As digital understanding matures, what does this mean for clients who want their organisations to move with the times? We asked Kris Mausser (pictured), enterprise content strategist and co-owner of Kina’ole Inc, how companies can evolve into truly digital businesses to achieve greater efficiencies and reduce risks.
How organisations got digital wrong
It’s been close to 20 years since the start of the dot.com bubble. In the fervour of remaining competitive, many organisations simply jumped on the bandwagon, adding digital channels to existing business processes rather than examining how digital affects business operations altogether. The internet shouldn’t have just changed how things work, however; it should have changed how we work.
This early oversight is having an impact on organisational efficiencies, employee productivity, and even the bottom line as customers expect more relevant and immediate content, and traditional business operations frantically work to keep up.
Consider these two companies and their respective digital stories. The first, a huge multinational financial services firm; the second, a national governmental tourism organisation. In the interest of non-disclosure, neither will be mentioned by name.
Case study 1: Traditional Fortune 500 financial firm
In 1998, websites had started to become a marketing and communications vehicle for companies. While the CEO of the financial company didn’t appreciate how this new digital channel could be pertinent to business, a sole leader in the technology department went ahead and created a rudimentary website anyway.
The company still relied on a sales force and paper-based marketing collateral to generate profit. Their customers, at that time, expected an unprecedented level of service from people – both in-person from the sales team and remotely from the customer service department.
Unbelievably, close to 20 years later, nothing has changed. How this stalwart of the Fortune 500 conducts business today is exactly how it conducted business back then. It has stayed true to its core business values and has weathered a turbulent economy because of it.
And that website built from scratch by a lone wolf in their IT department? Still online today. A museum piece from a time when websites were hard coded and web browsers fickle.
Case study 2: Modern national tourism company
The tourism website’s beginnings echo those of the financial company: a hard-coded initiative led by a lone IT developer with merely a head nod of approval from its CEO. But this organisation, unlike its financial counterpart, understood the evolving role of its target audience in accessing tourism information online.
The company’s first website has long since been iterated out of existence into a more customer-focused and responsive version, managed by a much larger team of web staff. The government tourism digital channel also includes multiple Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, and a series of downloadable apps.
So which company is digitally more mature?
Would it surprise you if I said neither? While the tourism organisation has taken advantage of best practices today — content marketing, social media, responsive design and user experience — neither it nor the Fortune 500 financial have evolved beyond the organisational model of having the IT department or web team function separate and apart from all other business functions.
And that creates problems when it comes to: branding, customer experience, public relations, communications, marketing and customer service – because content creation is still treated as distinct from technology when it no longer is. When technical teams merely operate alongside other departments, true economies of scale and operational efficiencies can’t be achieved.
Traditional digital content workflows
A common workflow for many organisations that still use isolated web teams for output generation is outlined in the following diagram (click to view larger). Notice how publishing by the web team is barely aligned with the other stages of the content.
Using enterprise content strategy to facilitate digital progress
Enterprise content strategy offers a way to break out of these old-school workflows and to integrate digitally across the business. It is a pivot upon which digital evolution and transformation can take place because it brings to light challenges that don’t happen at the page level but at the organisational one.
So what are the organisational design problems to address?
For many enterprises, content owners or subject matter experts are scattered throughout many different departments. These various departments can exist all within one building or, as is often the case with multinational corporations, they can be geographically dispersed. In addition, in today’s omni-channel world not all subject matter experts within the organisation look the same — where they once resided solely in product or marketing departments, now they can be found in call centres or in customer service roles where they have direct contact with the customer. As businesses integrate customer experience channels into their operations, these front-line employees provide a valuable source of consumer insights that might otherwise remain untapped for content creators to use.
And it is within these ad hoc corporate structures and fractured workflows that companies face real barriers to achieving digital maturity where efficiencies are maximised and increases to the bottom line are achieved. Because, back when web teams or IT departments took on the role of creating and managing their corporation’s online identity, many of these departments were simply tacked on as an addendum to existing corporate structures, without regard for where content owners resided within the corporate hierarchy, or how content production could be optimised during conception and creation.
