, and increase development and maintenance costs.
Bottom Line: Web governance needs to address policy, people, and processes to rein in the degrees of freedom that organizations assume with no such governance in place. Clients should create a statement of governance as the start of this effort and follow that with the creation and implementation of a Web governance process.
META Group originally published this article on 31 December 2003.