CIOs Don`t Get the Web

 
 
By Lisa Welchman  |  Posted 2010-10-15
 
 
 

When I started my professional career with the Web in the mid-1990s, I was dropped into the fray of one of the largest e-commerce sites online. In those early days of the corporate Web, the marketing communications and IT teams were waging a tug-of-war over who “owned” the Web.

At that point, organizations still struggled to understand the intrusion of the Internet into their tried-and-true business processes. What exactly was a business supposed to do with the Web?

Was it primarily a communications tool and therefore under the purview of marketing communications? Or, was it an application-oriented transactional or operational tool under IT?

Web governance was unheard of, and some organizations were still figuring out whether the Web was a passing fancy. As a result, no decision-making mechanisms were put in place, and, in most cases, no Web strategy emanated from the executive suite. IT and marketing were left to settle disputes on their own.

Fast-forward to 2010, and most organizations understand that the Web is here to stay. They also realize that their Web presence is one of the most powerful communications, operational and transactional tools they can leverage. Despite that, I’ve seen an alarming trend over the past five years: In many cases, IT has pulled back into a corner, allowing the business and marketing teams to run the company’s Web presence.

When we interview CIOs about the corporate intranet or Web presence, they frequently address it as if it were an ordinary business application. But it’s not. An enterprise’s Web presence is an extension of its corporate brand and service promise, and therefore requires strategic guidance from those with technology and application-domain expertise.

A sound content strategy, appropriate GUI and editorial style standards (often the purview of marketing communications) are necessary components of a mature Web presence, along with appropriate network and server infrastructure to support those efforts (almost always in IT’s domain). But also important are information organization and access, as well as Web tools and applications. For these areas to function properly, both communications and IT domain expertise are required. The CIO and IT group must do more than simply implement whatever the business requests.

Businesses need CIOs to lead—with marketing—and devise mature 21st century information management strategies and tactics to support the corporate Web presence so it will send the right message but also be technically sound. These Web solutions involve library services, information and application architecture, metadata management, Web records retention, Web content management systems, portal software, search engine implementation and optimization, and more.

Without the expertise of the CIO’s office, marketing teams frequently take a superficial approach to application development, understanding only the service results, but not the underlying architectural concerns. In many instances, we’ve seen application waste—multiple Web content management systems and unnecessarily redundant e-commerce applications.

The future will tell, but the Web will most likely be one of the most significant business developments of the next 50 years. As we move closer to the vision of the semantic Web and the Web-enabled organization, the 21st century business is going to have to take a more holistic approach to Web development. To remain relevant, organizations will have to innovate in the area of online products and services. In addition, the enterprise will need the full engagement and expertise of the CIO and his or her team.

Recently, in both the Web trenches and marketing circles, rumblings have been heard about the need for a “chief Web officer” or “chief content officer” in the executive suite. This professional would help guide the organization on how to better leverage the Internet to meet business goals.

In my mind, that role is already filled: That’s the job of IT and marketing together. Marketing is already running with the ball to redefine its profession in the Web age. Now CIOs need to do the same.

Lisa Welchman is a founding partner of WelchmanPierpoint. She helps clients develop strategies for managing large, complex Web properties and the teams that own them.