Big organizations have many different strategies — or sometimes lackthereof — for managing their web presence. One of the biggest decisions to make organizationally is whether or not to centralize or decentralize website management and decisions across departments.
The concepts are relatively self-explanatory:
- With a centralized management structure, departments would rely on a central hub or group within the company when performing web projects, and often even maintenance.
- With a decentralized web management structure, departments would have some degree of independence from the central organization, and have power to make a variety of decisions on their own, perhaps with some form of centralized governance to help steer the ship.
There are pros and cons to each method. It's more likely, however, that when we work with large organizations in consulting projects, we're working with organizations with a decentralized nature. You know when you see those huge corporation logos on consulting company websites, right? Those are likely projects where the company consulted for a department within a larger organization using a decentralized web strategy.
Decentralized organizations have a strong potential for the brand to get segmented across different web properties, and for different departments to duplicate a lot of work. However, they also allow for potentially quicker projects, smaller teams, and solutions more catered to the specific needs of a department.
Centralized organizations can tightly control the brand better, repeat work less often, and keep a more tightly integrated software stack. Centralized teams can also better rollout a new project (or perhaps a brand redesign) across the organization.
Whether a centralized or decentralized organization, policies of web governance are important. For instance, an in-depth style and brand usage guide can help a large organization of a decentralized nature operate within the parameters that are acceptable to the overall organization.
Three examples of brand style guides, that offer some level of (at least design and UI) governance, are these:
Working in either environment, whether as an internal team member or as a consultant, has challenges and opportunities. It's important for those of us in a consulting role to know which type of environment we're in, and act accordingly.
These concepts are also really important in education circles. The subject came to my mind because of an interview Matt Medeiros did with Rachel Carden, of the University of Alabama, who is running the WP Campus project. Do check that out.