Insights | By Howard Tiersky

A Model for Digital Governance

What is the Purpose of Digital Governance?

At FROM, we work with many large enterprises on their digital initiatives. Within these companies, there are often many different divisions and functional groups creating properties for web, social, and mobile, and thus there is the potential for problems such as:

  • Inconsistent branding and user experience across different properties that target the same customer. Impact: at best this is an inconvenience to users and at worst it damages the brand, making it look like the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.
  • Different groups choosing different solutions for similar purposes (Content Management, payment processing, search, even 'single sign on'). Impact: this can sub-optimize software and hardware costs and create the need for the organization to have competencies in overlapping technologies.
  • Initiatives wasting resources by competing with each other within the enterprise. Impact: for example different divisions outbidding each other for the company's name in Search Engine Marketing on Google (it happens!).

Digital Governance Pie Graph

In our business we have regularly seen three main types of conflicts:

  • Department vs. Department
    Several different departments want the top spot on the home page, or want to control a certain domain name, or want to email customers on the same day. Governance can help to adjudicate these differences.
  • Department vs. Enterprise
    Department A wants to use Drupal as their CMS. Department B wants to use SharePoint. Perhaps neither really cares what the other does and each is perfectly happy "doing their own thing;" however the enterprise's overall investment is suboptimized by having to maintain these different infrastructures. Governance defines standards for the enterprise. Think of it like electrical sockets: Thank goodness someone has the job of determining a common standard for current and plug shape (at least in each country) so I don't need to install different outlets or buy weird adapters each time I buy a new appliance (like I do when I travel to Europe).
  • Department vs. User
    Governance standards can both dictate that individual properties comply with certain specific branding or interface standards to maintain a high quality and consistent user experience across properties. If the search in one area of your product catalog works arbitrarily differently than the search in a different area of your product catalog, and each only see the products from their own "department", this is likely to create frustration for your users.

Implementing a structured Digital Governance program is a best practice to address these types of conflicts, just as societies need to implement governance to allow people to co-exist with less conflict and to manage conflict when it occurs. After all, if there was only one person driving around Los Angeles, it would be fine for that person to drive pretty much however and wherever they wanted. But if we want to enable millions to drive around and share the same roads without killing each other, we have to define some rules.

What are the Primary Functions of Digital Governance?

Governance, whether pertaining to traffic or to your digital properties, has three basic functions:

  • Defining Rules
    Called laws in government, often called "standards" in corporate governance. These generally cover different categories of activities which are addressed later in this post.
  • Enforcing Rules
    We all know that if there wasn't the occasional cop behind a tree we'd speed like crazy and probably blow off a few stop signs or worse. Similarly, within corporate governance, someone has to have the speed gun, and some way of creating "pain" for groups who want to test the seriousness of the "rules of the road."
  • Supporting the Law Abiding
    Groups within the enterprise who want to "follow the rules" need to be clearly communicated to and sometimes need help interpreting the rules, as well as support in getting their initiatives "in line." For example, if a new Content Management standard is defined, departments may need help figuring out how they will move to the new platform and when. "Waivers" of rules may sometimes be warranted and there needs to be a way to request these (think parade permits, or zoning variances).

A robust governance model describes a matrix of these three key areas of responsibility across a number of functional areas that will be governed. While the list can vary, often different individuals or teams will be assigned to the three key functions above across different domains such as:

User Experience

  • Design/Branding
  • Navigation
  • Overall usability standards
  • Domain/URL standards
  • Accessibility (for the disabled)

Technical Platforms

  • Security
  • Infrastructure and hosting
  • Development methodologies
  • Coding standards

Business Process

  • Legal standards and review
  • Search – onsite, offsite
  • Email marketing
  • Site measurement and reporting

Bear in mind, more governance is not necessarily better. Within each domain considered, each enterprise needs to consider the relative benefits and drawbacks of creating governance around that area. Potential benefits can include improved asset leverage, improved customer/brand experience, and reduced legal exposure. Drawbacks can include slowing down individual initiatives in favor of more coordinated approaches, and reducing entrepreneurialism within a company.

FROM works with our clients to define detailed governance frameworks tailored to individual companies that define the business' processes, roles, executive oversight, reporting and budgeting necessary to make digital governance programs effective.

  • Level Three: Solutions

Even if you’ve agreed on a problem, that doesn't necessarily mean you agree on how to solve the problem. There are often multiple possibilities, and alignment around solutions is key to making the best choices and gaining consensus around how you’ll solve the problem.

  • Level Four: Implementation

Your team might all agree on the solution, but maybe not how to actually accomplish it. That’s where aligning around implementation comes in.

  • Level Five: Metrics and Analytics

How will you define and measure success? Who will be accountable for monitoring and reporting on the success of the decisions you’ve made?

If you have a group that isn't aligned about what direction to take your innovation efforts, you should try to figure out about which level they’re disagreeing. Do they agree on the goal or objective, but disagree on where there are gaps in the current market? Does everyone agree that what's needed is a product that lasts longer, but they disagree on what formulation will achieve that goal? (That's a solution disagreement.) Does everyone agree on the basic solution, but disagree on whether it should be manufactured internally or outsourced? (That's an implementation disagreement.) Do you agree on the product, but disagree whether the product line profitability or market share should be the ultimate measure of success? (That’s a metrics and accountability disagreement.)

By the way, disagreement is not necessarily bad. The process of teams debating alternatives and working through solutions, if executed in a positive manner, is great for getting both a superior outcome as well as getting teams really invested in the results!

The Solution Alignment Pyramid is meant to help make that process a bit more structured and productive, and each level is dependent on another. A dispute about manufacturing before a solution agreement is probably premature, and it’s probably better to focus on outcome agreement before deciding which gaps to go after. Move through each level of the pyramid, from bottom to top, to make sure that alignments are happening in the correct order for maximum benefit.

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