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University Web Developers

The Department of Communications and the emergence of the Department of Web Services

Legacy web sites have often evolved from tech-savvy Communications personnel. As the WWW grew in popularity, with Carpe Diem like enthusiasm, they developed HTML expertise to leverage the new medium. Web Services departments are now (have been) emerging and there is a struggle to define the definitions and responsibilities of the two departments. Should development of any kind continue in Communications? Should morphed Communications positions migrate to Web Services? What have your experiences been?

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I'm a firm believer that web services should be separate. That being said, it also needs to work side-by-side with communications, which can sometimes result in confusion over who ultimately has editorial control over the website. This is a problem I'm dealing with directly right now and I'm not quite sure how to resolve it....any advice out there from others who are dealing with this would be most appreciated.
I have long been an advocate for an independent web team. I was recently asked in an interview where should the web report - IT or Marketing. Here is my answer:


My answer is neither. Ideally the web should report directly to senior management, not indirectly through IT or Marketing. That being said, I don’t know of any large research university organized this way, at least not yet. But it will be coming. There are two sources I quote when this questions comes up. The first is an interview with Jeffrey Veen by Digital Web Magazine back in 2003:

Digital Web: So what are some of the best things happening for Web designers right now?

JV: There are a couple of things. First, the Web team is becoming a department in its own right now in many organizations. For a long time, for a lot of companies, the Web lived in marketing or worse: IT. That meant that those traditional departments would influence the thinking behind much of what was happening on those Web sites. In the case of marketing, many Web sites became “messages” that had to be “communicated” to “customers” rather than conversations and interactions. Likewise, with IT departments, content-rich Web sites were treated like software development projects. Find a misspelled word? Open a ticket in the bug tracker under the category “content defect” and we’ll put it in the queue. What kind of editorial process is that?

So today, many companies are realizing that the Web is their primary connection to their constituents, and, as a result, they are creating Web departments made up of multidisciplinary teams that report up to the executive team. In fact, I don’t think it will be long before we see more progressive companies creating CXO positions—Chief Experience Officers.

Also, specialization is creeping into our industry and that’s a great thing. We’re seeing Web design split into disciplines like interaction design, information architecture, usability, visual design, front-end coders, and more. Even information architecture is subdividing into content strategists, taxonomists, and others. I think we can safely say that there is no such thing as a “Webmaster” anymore.

Full interview available here: http://www.digital-web.com/articles/jeffrey_veen/

The second source is a 2007 post by Jeffrey Zeldman called “Let There Be Web Divisions”
http://www.zeldman.com/2007/07/02/let-there-be-web-divisions/ .

Make sure you read the comments as well.
Great ammunition there. I'm gonna squirrel that away for a key moment. We just moved under marketing, after being in IT. I was mostly against this, because I felt it was half a step in the right direction, when a full step was completely feasible. Although, being in marketing is a definite step up from IT. Even though my job hasn't changed (in fact, I'm doing more IT type stuff than ever), the barriers to getting my job done are now fewer. Hopefully, some day the right people will listen to my idea that we need a web communications office coordinating between IT, Marketing, and PR. That won't be soon though.
I understand and at one time was in your shoes...sort of.
At my current college our webmaster is in IS and I (web content editor) am housed in the PR/Marketing office. I am responsible for editing and he for the technical stuff. Fortunately, he and I work well together. He also understands our marketing point of view, and since my previous position was as a webmaster, I understand the technical angle.

Having a web comm dept would be helpful on many campuses.
So exactly to what part of senior management should the web or web services group report to, supposing no new senior management positions such as CXO positions for the time being?
I agree there should be separation of some kind. Karlyns comment's are where the rubber meets the road. How is a runtime relationship defined so as to produce/maintain a successful site? Who does what? If code development is in technology and design (css) expertise is in Communications, then I think there needs to be a clear strategy and methodology in place. That's only the beginning. Multiple report-tos, conflicting priorities and budget management just muddy the water even more. Raising Web Services to a peer level with Technology and Communications seems ideal. However, I think existing positions in Technology and Communications would then need to migrate. This alone might be an impediment to change as no one likes to lose a position.
Our Web office is technically under IT, but practically speaking we are a hybrid in-between type of area. I report to the AVP of IT on the org chart, but work more with the VP for College Relations. This works because the institution is small enough to do things less formally, and my IT boss is not a control freak. With the wrong blend of individuals, it could be a disaster, but as it is, we work well together. It would not work to move Web under Public Relations - they do not understand the medium. Things will change gradually as upper management begins to truly understand how crucial the web site is to the College, and then I expect we will get some more staff and have to formalize a better structure... and at that point I may become something other than the Webmaster that I am (we are not extinct quite yet). For the foreseeable future we will remain an independent subdivision of IT that works closely with the marketing folks. There would have to be a sea-change in attitudes toward the Web among the management, for us to be anything more. I don't expect there to be such a thing as a separate Web Services Department (or a CXO type position) here for another 20 years.
(cross posted to the mailing list)

