TERMINALFOUR is now one of the world's most respected CMS vendors with customers in the US, UK, Switzerland, France, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and more.
Having worked with so many teams in so many places, Piero has seen it all in terms of Web Governance.
Last week, he took some time to chat with me about current trends and challenges.
Q. Piero, thanks so much for taking the time to chat. To set the scene, can you describe the scale of websites that TERMINALFOUR typically works with?
Sure. Almost all our clients could be described as very large in scale. That is, they are host to tens of thousands of web pages (of which a substantial number are constantly changing) and receive millions of page impressions per month.
For example, one of our biggest clients has over 1.5 million pages of content online. Another operates over 700 individual websites, all of which run off our CMS system.
In many ways such large volumes are reflective of the sectors we operate within.
Traditionally, this has included higher education and regional government, though we also work with transnational and private sector organisations. Two of our better known customers are Oxford University and the OECD.
So really we are dealing with some of the biggest and most respected online publishers in the world.
Q. In terms of Web Governance, what would you say are the top commonalities & top differences amongst all these operations?
I suppose the main commonality is that almost every operation has some form of centralised Web Team. This has been a feature since the early days. One of the key differences, however, is in who controls this team.
For instance, back when TERMINALFOUR was founded, it was quite common for us to liaise almost exclusively with IT departments. At that time, few other parts of an organisation were much interested in the web and IT really had to drive everything itself.
That is all changed now.
IT has much more of a backseat role these days. Sure, we still come across Web Teams that reside in IT, but it is increasingly rare.
There has been a trend for some time for Web Teams to be migrated to Marketing/Communications or be set-up as standalone in their own right.
Yet despite this trend, we find that the most successful teams are those that are most mindful of their IT heritage.
A move away from IT that results in key skills being left behind (for example coding or technology) can undermine online effectiveness. This is because Marketing may have little or no experience of web development.
As such, I would caution anyone considering a shift in Web Governance to plan it carefully. Above all, make sure that your new structure retains access to core technical skills!
Q. A very useful insight. Apart from these development skills, what other expertise do you typically see on a Web Team? And is there anything new?
The core skills are those you would expect to find on any Web Team - Design and Content.
The main new areas of expertise are Analytics, Social Media and in particular, Digital Marketing.
Indeed, it is strange to think that until a few years ago Digital Marketing barely existed. Yet now the person in this role may sit at the top of the heap and have responsibility for managing overall strategy and day-to-day administration.
That represents a big change in the ethos and focus of activity - reflecting the migration of responsibilities discussed before.
One thing I'd add - although this leading role may reside in Marketing, I have seen any number of job titles to describe such a person. This includes Digital Marketing Manager, Web Manager, Head of Online, Head of Digital - even the old-school Webmaster.
So, take your pick!
Q. What would you say are the top characteristics of successful Web Teams?
Aside from the those I have mentioned, I feel that for a team to work it must be really hands-on. In particular, online managers must be able to work the politics of their organisation and get things done.
In a sense every Web Manager needs to be networker - talking to other departments, smoothing out issues and ensuring rules are adhered to.
This characteristic is needed no matter where a Web Team resides. It doesn't matter if web is in IT, Marketing, Communications or standalone. Every team needs someone who can reach out.
Q. What would you say are the main challenges for Web Teams at the moment?
In many ways, the challenges of online haven't changed that much - although the workload has.
The web is still about creating great experiences. But now you have to do it for a lot more platforms than before.
For instance, no organisation today could get away with maintaining a single desktop-oriented corporate website. Whether they like it or not, they must also build a presence on social networks and make sure everything works properly on tablets and smartphones.
Our best clients recognise this need for a multichannel and multiplatform approach and put a lot of effort into crafting content strategy. They are very careful about delivering the right content to the right audiences via the right channels.
Of course, this isn't easy. A key challenge is gathering the insight needed to form a 360-degree view of content, including CMS, SEO, SEM, analytics. That is something we are putting a lot of effort into and will be building into future products.
Overall, I would say that the production of good content remains one of the biggest challenges of online. Indeed, that is why content remains one of the most commonly outsourced skills on a Web Team.
Q. Any final words of advice?
If I had 2 things to say they would be:
- Get the right skills
- Work the politics
I have seen the benefits of doing this well.
One university client of ours in Australia demonstrates everything you would want to see in a good governance system - good people, good skills and good communication. They really have covered all their bases.
As a result, they get better results with less spend, and act with much greater confidence than many of their peers.
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About Shane Diffily
I am an experienced commentator on web operations. In 2015, I released the web's first online training course in website management and governance. Back in 2006 I published the Website Manager's Handbook, the original guide to online operations.