Death of the web team?

Death in The Seventh Seal

Where does responsibility for digital communications sit within a large organisation?

That used to be a fairly easy question (“In the web team of course!”) but it’s not so simple any more.

These days, it begs two rather more difficult questions: which bit of digital and what kind of responsibility do you mean?

Digital communications has evolved something like this:

So if everyone is going to be at it in future, where will responsibility for digital communications sit?  Will there be any need for ‘web teams’ at all? Could responsibility for digital become atomised like it has for Human Resources or Corporate Social Responsibility?

In both those professions, highly specialist, strategically important responsibilities once held in large central teams are now almost completely dispersed – with only a handful of experts setting the rules and giving guidance from the centre.

You could anticipate the same fate for digital. Just as HR can’t line manage for everyone, and just as CSR teams can’t be socially aware on everyone’s behalf, neither can web teams engage with all of the organisation’s many niche customer groups on many niche subjects with anything like the immediacy or authenticity that local teams and individual decision-makers can.

On the other hand, you might argue that this trend of decentralisation could lead to a stronger role for central digital teams in future – just a slightly different one.

That’s certainly my view. Not only because I have a mortgage to pay, but because ‘doing digital well’ is now of such strategic importance and involves such a complex and sophisticated mix of skills, disciplines and knowledge that it needs stronger than ever leadership from a centre of genuine expertise.

I’d even venture to say that in the past we may have devolved some of the wrong things.  It’s time for web teams to rein in control over quality of content and user experience, and let go of the local conversations – providing guidance, clear policies, support where it’s needed and light-touch monitoring where it’s not.

Rumours of the web team’s death (in the title of this blog post at least) have been greatly exaggerated. To me, the future of the web team involves a simultaneous strengthening of control by the centre and a transfer of trust and skills to the wider organisation. It’s about choosing the right bits of digital, and the right bits of responsibility to hold onto or to devolve.

The web team is dead. Long live the web team.

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Comments

@neillyneil Still waiting for your blog to load (poor mobile signal), but I’d argue the same applies for a small/medium organisation like CF

RT @neillyneil: I done a blog: Death of the web team? – http://neilojwilliams.net/missioncreep/2

RT @neillyneil: I done a blog: Death of the web team? – http://neilojwilliams.net/missioncreep/2

RT @neillyneil: I done a blog: Death of the web team? – http://neilojwilliams.net/missioncreep/2

In my experience the more devolved and dispersed digital comms becomes the more you need someone in the centre to pull it all together. Someone needs to maintain editorial and technical standards across an organisation and ensure nobody goes “off piste”! Someone needs to write and enforce the guidelines, policy and strategy that staff should be following.

RT @neillyneil: I done a blog: Death of the web team? – http://neilojwilliams.net/missioncreep/2

@neillyneil nice, will be sending this round @ukparliament web team

RT @neillyneil: I done a blog: Death of the web team? – http://neilojwilliams.net/missioncreep/2

RT @neillyneil: I done a blog: Death of the web team? – http://neilojwilliams.net/missioncreep/2

Neil – thanks for encapsulating so clearly the changes in the role of the web team over the years. I would add the transparency role to your list of new tasks. We now need to ensure we all work across our organisations to publish raw datasets along with documents and strategies. And we need to develop new ways of delivering content in line with the marketing and advertising freeze, so we are certainly getting more requests than ever to come up with low cost solutions. So hopefully our web teams will be gainfully employed for a while yet!

[...] Death of the web team? (tags: organisation structure productdevelopment) [...]

Dear Neil
Thanks for this brilliant summary. But will cash-strapped public sector managers be willing to pay for centralised web support? Unlike other functions (eg HR, Finance, IT) where there are clear legal and operational penalities for poor quality delivery, is the same true for digital communication? How many disgruntled web visitors bang on senior managements’ doors?
BR Amy

[...] Where does responsibility for digital communications sit within a large organisation? http://neilojwilliams.net/missioncreep/2010/death-of-the-web-team [...]

[...] the Mission Creep blog Neil Williams, a “government web geek”, speculates on Death of the web team?. Neil describes the evolution of the Web within large organisations from its initial roots in IT. [...]

Your post reminded me of an article I read yesterday: “The end of management” http://online.wsj.com/article/NA_WSJ_PUB:SB10001424052748704476104575439723695579664.html

Corporations are bureaucracies and managers are bureaucrats. Their fundamental tendency is toward self-perpetuation. They are, almost by definition, resistant to change. They were designed and tasked, not with reinforcing market forces, but with supplanting and even resisting the market.

“In corporations, decisions about allocating resources are made by people with a vested interest in the status quo. “The single biggest reason companies fail,” says Mr. Hamel, “is that they overinvest in what is, as opposed to what might be.”

Traditional bureaucratic structures will have to be replaced with something more like ad-hoc teams of peers, who come together to tackle individual projects, and then disband.

Feedback loops will need to be built that allow products and services to constantly evolve in response to new information. Change, innovation, adaptability, all have to become orders of the day.

[...] Where does responsibility for digital communications sit within a large organisation? http://neilojwilliams.net/missioncreep/2010/death-of-the-web-team [...]

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