Our Thinking

Digital Governance


In the olden days, “digital” meant getting a computer on your desk, and learning how to use newfangled spreadsheets or word processing programs. At some point later, “digital” meant email.  Today, it encompasses the broad range of technologies from the web, to social media, to marketing automation, CRM, mobile, and more.  It encompasses internal collaboration, external marketing, and client service.  It informs, engages, transacts, and for the most forward-thinking organizations, it transforms.  Digital consumes a large and growing investment in technology, and plays a core role in marketing.  Yes, digital has grown up, but has its governance?

Digital governance encompasses the direction-setting function, along with the tactical processes to ensure that the digital goals are achieved.

There are two approaches to digital governance:  Central and Decentralized.  Central Governance recognizes that the fast pace of digital requires a separate governance structure, along with a separate, unencumbered execution arm. Decentralized Governance recognizes that digital must be completely integrated into the organization’s existing structures and processes, and therefore so must governance.  Both have merit; which makes most sense for your organization depends on your history, strategy, and capabilities.

Here is how they are typically implemented:

  • Central Governance:  Two groups are set up: a digital steering committee, that would be responsible for keeping apprised of trends, organizational strategy, and setting the direction for web, social media, etc.  This group would meet semi-annually or annually.  The second group, a digital working group, is the arms and legs that execute the plan.  The digital working group can be a separate department, or it can be housed within IT, marketing, or outsourced fully or partially. The digital working group provides on-the-ground input to the steering committee, and develops reports that track the effectiveness of its efforts.
  • Decentralized Governance:  With this model, each group in the organization is responsible for planning and executing digital within the context of their real-world accountabilities.  For example, an HR department would execute an online recruitment strategy as part of their overall recruitment strategy.  Or a customer service department would integrate Twitter monitoring and response into their overall customer service strategy (and into their call center technology.)  In this approach, the marketing and technology groups function in a shared service model, providing functional expertise and delivery capability when required.

Which Governance model is best?  Either works – the important thing is that your organization has actually put digital governance into place.   That being said, as the organization matures, so should the governance, ultimately moving to a third approach, one that recognizes the benefits of both: Strategic Governance.

Strategic Governance recognizes that not every group within the organization may be as “plugged in” digitally, and that there is merit in a central digital steering committee that can channel sharing, education, and digital innovation.  The steering committee is also responsible for ensuring alignment with overall strategy.  Yet unlike Central Governance, individual departments are expected to take responsibility for driving innovation within their own group: after all, who knows their mandate better?  And who would be most aware of best practices (and competitive initiatives) in their functional areas?

With Strategic Governance, digital execution would be a hybrid: some tasks are delegated to a working committee, as is the case with Central Governance, and other tasks are executed by people within each department.  As an example, search engine optimization might be handled by the working group, but job postings might be handled directly by a person within HR.