IT vs. Marketing: Whose Site is it Anyway?

White Paper

The question of website ownership is crucial. The marketer has the vision, but the delivery of it – the actual creation and deployment of the web application – is in the hands of the information technology (IT) department. This separation leads to the inevitable frustrations of remotely delivered projects for both sides. Download this paper and discover the solution.

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The internet – the promise and the reality

The web has been hugely successful for business and has transformed the world and the way in which businesses operate. The number of homes and businesses with highspeed, reliable internet access makes it one of the most efficient communication tools, able to reach almost any audience.

But as the internet matures, has it really delivered the benefits businesses were expecting? Why do companies frequently remain disappointed at the outcome?

The scale conundrum

The very strength of the Web - its global reach and huge scale – works both for and against a business seeking to exploit it. Business users naturally want access to the valuable community the Web offers, but in doing so they must plan for a potentially significant external load on their Web applications. This takes them deep into the realm of today’s IT department competence.

Any successful Web property must be built on a strong, scalable technology platform; and it must offer the flexibility to adapt to meet the challenges of large consumer usage, It must also be capable of managing huge volumes of rapidly-changing content and also support a mass amount of personalization. Such concerns are normally the domain of the IT department.

To realize their objectives, business users are consequently highly dependent on technologies they do not readily understand or control. They must often rely on skilled IT personnel to deliver these applications, placing additional pressure on the IT department and reducing the business user’s level of control.

Brochureware is not enough

Today’s business web requirements are no longer met by “brochureware” sites publishing static HTML pages. Businesses usually find that their communication requirements are not static; the consequent Web Content Management burden is time consuming and costly. The result is out-of-date sites that in many cases can do the corporate image more harm than good.

Ambitious businesses must leverage all of their internal and external content – from flat text documents to data held in a range of corporate applications – to power fully functional Web applications. And they must deliver them to many digital channels such as mobile devices. But this type of application is not easily created or managed by the typical business user. They are more commonly controlled by the IT department, typically addressing these applications as full project lifecycles – to design, build, deploy and then hand over to the business user for subsequent management.

This is not in tune with the business need. Complex IT-led applications are typically difficult to change and inflexible, while Web applications need to be living and dynamic and must constantly develop to remain valuable.

They must mould to the style of the user, creating a technology that fits and adapts to the business rather than changing the business to fit the technology. We have started to see these needs being addressed by a collection of smaller website creation tools. These address only part of the problem, however, offering individual business users more control but crucially lacking the sophisticated dynamic, multi-user, multi-channel capabilities of larger web and content management systems.

Whose site is it anyway?

The question of platform and web ownership is crucial. The business user has the need, but the delivery of it – the actual creation and deployment of these platforms and applications – is in the hands of IT departments. This leads to the inevitable frustrations on both sides with potential cost and time overruns. Much rework can be required, since the business user’s specification needs to be sufficiently accurate but may also changes during the course of the project.

Business users may overlook factors such as migration issues, interoperability, search engine optimization (SEO) and multilanguage/multi-site capabilities. These concerns tend to sit wholly with the IT department. Ease of migration and interoperability with pre-existing software/ platforms are an eternal concern to IT personnel, for the movement and amalgamation of content and software can be time consuming, costly and often considered a project in its own right.

While SEO is vitally important in the long run for both marketing and IT departments, it is an IT perspective that takes precedence. Ensuring that external search engines can easily index the site starts from the initial design rather than costly pay-per-click and SEO campaigns, so a substantial involvement from IT at this stage is imperative to the future success of the web property.

The final component for successful web property is that of multi-language/multi-site capabilities, consideration as to whether the web content management (WCM) system is capable of supporting both in a flexible and understandable manner along with any imposed limits is imperative for future platform growth and cost effectiveness. Business users commonly feel powerless during this stage of the project lifecycle, as they lack the technical skills and language necessary to fully engage in the development of the web application. To date, most business tools have not enabled the business user to fully participate in the design, creation, presentation and management of enterprise strength web applications or their subsequent evolution to meet ever-changing business requirements.

He who pays the piper calls the tune

The realization of significant Web applications is expensive. The absence of business-focused tools means that highly skilled technical resources are required to create and manage Web applications. To date, the only businesses that have been able to afford these Web applications are those for which the web is of critical importance – for whom it is a major sales channel, for example – or those organizations of sufficient size and scale.

Delivering real value

The combination of these factors inhibits the business from optimizing the value in their Web applications. They demand more - all organizations of every size must seek greater value from less investment. Exploiting the knowledge and data held within an organization, reusing rather than recreating and delivering to many channels instead of just the web all provide significant competitive advantage.