Take the national tourism organisation, for example. Within its hierarchy, the social media team falls under the public relations department while the web team falls under marketing – two separate silos within a corporate culture. While a few content champions within both departments try to ensure that the right hand knows what the left is doing, true synergies between departments are rare.
And this creates problems. Because when an organisation’s content is published distinctly through separate channels, it opens the company up to risk. In this case, the national tourism company has been plagued with myriad issues, ranging from mixed messaging to inappropriate content, that has opened it up to media scrutiny.
These are not symptoms of bad content but symptoms of poor organisational design.
Change the structure to transform your business
While it is costly and near impossible for many companies to initiate a reorganisation, there are ways to work around existing silos to produce content more efficiently while maintaining quality across channels.
Enterprise content strategy seeks to produce workflows and internal governance that optimise existing organisational structures in spite of traditional organisational designs. In doing so, subject matter expertise is leveraged regardless of where that expertise sits within the corporate hierarchy and content can be produced that is of greater quality at much less effort.
Further, the IT side of digital content publishing can be integrated into all content processes throughout the content lifecycle, making the technology component intrinsic to outcomes rather than focused solely on outputs. This eliminates internal tensions that quite often exist within companies between the content owners (or subject matter experts), and the technical teams that serve them. While technical teams may have adopted more modern approaches to handling the digital demands placed on them by customers through the adoption of agile work environments, these always serve to create greater divides within the organisational model as they were never adopted with content creation processes in mind.
Digital centre of excellence model
So how do we incorporate web teams and IT departments into digital content workflows so that they no longer operate as a weak link within the content publishing chain?
Developing an enterprise content strategy based on a thorough evaluation of existing workflows can shift the focus of web departments away from simply being a gate-keeper, towards the broader role of servicing the entire organisation and its publishing efforts.
Commonly known as a digital centre of excellence model (click the diagram to view larger), this governance and workflow structure uses account managers to act as liaisons between the technical team and the content owner/creator. This allows for frequent and ongoing interactions between both sides, and facilitates a much smoother and faster publishing process. Both the business side and the digital centre can work harmoniously, each responsive to the other’s needs, without the disruptive workflow that stems from organisational models that pre-date the internet.
A truly digital enterprise
There are many internal aspects that contribute to an organisation’s digital maturity. Simply leveraging a variety of digital channels does little to improve upon existing processes, engage talent across the organisation, or even drive new business models.
A 2015 MIT Sloane Management Review and Deloitte digital business study revealed that 91% of employees believe digital technologies have the potential to fundamentally transform the way people in their organisation work, but only 43% are satisfied with their organisation’s current reaction to digital trends.
This says a lot!
From a human resources perspective, organisations need to evaluate their corporate cultures and foster engagement programmes that help to facilitate cross-functional teams. Internal communications strategies are incredibly important, as well, to ensure all departments are kept apprised of potential collaboration opportunities and the ability to reap some economies of scale. These should be addressed in any long-term enterprise content strategy in order for the strategy to be successful.
With so many organisations – like the earlier cited traditional Fortune 500 financial firm and the modern national tourism company – looking to resolve the human resources strain placed on them by the demands of digital content creation, they often resort to hiring outside help from digital transformation teams from large business management consulting companies. However, this is almost certainly overkill when so many of the challenges faced by companies could be resolved through the proper creation of an enterprise content strategy and the implementation of tactics that address today’s business communications realities.
Enterprise content strategists are not business consultants. While they do operate at arm’s length from the company itself, the recommendations they provide evaluate the functions of digital content creation and provide solutions to improve upon existing operations. Unlike management consultants who apply business processes to content problems, their sole focus is on achieving enterprise content maturity through content processes that solve business problems.
Planning for the digital future
With almost 20 years behind us since the early adoption of the internet, isn’t it time we slowed down and started to rethink work? Because 20 years from now, simply creating and managing content at the pace we’re doing now will no longer be enough to stay on top of already bloated websites and content demands. But redesigning our organisations for these realities just might. And that is when true digital maturity will be achieved.