6 Concepts for the Future of Website Governance, Including a New Functional Model

10 minute read
Robert Jacoby avatar

In my last article, I discussed how we came to a place where we need a new model for website governance that Web professionals could easily use for any size or type of enterprise, for any size or type of website. Today I present my new website governance model and introduce six concepts for the future of website governance.

Website governance issues are currently a vital topic of discussion. Enterprises are coming to terms with what seems like a never-ending array of business prospects on the Web, and new tools and technologies are presenting ever-increasing challenges and opportunities. Social media, content management systems, mobile technologies -- all play a part in how an organization might consider its own website governance issues.

The future of website governance will depend on how organizations face their challenges and leverage their opportunities. The following six points are, I believe, trends that most organizations must address as time goes on and as they come to terms with figuring out what they have on their websites and just exactly what they want their websites to accomplish. These issues are inter-related and even concatenated.

The Six Concepts for the Future of Website Governance

1. The right people in the right positions

Over time the right people will filter into the right positions within organizations. No more will organizations throw a body into a Web position simply because “he knows the code” or “she can handle the Web posting stuff.” (The political component may allow this, but an information ecology will squeeze it out, over time.) In many ways, the realities of the Web have outpaced professional development of individuals. Website governance issues have moved too fast for many organizations and people, but as more professionals and more organizations begin to address and understand what “website governance” includes, these organizations will begin to look for and find the right people to manage their website functional areas.

2. Technologies will continue to channel governance issues

Technologies will continue to channel and even force governance issues, definitions and models.

Circa 2005: “We need a blog!” “Why?” “Everyone has one!”
Circa 2009: “We need to Tweet!” “Why?” “Everyone’s doing it!”
Circa 2011: “We need to get in the cloud!” “Why?” “Everyone’s going to the cloud!”

Shiny Web objects are sexy, and distracting, but may or may not fit into the enterprise strategy. One of the unfortunate consequences of chasing technologies is that they may channel or even limit our strategies, rather than our strategies driving developments of the tools we need. Remember that publishing (now known as content development and content management to the new generation of Web professionals) is a decidedly human task. Content is by humans for humans, and the technologies we use should help us govern (that is, be good stewards of our enterprise’s information environment).

3. The website becomes the organization; the website is the organization

Social media is driving people’s experiences in directions unthought of even a few years ago. Now we are moving beyond “the website is the digital representation of the organization” and hurtling toward an experience of “the website is the organization” -- because human experience is what matters. People today demand immediate interaction with an organization, at their fingertips. Perception is reality, and how people perceive a presence is how they will perceive that organization (whether it’s through the website or app or forum or Web chat or combination of channel experiences such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. etc.). For many, the website will become the sole-source experience of an organization.

As individuals within organizations begin to realize this, they will search for governance models to adopt. When this happens, people managing the website presence will be driven to seek a model for governance that will work for them, now and in the future.

4. A functional model of website governance

A website governance model should be inclusive, scalable and adaptable.

  1. Inclusive: all elements an enterprise might need to govern their website presence should be included in the model.
  2. Scalable: the model should be scalable (“volume friendly”) so that any organization can use the model.
  3. Adaptable: an organization should be able to adapt a model to its specific needs.

Because website governance is everything that makes a Web presence possible and successful, I recommend that a website governance model follow a business reference model, which concentrates on the many functional areas of the core business of an enterprise. Functional areas of an organization can mean different things to different types of organizations, but they are, nevertheless, present and considered in the model. Functional areas are purpose-centric.


The position of Chief Web Officer is included to define strategy from the enterprise level and to guide strategy into the various functional areas. Strategy is also an upflow, indicated by the arrows from functional areas. Leaders of functional areas would need autonomy not only to manage their areas but also to work across areas for specific projects (Project Management, which supports all functional areas).

Some have argued that “yet another” C-level position is not needed, that Web professionals can hold their own ground. This seems to be an unrealistic outlook, considering the entirety and complexity of an organization’s information environment. Some body must hire and lead Web staff (beneficially applying the Pareto principle); engage in peer-to-peer conversations at the C-level; and be a strategist for the enterprise Web effort. Some body must be placed in this 360º position to manage down, interact cross-wise, and advise up. That body is the CWO.

I am not naïve enough to think that the CWO position will tamp down all rogue Web activities. But the Website Governance Functional Model, based as it is on a business reference model, should smooth conversations related to “org charts,” “swim lanes” and such.

Functional areas are the heart of the model and derive from the research findings discussed in my previous article. The new model is constructed to be scalable vertically and horizontally; enterprises will add, drop and modify functional areas as appropriate, in alignment with like functional areas. Staff and projects overlap, and management will need to leverage scarce resources.

