In my travels I get to speak to a lot of smaller business operators about websites and digital communications.
The message I get even now, some 20 years since the internet reached “critical mass”, is that there is still much confusion around the role or place of the website within an organisation.
For some, it IS the business. For others, a marketing/communications tool and for others still, something the IT guys look after.
For some, it’s a combination of all three.
Because whilst most understand the purpose of a website, not so many understand how to leverage it to improve their organisations and in turn, often allocate its management to the wrong people or “department”.
Perhaps this situation will become clearer once I define what I mean by saying this.
1. Website as “operations”
A website becomes part of an organisation’s operations when it is the main channel it derives its income from.
In other words, the organisation ceases to operate without its website.
There are now thousands of organisations that fit this description.
Examples include Amazon (e-commerce), Google (Web search, etc), Facebook (social networking), iTunes (music sales and distribution) and Spotify (music on demand).
In Australia, these include Red Balloon (experiences portal/e-commerce), Private Media (online publisher and SmartCompany owner) and Grays Online (online auction house).
For all of these organisations, their websites essentially are their businesses and hence require a far different level and approach of resourcing than other organisations.
Most have several staff ensuring the smooth performance of their website and its underlying functionality and managers in place to lead and supervise them.
2. Website as marketing and communications
It’s amazing the number of people who continue to see websites as a “technology” rather than a marketing and communications channel.
Of course it really is a technology as such, however for most organisations, its purpose is to communicate, market and or sell for the organisation that manages it. In other words, technology enables these outcomes rather than replaces them.
Therefore, those that manage these disciplines should also be fundamentally responsible for managing the website.
So if marketing is the core purpose of your website, the person responsible for marketing should take responsibility for the development and upkeep of the website and so on.
That’s not to say that IT or technical staff shouldn’t be involved in its development or maintenance, but they shouldn’t be responsible for it other than for technical performance – if needed at all. Many websites are now completely outsourced and require little oversight or maintenance by IT departments.
3. Website as IT
By now you should be seeing what I am getting at. IT has an important role in assisting with the development and technical (as distinct from creative and content) maintenance of the website – if it resides on the servers of the organisation.
However, the IT department should not be responsible for the strategic direction and management of the website. That’s simply not their role.
I think most in IT would agree that their role is less about planning and managing strategic direction and more about enabling staff to carry out their roles as effectively as possible using technology.
In other words, they typically enable people to plan and manage websites and website platforms, they don’t plan and manage it themselves.
I’ve seen many organisations hand full responsibility of the website to their IT departments, only to deliver a website that might have lots of bells and whistles, but do little to improve the organisation’s marketing, communications, sales, branding, productivity and so on.
That’s not for one second to understate the importance of having a website that is technically sound. But driving it from the IT department will typically not deliver the various business results a good website is capable of.
Those whose websites are operational as outline above, will clearly have a strong IT component to their Operations, but might also have a separate IT department looking after the day to day IT requirements of the organisation.
I’m sure many will disagree with these approaches and that’s fine. Every business is different when it comes to managing websites and digital communications.
However, it’s really worth considering them when planning your website and its management as it may be the missing link to making it deliver the best results for your organisation – no matter how small.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.