Why you need a good model for digital governance

Within major organizations, there are often many different divisions and functional groups creating properties for web, social, and mobile. This creates the potential for problems like:

  1. Inconsistent branding and user experience across digital platforms (even when they target the same customer.) At best, this is an inconvenience to users; at worst, it can damage the brand’s image, making it look like the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.
  2. Different groups choosing different solutions for similar purposes. This can create unnecessary software and hardware costs, and create the need for the organization to have competencies in overlapping technologies.
  3. Competing initiatives wasting resources. For example, different divisions might outbid each other for the company's name in Search Engine Marketing on Google (don’t laugh -- it happens!)

These types of problems are costly for an enterprise. In my work, I regularly see three main types of conflicts:

Department vs. Department
Different departments fighting for the top spot on the home page, to control a certain domain name, or to email customers on the same day.

Department vs. Enterprise
Department A wants to use Drupal as their CMS. Department B wants to use SharePoint. While the departments may be happy to do their own thing, this type of conflict sub-optimizes the enterprise's overall investment.

Department vs. User
If the search for each category in your product catalog works differently, and each one can only search products within their category (e.g. Bedding can’t see Bath products,) this is likely to create frustration for your user.

Governance can help to adjudicate these differences by adjudicating differences and setting standards for everything from technical infrastructure to branding style across platforms.

Just like societies implement governance to allow people to co-exist and mediate conflicts, implementing a structured Digital Governance program is a best practice to address these types of problems in a large enterprise. 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 on 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:

  1. Defining Rules
    Called laws in government, these rules are often called standards in corporate governance. Standards generally cover several different categories of activities.
  2. 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, in corporate governance someone has to have the speed gun and a way of enforcing consequences for groups who want to test the seriousness of the "rules of the road."
  3. Supporting the Law Abiding
    Even enterprise divisions who want to follow the rules need to have them clearly communicated, and sometimes need help interpreting the rules, as well as support to get their initiatives to comply. For example, if a new content management standard is defined, departments may need help figuring out how and when to move to the new platform. "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:

  • User Experience: Design/Branding, navigation, Overall usability standards, Domain/URL Standards, Accessibility (for the disabled)
  • Technical Platforms: Security, Infrastructure and Hosting, Development Methodologies, Coding Standards
  • Business Process: Legal standards and Review, Search – Onsite and Offsite, Email Marketing, Site Measurement and Reporting

Bear in mind, more governance is not necessarily better. Within each domain, an 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 a slow-down of individual initiatives in favor of more coordinated approaches, and reduced entrepreneurialism within a company.

Howard Tiersky is a digital transformation consultant, keynote speaker, author, and founder of FROM, the Digital Transformation Agency. FROM helps clients develop and optimize digital experiences for shopping, banking, travel and entertainment – online, on location, and everywhere you need to be to engage the next generation of digital consumers.