Higher Education Case Study - Case Studies - Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design (2015)

Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design (2015)


Case Studies



Higher Education Case Study

Pre-Framework Dynamics

Our Overall Framework Recommendation

Digital Team Findings and Recommendations

The Core Team

Digital Strategy Findings and Recommendations

Digital Policy Findings and Recommendations

Digital Standards Findings and Recommendations

What Happened After We Left

From a business perspective, this 9,000-student research university was suffering from many of the symptoms that come along with the digital disruption in higher education. They were struggling to understand how deeply and when to adopt online coursework; how to effectively engage a student body of digital natives and the body of institutional donors that supported the university financially; and how much of the internal processes related to admissions, registration, and physical operations should be converted to a more progressive digital framework. No easy answers here.

More tactically, the university found it difficult to coordinate the digital efforts of the entire campus. As in any university setting, there were a number of strong players, including admissions, communications, and the IT department (in which the core digital team was housed) that were particularly invested in the direction of digital. There were multiple “official” websites that served different and sometimes overlapping functions. And, as is often the case in a higher education environment, there were a number of other players on the periphery that added to the digital governance dynamics. Some professors at the university had developed their own websites and social media channels to promote their personal academic achievements, and some departments had university students piloting digital functionality that worked well for a department but was not integrated with the rest of the university’s digital channels.

An executive-level resource brought our team in to try and iron out some of these digital governance and operational concerns and bring the university-wide team into alignment.

Pre-Framework Dynamics

At its core, the university was suffering from a serious user experience concern: how do we manage the full user experience with the university including digital? Digital development was seen as a disintegrated series of tactical concerns. And, as with most universities, there were a number of legacy processes, like admissions and registration, which were ironed deeply into staffing models and budgetary allocation schemes. Interesting dynamics included the following:

• Although all were aware of how digital had disrupted the higher education market, they were hard pressed to align strategically to make the pivot required.

• Their IT team was sure that it was appropriate for them to write Web content without the participation of communications.

• There was an intellectual understanding of the value of a unified approach of digital to governance, but a tactical reluctance to change existing processes and align collaboratively across organizational silos.

• Due to a lack of strategy, practically any university stakeholder could insist that functionality be implemented.

Our Overall Framework Recommendation

The leadership at this organization expressed a strong desire to do things comprehensively with the role of digital in the university. So we dug deep and recommended that this institution consider the full range of experiences that students and alumni might have with the university and how digital might enhance them. We took an aggressive approach toward disseminating digital throughout the broader organization in all aspects of governance (see Figure 11.1).


Proposed higher education framework.

Digital Team Findings and Recommendations

The digital team within IT was staffed was experienced platform developers, most of whom had long-term Web development experience. This team was expected to execute within the full range of functions required for maintaining the university’s websites. That meant that application and platform developers were making decisions about content, information architecture, and what projects were implemented. This behavior harked back to the old-school traditional “webmaster” role that was prevalent in the earlier days of website development when a single resource was expected to manage an organization’s Web presence. This model was no longer effective at the university and needed to be adjusted so that those with domain expertise in content, user experience, and technology would be better able to contribute their specialized skills to the development and maintenance of the university’s digital campus. Some other concerns were the following:

• A disconnect existed between the articulated importance of digital and the staffing of the Web team.

• Digital team skills and expertise were incomplete.

• There was a strong digital project focus, but the sense of digital operations that existed to support ongoing infrastructure activities was absent.

• The project prioritization process did not exist, so many projects languished in the pipeline for years.

The Core Team

This university’s core Web team was housed in IT. In general, the team was a bit tone-deaf to the overall needs of the organization—despite a genuine desire to do good work. In many organizations, the Web or digital team complained about different organizational “silos” that wanted to do their own thing as it related to digital. In this case, it was the Web team that was operating in a silo. There were a lot of good practices that were in play, but much of the digital development activity seemed out of sync with the organizational needs (as perceived by other digital stakeholders).

In order to distribute the digital development effort more effectively throughout the university, we recommended that the university spread the core team function in the following manner (see Figure 11.2):

• Create a digital strategy/user experience function within the Provost’s office.

• Establish a content strategy function in communications.

• Focus IT resources on defining and maintaining the digital platform.


Digital team defined.

User Experience Function

We recommended the establishment of a user experience function within the Office of the Provost. The aim of this function was to coordinate and integrate disparate university processes so that the university could deliver a quality and effective experience to its community wherever they were and whatever they were doing—whether that was an online interaction or a real-world interaction or a combination of both.

