The Case for Centralization

I recently wrote about the perils of decentralizing web operations. In this post, I’ll discuss the advantages of doing just the opposite — centralizing. But before I get into it, let me provide context to the discussion.

I have no issue whatsoever with decentralization in terms of content. What I do have an issue with is decentralizing the management of other aspects of the web effort — strategy, IA, design and code. Decentralizing those aspects result in the pitfalls I outlined in my earlier post. Now there’s always an exception to the rule, but those should be few and far between and that mantra holds true in this case.

In a nutshell, centralizing a site’s management should manifest itself in the opposite way outlined in my other post. Here’s the quick rundown:

  • Greater consistency in design, navigation, functionality, overall experience
  • Better focus and clarity in communicating the organization’s messages and goals
  • A more symbiotic effort toward marketing the organization to a diverse set of audiences
  • A systematic, proactive approach to improving the visitor experience
  • Single source accountability for many of the site’s performance metrics and marketing goals 
  • Greater efficient use of time, effort and resources
  • Faster project turnaround time
  • Generally, a more sustainable approach
  • A happier web team/better morale

However, all that said, centralization does raise issues. Most prominent is the fact that it’s a huge break from the past. The university has long given individual units large latitude in terms of how to run their groups. So much so, that the bigger units don’t even bother with the web team. Instead, they hire outside agencies to knock out whatever it is they need to accomplish. That’s just decentralization by another name though. Our biggest hurdle is the perception that centralizing the site will mean an inability to uniquely market each unit. The anthropology department will look like political science which will look like music and so on down the line.

That’s where the decentralized approach to content comes back into the picture. Content is the best, most efficient way to make your pitch. Yes, design, layout, colors, etc. influence decisions, but (and this is coming from a designer) it matters less that photos are floated left versus right compared to what those photos depict. It matters less that copy is Helvetica rather than Georgia than what the copy says. The ability to determine content is the ability to market.

What centralization ultimately allows is efficient, planned out efforts to roll out improvements and functionality in a consistent, controlled and timely manner based on visitor and unit needs. The organization and visitors benefit while the web team stays sane.

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