Web Governance: A Definition
I’ve been thinking deeply about a definition of Web Governance and the formalization of methodologies for implementing Web Governance in organizations for the last ten years. As I venture out to speak about Web Governance, I find that different organizations have different senses of what Web Governance is (and isn't). Some have a very broad idea of Web Governance, which might include operational and production-related business processes. Some think of it as the rules related to Web content management (but not Web applications development). Some relate Web Governance to Web Team management. All of these concerns need to be addressed under the larger umbrella of Web Operations Management. But, Web Governance, I feel, is something very distinct and should be examined away from all the noise of Web site production and Web Team management. Below, I've offered up my definition of Web Governance. I'm hoping for comments and discussion so we, as a community, can help codify the meaning of Web Governance and contribute to the maturation of the Web Management profession.
The Business Case for Web Governance
Over the years, the organizational Web presence has grown organically to such an extent that ad hoc and informal business processes and management and production guidelines are no longer adequate to manage it. The continued growth of the organizational Web presence managed by informal processes and guidelines exposes organizations to risk and liability. Key risks include loss of credibility, loss of market share, resource waste, and risk of litigation. While the risks associated with a corporate Web presence can not be completely eliminated, they can certainly be mitigated and the liabilities which come along with an underperforming or low-quality Web presence reduced--but only if organizations apply standard corporate governance constraints over Web operational practices.
What is Web Governance?
Web Governance is the authoritative administrative structures that set
policy and standards for Web product management. It includes:
- the implementation of a Web Governance Framework;
- the establishment of Web Policy;
- and the codification, implementation, and enforcement of Web Standards.
Combined with strategic leadership from the executive level, mature
management of the Web division, and comprehensive Web measurement practices, Web governance is one of the core dimensions of a mature Web operations approach. It helps reduce Web development risks by establishing clear Web decision-making authority, extending Web accountability to more senior levels of the organization, and improving Web standards compliance.
What Web Governance means for the organization:
Web Governance refers to the way people make decisions about the
organizational Web presence. It determines who gets to sit around the table when those decisions are made and who has final decision making authority when consensus cannot be had through discussion. Web Governance also includes writing Web-specific polices that will reduce risk to the organization, and forming appropriate teams to write the Web standards that will raise the quality of the organizational Web presence.
If organizations implement Web Governance, have a Web Strategy, a sensible and unified approach to Web content and application development, and effectively measure Web performance, the organizational Web presence can be a great asset and not a liability.
Web Governance Framework
The Web Governance Framework specifies the organizational mechanisms through which Web Governance related policies and standards are set, maintained, and enforced. Ideally, the Web Governance Framework should be emplaced by a formalized mandate from senior management. A Web Governance Framework specifies who provides inputs and who makes decisions related to the various aspects Web operations, from non-technical communications focused-concerns such as the design of Web sites to highly technical such as load balancing and network security.
What a Web Governance Framework means for the organization:
Having a Web Governance Framework helps minimize and settle internal Web site ownership disputes and can smooth the relationship between Marketing Communications, IT, and various departmental Web stakeholders. This turns the focus to managing Web sites instead of arguing about them. Because the framework holds senior strategically-focused organizational leaders, mid-level program and line of business managers, and Web subject matter experts, it provides a structure to align the strategic and tactical needs and concerns of the organizational Web presence. This ensures that the management of the Web is properly orchestrated and conducted in accord with both organizational needs and website-user needs.
Web Policy refers to a set of legal, compliance-related, editorial and technical constraints for Web development. A mature approach to establishing Web Policy considers the full range of Web-based interactions an organization can have with the world and considers what constraints and practices may need to be put into place in order to protect the organization from risk, ensure that the organization is in compliance with any relevant regulatory concerns, and otherwise operating within the bounds of the law and good practices.
What Web Policy means for the organization:
Web policies guide the organizational Web team by putting into place the constraints of Web development. These constraints are mandatory: meaning that all that those who develop content, data, and applications for the Web must abide by these policies whether those developers are part of an in-house Web team or an outsourced vendor team, or are casual contributors to the site via interactive software. Most organizations have an incomplete set of Web policies that may focus on security and privacy concerns or a set of best practices or Web Standards (see below) that may masquerade as Web Policy. Web Policy is best set at a fairly senior level of the organization with the guidance of key senior Web subject matter experts.
Web Standards describe specific parameters, limits, and exceptions for the development of Web products. It provides explicit protocols to be used by those creating content, data, and applications for the Web. Web Standards should cover design and editorial, information organization and access, Web tool and application, and network and server infrastructure concerns. Standards differ from "guidelines" in that they must be adhered to and they differ from standard operating procedures in that they do not specify deep procedures or workflows that may be utilized when developing for the Web.
What Web Standards mean for the organization:
Having a codified and enforceable set of Web standards helps raise
consistency and quality which can contribute to a better user experience. Complete Web Standards also improve the internal Web development environment by reducing the opportunity for conflicting editorial, structural, or technical approaches to Web development. The practice of establishing Web Standards provides an opportunity to bring together often competing Web stakeholders in a forum where disparate needs and production practices can be aired, aligned, and replaced by a consistent and effective set of Standards. Web Standards are best set by a team of Web experts with informed input from all organizational Web stakeholders.