Key to this function would be to establish mechanisms for collaboration around systems and processes at the university. This function would go beyond simply improving the quality of the Web at the university. It would point toward a long-term vision of more efficient, cost-effective operations that leveraged the capabilities of digital platforms to meet the changing expectations of faculty, staff, students, and alumni.

Here were the roles of focus and development.

Manager of Digital Strategy and User Experience

• Provides overall digital standards stewardship.

• Defines development and publishing standards.

• Understands the constellation of university social media accounts, Web and mobile sites, and their interactions.

• Ensures consistent and good user experience across all digital platforms and real-world endeavors.

• Defines specific digital performance metrics to align with top tasks and other performance measures.

• Embraces stewardship of the university website domains and social accounts registry.

• Identifies and manages the vendor of record to execute on digital projects as needed.

• Chairs the digital consortium.

• Drafts the digital plan.

Metrics Analyst

• Maintains standards wiki.

• Executes user experience and analytics measurement tactics.

• Liaises with IT to define and implement Web analytics tool platform.

User Experience Coordinator

• Ensures timely and successful implementation of digital projects.

• Identifies project effectiveness analytics and project use case.

• Coordinates IT, communications, and external vendors for implementation of new Web functional or major functionality revisions.

• Supports the content strategy manager with the managing of the digital university community of practice.

Content Strategy Function (Communications)

We considered communications to be the natural home of content strategy with its focus on editorial content and ability to deliver the right information and content to the right audience.

Roles of focus and development were the following.

Content Strategy (Manager)

• Defines digital content strategy for all digital channels.

• Acts as a consultant for projects (rich media development and content).

• Defines digital editorial standards.

• Oversees digital content strategy.

• Manages information architecture.

• Serves as a member of the digital university consortium.

Editorial Support

• Maintains content and supports editorial.

• Moderates and supports social media.

Digital Graphic Design

• Vendor of record.

Focus IT Resources on Platform

IT’s natural domain is systems support and development. We recommended that the Web team within IT continue to maintain and grow the Web technology platform, including Web content management, portal, and search and analytics software.

Roles of focus and development were the following.

Digital Platform Management and Development

• Implements and sustains tools required for the digital platform, supporting Web, mobile, and social interactions.

• Ensures that the university has an appropriate and usable platform that meets the content authoring and delivery needs of the university community as defined by the digital plan.

• Defines publishing and development and network and server Web standards.

• Manages enterprise Web tool vendors as needed.

• Liaises with external IT resources/vendors to ensure standards compliance.

• Coordinates tool-related training and implementation tactics.


• Oversees the platform program and product management.

• Serves as a digital consortium member.

• Delivers digital publishing, development, and delivery architecture for the university.

• Develops and defines tool standards.

• Defines network and server infrastructure standards.

• Inputs and makes decisions for network and server infrastructure standards.

The Distributed Team

The university needed to ensure that its faculty and staff were enabled to maintain their own Web content and moderate their own social channels as required. As it stood, content contributors were frustrated by the Web content management platform interface and often chose not to maintain their content. The result was that the Web team spent a lot of time making edits to content when others could have executed that task more easily. So it was important that content contributors extended their existing skill set in order to learn how to use the existing Web content management systems and other tools that might be implemented in the future.

We recommended that the university do the following:

• Require faculty and staff to maintain and support their own Web content and moderate their own social media accounts.

• Establish ownership of content maintenance with individual contributors and subject matter experts.

Working Groups and Committees

We recommended two new collaborative entities at the university: the Digital University Consortium and the Digital University Community of Practice (COP). The Consortium was strategically focused. The COP was practitioner focused. As it stood, the two communities of stakeholders were blended, and we felt that caused unnecessary discussion and debate over production concerns and not enough concentrated focus on the overall university digital strategy.

Digital University Consortium

We suggested the establishment of a Web community of practice whose main function was to keep collaboration active among the large number of specialists that supported the Web at the university—including students, faculty, and dedicated digital team members.

The Digital University Consortium was tasked to explore opportunities to transform or enhance legacy organizational processes via emerging digital technologies. Recommended membership included:

• University user experience manager (chair)

• Representative from research

• Representative from the registrar’s office

• Representative from the library

• Content strategy manager

• Digital platform lead

• IT systems

• Human resources

• Facilities

• Housing

• Faculty membership (rotating)

Advisors/Sounding Boards


• Director of Communications

Immediate Agenda

• Sketch guiding principles to jump-start and focus conversations about digital.

