We recently ran a workshop at the Institutional Web Management Workshop and a recurring concern that we heard at the event was that “senior managers don’t understand the strategic importance of our website”. No doubt this includes an element of “you don’t understand the importance of our role and don’t give us enough budget” – the perennial cry of the overworked and underpaid – but is it just that? And it’s interesting that at the same time we hear those allegedly unconcerned senior managers and academics complaining about the sad inadequacies of their institutions’ websites.
These dissatisfactions across internal provider and client are by no means unique to HEIs. In my experience most organisations – even including digital marketing agencies – are dissatisfied with their own websites, while at the same time their web managers feel under-resourced. In part this simply reflects the very rapid pace of development in web technologies. With the possibilities, and their associated challenges, continuously extending you can never feel you have done enough.
So some degree of dissatisfaction is inevitable, but you need to be sure that there are not more fundamental and culpable causes for concern. Above all are you as an organisation agreed about what your website is for? For all but the smallest and simplest organisations there will of course be multiple answers to this question. Defining these answers coherently and in accordance with overall institutional priorities needs the serious engagement of the senior management. And – given that some serious resources are going to be needed – you also need to consider how highly you value the achievement of your website’s aims.
With answers to these questions web mangers can devise, and justify the costs of, a strategy for the site that addresses its various aims and audiences. Good content management systems now have the capability to customise the experience of individual users of the site, responding intelligently to their interests, preferences and browsing behaviours. This responsiveness can itself communicate a powerful message about your organisation, and could deliver significant competitive advantage.
Dissatisfaction will no doubt remain. You certainly can always do more, though it might not be cost-effective to do so. But if senior management and web teams agree clear aims for your web presence, recognise the value of achieving those aims, and resource and deliver accordingly, then you will have achieved more than most.
Stephen Butcher is CEO of Eduserv