The key to unlocking this value is to ensure that both the business user and the technical professional have the appropriate tools to match their relative skills. Tools that allow the business owner to fully participate in the lifecycle of building and running an online resource critical to their success, yet adhere to the requirements for standards, reliability and scalability demanded by the technologist. Getting this right is the first step towards internet reality meeting internet vision.

Consumer confusion

Let’s examine the assistance available to an organization that wants to build and run a customer-focused, business-centric property – internet, intranet or extranet. Note that “customer” can mean any other audience that your organization needs to communicate with. Effective Web Content Management is no longer an area that any business can afford to ignore. But successfully harnessing it – meeting the needs of cost control, faster response times, risk mitigation and realization of real value – requires a long term strategic approach and careful planning.

The challenge is to find a solution to fit it real business needs. This is not an easy task: many solutions often only differentiate in their technical features. To make some sense of the current marketplace, it is useful to assess each solution in two important dimensions:

  • Who is the principal user of the web solution?
  • What is the desired complexity of the Web property?

Typically, there are four options:

  • Custom developed tools
  • Off-the-shelf tools
  • WYSIWYG technical page design tools
  • Technical empowerment tools

Custom developed tools. Everything is possible with this route – at a price. Teams of highly-skilled external or internal developers working with project consultants can build a highly complex application from scratch. It is likely to be a highly tailored solution, which can also only be managed or modified using the same technical skills.

The organization would have exactly what it wanted but at the cost of lengthy development, a significant budget, and lack of future agility.

Off-the-shelf tools. At the other end of the spectrum the business user can always do it themselves. By creating a formatted document in a standard office application like Microsoft Word and then saving this document as a Web page, a simple Web presence can be built. The problem with this is just that simplicity. The result is not a sophisticated website: it is unsophisticated, completely static, not scalable to large numbers of editorial users, and is unlikely the meet the business objectives. The business user is in total control but the output is lightweight.

WYSIWYG technical page design tools. Moving up the scale of complexity there are many initially attractive applications that allow for the easy creation and layout of Web pages. However, as soon as information that is stored in a company database is to be included, these applications become more technically difficult to use, and the creation process lengthens. Eventually HTML programming, clientside or server-side scripting skills will be required in order to make the page truly dynamic, and the solution crosses the border into the next category – turning them into technical tools again.

Technical empowerment tools. Technical users have a broad selection of tools to give them a head start. These enable the technology professional to build the level of sophistication required. Each with their own heritage, they bring a subtly different set of specializations and capabilities to the fore. Portals are often the choice for intranets and extranets, organizing access to content and applications in pursuit of that user’s daily goals. The web functionality of Document Management Systems may be appropriate for an organization where standard documents based on internal collaboration are the primary source of all content. But branding requirements and the need to combine a complex set of content sources will quickly point to a pure-play WCM system.

Multiple generations of WCM systems

To date, no single application combines the customization of custom developed tools with the ease of use of off-the-shelf tools to successfully realize business objectives. To solve the problem, we need to look which WCM solutions are as easy to use as Microsoft Word whilst achieving results as technically powerful as those of the hand crafting backroom programming team.

Built for whom?

In the past few years many WCM systems have actually undergone major changes while transitioning into next generation WCM solutions. Sometimes the changes were even so big that customers were forced to actually re-implement their sites rather than being able to upgrade them. Many WCM systems are now able to drive sophisticated websites, but unfortunately ease of use is often compromised as a result and certain areas of these systems still need to be managed by highly skilled professionals.

So right now, the stumbling block is who gets to control all aspects of the site and enact this. Today in many cases it is only those with the right mix and quantity of technical skills. The new world however requires it to be every business user.

True user empowerment

Business users are accustomed to tools that relate to their needs in everyday working. They are familiar, understandable, and accessible. You need only think of the Microsoft Office applications to appreciate this.

The applications required to solve the issue are highly visual and targeted at the specific task at hand, harnessing the power of a desktop environment and combining it with the reach of browser based access to provide immediate response and functionality to the business user. These tools will need to be graphical, immediate, powerful and flexible and multi-user

Their capabilities move beyond simple content management; they will need to support typical business scenarios such as launching microsites or campaign sites, allowing users to optimize content based on visitor behavior, run experiments and push content out to any mobile device, email and social media channels.

At the same time they should be no more difficult to use than, for example, Microsoft Word. And yet, they need to be capable of being deployed to tens or hundreds of geographically dispersed users working simultaneously on one web application. They should be task and audience focused – pushing technological boundaries and lifting restrictions imposed by the previous generation of tools.

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