In our College (part of the larger University), the Web site started off as a "project" (something that was accomplished & then set out to pasture) and then I came along...

I was working in the communications office (actually PR - amusingly, the communications title kept making people ask me if I had something to do with the telephones) and told the big boss that I had some Web experience - suddenly I was the "web master" of a 3-year-old, 50,000-page monster.

Although I haven't been able to solve some of the technical issues with the site, I think coming from a journalism/public relations background has helped me much more than my limited HTML programming experience has. That said, I think you couldn't just take a journalism/communications person and make them into a Web person without at least *some* HTML and "web management" training.

That also goes for faculty that are allowed to edit/maintain certain sites. Esp. in our veterinary field, the faculty have a tendency to assume the audience knows research terms like PCR or flow cytometry and medical terms - even when they are writing to a lay audience like pet owners. I usually have ask them or go behind them to define unfamiliar terms (which I frequently have to look up myself).

Our external affairs office is very happy with the communications emphasis on the Web site now (and we're still fleshing it out) - we're focused on getting news and event information out there in an easy-to-read, accessible format. That said, I honestly don't know how the IT folks are taking it. They don't talk to me much... I go to them when I have problems and I do solicit feedback, I just don't really get any.

So, in summary, our "web services" (me) is most definitely under the auspices of communications (including alumni relations, fundraising, PR and publications) and I think we've made a case (for us) for why it should remain that way. The hard part now is convincing them we need more than 1 person with her hands in the pie - but also making sure that the others who work on the Web are working with and not against the communications side.

As an aside, we are all working on the site through Dreamweaver - some in "design mode" and some people who can actually code. We currently lack a CMS and although I have tried setting up some pages in Contribute, it hasn't worked out since we connect directly to the network (no FTP) and I'm on a Mac while just about everyone else is on a PC. Contribute could not compute.
We're struggling a bit with this now as we're in the middle of a redesign, rearchitecture and CMS implementation. Now is the best time for us to re-examine process, roles, etc.

I'm a web developer within University Relations (under Institutional Advancement), the other web staff members that handle any technical issues are under Information Services (IT).

It's pretty clear that University Relations owns the main web site as all content flows through our office for approval. And I expect that to not only continue, but expand, as unified messaging/branding will be more important than ever given our new site.

In an ideal world (sans a independent web department), University Relations would be the primary contact for any web related request. I am the project manager for the redesign project and that structure has worked well with our division taking the lead.

I would like to field every web related request, determine whom will be responsible, assign roles and manage the whole of the task. We will consult with I.S. when a technical request/issue comes up, but for day to day content management we would handle those requests independently.
Right now, I am the main web person on our campus, and I'm in IT. The content is distributed out to all the departments. We are in the process of creating a Web services group. There is no web position here in our Communications, but I do work closely with them on most of the stuff that I do. The web services group is starting off under ITS, but I agree with most, that as the web continues to evolve that it will eventually need to be separated out with its own divisions: content, design, social, just to name a few.
I'm starting to formulate a document that will serve as a proposal for creation of a web services team under university relations.

Wondering if anyone else has created such a proposal and if they'd be willing to share any of its content.
from the outside, as a consultant, I've found the highest performing higher-ed web teams report to the marketing VP. However, the leadership of the marketing organization is the key. If that leadership is still focusing on view books and snail mail, then everyone will have a problem. As the Web Site becomes the defacto 'brand', it shouldn't be controlled separately from an independent organization. There has to be one leader driving the branding and communication of that brand.

We just need to find a way to get the marketers into the 21st century... easier said than done.

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