My proposed functional model of website governance includes at least the following 21 functional areas (compressed into the 16 shown in the model): online strategy, budgeting, systems and software administration, hosting, online marketing and communications, e-commerce, customer service, business development, online community and social media, Web content development and workflows, translation, website graphic design, user experience (analysis/design), information/data architecture, website analytics, security, archiving, outsourcing, accessibility, legal issues (for example, copyright, DRM, trademark, and privacy), and training. There are likely others, to be included as organizations discover functional areas important to their enterprises and, thus, their website presence; and, also, as I work to refine the new model.

Learning Opportunities

Project management (planning and execution of work) undergirds all functional areas. Arrows down indicate functional areas will use standard operating procedures to serve their individual or grouped needs. Team leads answer to each other and the CWO regarding business resources (time, staff, and costs). Each Web manager is a knowledge worker who needs to be aware at any time of how one or more functional areas cross over into one or more other functional areas: “Does legal need to sign off on this portion of this Web page before we publish? And is this the best way to present this information? The most accessible? And what channels will we use to get the word out? To which audiences? And how are we measuring success?” Decisions can be made immediately at the front-line functional area rather than take a cumbersome slog through a Web council.

Information management and knowledge management components should inform and support -- and be considered the foundation of -- the entire model. Technologies as tools will play a part in these components, but, ultimately, it will be humans who determine the value of information and knowledge to support the functional areas, which supports the enterprise strategy, which enables enterprise success. Vertical and horizontal collaboration in the model is key.

5. Who will manage this new model?

Website governance will be in the hands of those who make the business case for it being in their hands, or have it given to them by order of executive management. Web managers can make a business case for functional areas based on this new model, and formulate realistic goals for governance endeavors. How many times have we seen or heard about a many-houred Web project fall by the wayside or be entirely trashed, based on the seeming whim of an executive decision-maker?

This leads to the final issue concerning the future of website governance:

6. Calling all website executives (and their teams)

Without a website leader at the executive level, website governance issues will continue to flounder. Just as many technologists in the 1990s rose to (or were given) the position of Chief “Information” Officer, it may be that many publishers will be driven by necessity into an executive-level position of Chief Web (or Website) Officer. Just as “the business people” told the IT folks in the 1990s to “just get on with it,” there may come a point in an organization’s life where the CEO or the board gets tired of the politicking over the website and orders a new position to be created -- the CWO -- and tells that person to “just get on with it.”

Authors have debated the pros and cons of adding yet another “chief” to the executive suite, this time for the website. I believe there likely will come a tipping point in many organization’s website governance travails to force the issue out into the open. It may be a missed marketing opportunity; customers complaining about missing or broken links surrounding a new product launch; or that one errant blog post or Tweet. Likely there will have been a creeping sense of need, then some watershed event will spur action.

The role of the CWO will be manifold:

  • Build an agile and dedicated Web team, based on the functional areas in the Website Governance Functional Model.
  • Oversee functional area strategies so that they align with enterprise strategy.
  • Encourage Project Management principles across areas.
  • Provide training and tools for staff to apply information and knowledge management principles.
  • Be a good steward of the information ecology (the website property)

In everything the CWO should adhere to the philosophy: “the website is the organization.”

A New Course for Success

Website governance issues are now coming to the forefront because for too long organizations let their Web presence meander. Many organizations find that no single person sees the whole. Enterprises realize this must change but are struggling to find ways of organizing for real-world success.

One help may be this new Website Governance Functional Model, built as it is on a business reference model, with a focus on how and where work is accomplished. Along with the other five issues considered for the future of website governance, the new model can serve as a starting point for organizations determined to create a successful Web presence. The alternative to structure, as many authors have noted, is confusion and chaos. How much better to set a Web presence course for form following function.

Editor's Note: You may also be interested in reading:


About the author

Robert Jacoby

Robert Jacoby has 25 years’ experience in publishing and communications. He has thrived in various settings, including agency, commercial, university, non-profit, educational, government, and professional association, in various roles, including Editor-in-Chief, Editor (Internet Technologies), and Director of Communications.

About CMSWire

For nearly two decades CMSWire, produced by Simpler Media Group, has been the world's leading community of customer experience professionals.


Today the CMSWire community consists of over 5 million influential customer experience, digital experience and customer service leaders, the majority of whom are based in North America and employed by medium to large organizations. Our sister community, Reworked gathers the world's leading employee experience and digital workplace professionals.

Join the Community

Get the CMSWire Mobile App

Download App Store
Download google play