I was inspired to write this post because of taking a new role, and having had the opportunity (at this point in my career) to see all variations and attempts at different digital business models.
While digital is a technology driven field, I do think that there lies some significant differences between digital and IT. For these reasons, there are markers between the two and for the most part the people who play in these arenas are able to identify them while understanding where the blur is. At the same time we understand that we also need one another.
All that said, I think that digital taking on IT business models may no longer the most efficient use of time and resources. Digital is considered disruptive in nature. It surprises me just how much of an IT business model digital departments adopted in the push to centralize things, rather than looking for business models that challenged the traditional architectures of what frustrated digital people about IT in the first place.
Without a doubt there is need to have a centralized place where there can be an inventory of digital assets, and aligning with enterprise wide technologies, standards and securities. I agree that it makes sense to have guardians of the realm so that people aren’t running all willy nilly all over the place inventing broken experiences and orphaned or abandoned digital assets. I get it. I really do. And more than anything I am a big proponent of not allowing things like this to happen in companies because of negative brand impact, user experience and more critically adoption and engagement that is such a central focus of Digital ROI and big data.
That said, most digital departments really need to look at their business model. In small to mid sized companies a completely centralized digital business model makes sense. They are more agile and flexible, making adapting to change and new technologies less rigid.
However, once you move into larger organizations this stops being efficient. Now you have business units competing for dollars, shifted around as priorities of importance and girdlocked in process that allows technology and user experiences to become outdated and frustrating. This very quickly turns into brand trust and perception, things that take forever to develop and can so easily be broken.
Digital fluency needs to exist in all areas of the business, all the more reason why centralizing digital no longer makes sense as a business model.
Here is the structure I propose and why digital needs to become a more decentralized business model:
- Each business unit should have a dedicated digital team that controls, manages and governs their digital assets. This dedicated team needs to sit within the unit to best understand the business needs, audience and goals they are trying to achieve.
- Having a dedicated team means that there needs to be dotted line reporting. These roles should ultimately roll up into digital but have a dotted line reporting structure into the business unit.
- Vendor contract negotiation and relationship management for any technology that plugs into digital assets for the business unit, should reside in this group. Ultimately at the end of the day, vendor shortfalls impact the digital experience. Users have one experience. They can’t see the difference. If a vendor isn’t delivering which ultimately impacts brand perception and users, this group needs to have the authority to let them go and find better options.
- Digital Departmental budgets. More and more independent business units need to begin considering that their budgets need to be inclusive of digital spends. IT needs to take care of the enterprise wide infrastructure without a doubt. Parametres need to be set, however digital departments within the unit should have their own budgets to provide ongoing website maintenance, ad hoc campaigns, or added features that may not have risen to the top of the IT priority and budget chain enterprise.
- This structure should also remove lock downs on existing or new digital assets. It made sense in the past to have front end dev, CMS’s and SEO locked down in old world structures. People in the business unit were not digital or tech savvy enough to understand what they were doing or the ramifications of what an error on their end could cause. With digital people in existence, much of this has changed, therefore the ability to do front end things needs to be opened up to allow for customization and elements that may short term in nature.
- Lead the overall strategy with regards to device roll outs within the unit. Sounds insane right? But digital needs to work closely with the business unit and with IT to determine what makes the most sense. Otherwise you end up in what I call the digital “black hole.” That’s the place where your sales team all got new iPads that would enhance their abilities in the field all while the enterprise infrastructure and business unit technology was never optimized or able to support a mobile experience.
- Regular regroups with the enterprise wide digital team. Being ultimately tied back and part of the digital team, means that regular meetings need to happen. Weekly with the reporting manager, and monthly with the digital team as a whole. This would allow for idea sharing, resolution sharing, and identifying what the common trends are across the enterprise that may require deeper and more extensive research or dedication.