Need Nice But Technical Business Website? Divide and Conquer! (Part 1)

A former client of mine from when I did technology consulting with my prior company, Think Outsource, recently reached out to me for advice regarding a web project her company was considering. In the past, this consumer-based product company which sold their product through retail outlets allowed their marketing department to oversee all aspects of their website including the technology. The in-house marketing department oversaw the content while they outsourced the technology to an outside marketing firm (very common practice).

Today, my former client is wanting to provide their customers secure access to their sales information including pricing, inventory, previous orders and marketing information. This information is currently accessible only by her staff and secured within the companies private corporate network, hence no public access. The public relations firm they were using to manage their website tried to provide the ability for the company to unlock this sensitive data in a secure manner through their website but the firm had failed in several attempts to grant her customers access to data in a meaningful way.

She contacted me asking if I would recommend how her company could move forward with the project. Her 4 questions were:

  • Should her company continue to allow the marketing firm to continue to oversee their website?
  • Should she instruct her technology department to get involved in the project and work closely with the stakeholders to help bring this sensitive data within reach of her company’s customers who need this information?
  • Should they reevaluate their current outsourced arrangements such as allowing a marketing firm to build and maintain their website or should she instead hire their own programmers better equipped to manage such a complex technology project?
  • If she chose to hire programmers, should they be outsourced or in-house? If they outsource, should they off-shore or hire locally?

These are tough questions and many small and medium-sized companies around the world have been struggling with these questions since the birth of the Internet. These questions also too often unlock political tension within medium-sized companies where responsibilities between departments are not as well defined compared to larger organizations. Departments in medium-sized companies must often strategically position themselves for necessary yet limited resources. Departments including marketing, sales, technology, accounting and management feel threatened when another group begins to extend their reach into what they feel is their rightful territory.

While these questions are often difficult for small and medium sized companies to address, my experience is that for large companies, these lines of responsibility are well defined. From a larger company’s perspective is how I looked to help her answer her questions. The reason I looked from this perspective is because I believe small and medium-sized companies should work to mimic larger companies to manage design and technology projects if they wish to in the future join the ranks of their larger counterparts. By leveraging the power of outsourcing and addressing upfront these cross-departmental responsibilities clearly, she will be in a better position to reach her goals.

What do I mean by outsourcing? In outsourcing, I am referring to an industry where I along with several other thousands of tech oriented individuals started companies that sprouted as part of the freelance movement of the 1990’s. I had 2 such firms: ACT! Certified and Think Outsource. These entrepreneurial firms including mine found great success by pooling the needs of small and medium-sized companies providing to them the same type of robust services larger companies often performed in-house. However when I refer to outsourcing, I am not referring to offshoring even though media often get these 2 concepts confused. For offshoring, I refer to it separately from outsourcing because offshoring can be done both in-house by extending your company to other countries and also through outsourcing.

Corporate departments such as marketing, sales, accounting, technology, management and others are the creation of modern business born out of the industrial revolution. During the industrial revolution from the early 1900’s (think Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company), we learned that by leveraging the power of specialization and dividing a firm into departments around these specializations, we could increase the efficiency and revolutionize business productivity. When it comes to outsourcing, each corporate department within an organization should choose individually whether to outsource or insource talent as they see fit based on their culture, budgets and goals.

So how do we take this information and apply it to my former client’s business? Many successful companies divide their web presences across 2 departments. They believe marketing should be responsible for their website’s design, user navigation and content while the technology department should oversee the technology used to host the website, store and retrieve data, integrate with corporate systems, secure access and oversee all source code development and management.

In summary, a website’s front end design should be oversaw by the marketing team and separated from the backend development which is overseen by the technology team. This cooperation and partnership between both the marketing and the technology departments fall within the modern business rules that demand that small and medium-sized company’s departmental teams focus on the specific areas in which they have specialized skills.

Return next month to learn how my current startup, Post.Bid.Ship., handles the separation of powers between our marketing and technology departments in more depth. From this perspective, we can see how even the smallest of startups can adopt these departmental focuses.