• Rationalize approach to digital budget. (Define what is a shared cost versus what is a “department-specific fee for service.”)

• Integrate and synthesize organization-wide “big” digital requirements.

• Provide input for university digital, technical architecture, and content strategy plans.

• Discuss pros and cons of adopting a university-wide, services-oriented application architecture and agile development environment.

• Examine and discuss the TBD list of digital projects to be implemented by the Web team. Remove unnecessary items and find opportunities for consolidation.

Digital University CoP

We recommended that the university institute a community of practitioners that had an interest in the university’s digital campus. This community could include content contributors, students, and faculty. The content strategy manager would lead this community. Meetings should be held no less than quarterly.

Unlike the University Digital Consortium, whose purpose was to collaborate in order to make strategic recommendations to leadership (and with a limited membership), the Community of Practice would serve as an open forum in which to showcase aspects of the digital campus under development. The purpose of this community would be to share information about university Web initiatives and emerging best practices. It would also provide a forum for training related to standards and industry best practices in Web management, and it would serve as a venue for innovators to showcase new digital work being done at the university.

Digital Strategy Findings and Recommendations

During the discovery process, all stakeholders articulated the importance of better and more productive management of the digital campus. But during our discovery, we determined that many pre-Web management practices still existed and were being sustained even in areas where leadership and the Web development team realized there was an opportunity to either improve the online face of the university or otherwise create advantages. Also, there was some incongruence between an articulated desire to improve the digital presence and the size of the existing Web team—the Web team had shrunk, not grown, over recent years, despite the backlog of projects, some of which had been on the list for well over a year.

The university did not really have a digital plan to articulate how it would leverage digital channels to support core operations, communications, and transactions. This oversight was also reflected in some general confusion among some digital stakeholders about how digital development efforts were funded or what a funding model should be.

The end result was a “governance by power” scenario where those with budget and authority often got their way online—for good and for bad. Some of the specific dynamics were:

• No documented digital strategy existed.

• The digital funding model was unclear or not understood by key stakeholders.

• Metrics to measure effectiveness and quality were absent.

• Decision-making for digital standards and digital portfolio was unclear.

Accountability/Responsibility for Digital Strategy

We recommended that accountability (see Table 11.1) for ensuring that a digital strategy was implemented at the university and resided with the university executive leadership (see Figure 11.3).

Tactics for executing on digital strategy included:

• Establish a Digital University Consortium as a forum for strategic collaboration.

• Create a digital governance framework to clarify university digital roles and responsibilities.

• Draft and approve a digital plan.

• Establish digital guiding principles.

• Clarify the digital budget.

• Define metrics for measuring digital effectiveness.




Executive Leadership

Codify and socialize digital guiding principles.

Codify and emplace digital governance framework.

Define guiding principles to align with the university culture, the institutional plan, and the faculty and departmental needs.

Implement and maintain a digital budget strategy.

Define digital governance framework and recommend it to the president for codification.

Approve the digital plan.

Monitor the success of the digital plan.

Office of the Provost

Draft the digital plan.

Establish a metrics framework and measure digital quality and effectiveness.

University Digital Consortium

Provide input to and frame the digital plan.

Brainstorm digital scenarios and use cases to inform the digital budget strategy.


Accountability for digital structure.

Digital Policy Findings and Recommendations

The university seemed to understand the impact of digital and the need to manage the associated risk. However, the “last mile” needed to be covered by formal documentation to ensure that the substance of their policy was socialized throughout the organization.

• A digital policy steward needed to be identified to “own” the creation and maintenance of policies.

• The university had much of the information required to create a best practices set of digital policy, but it had not formally documented these policies.

• Some pre-existing policies, such as records management, needed to be re-examined to ensure that they were still effective in the wake of the growth of digital.

The university had a handle on identifying areas where digital policy was required, and for the most part, information existed to support the drafting of a formal policy. Also, the role of digital policy stewardship was clearly defined within the Office of Finance and Administration. The CIO’s office had a keen eye toward emerging trends on the Internet and World Wide Web, as well as region-specific university systems.

Our suggestions included the following:

• Place stewardship for digital policy with the CIO’s office.

• Formalize digital policies and aggregate them with other university policies.

• Develop formal Web policies in a standard format and cross-reference them with existing university policies and supporting standards where feasible.

• Review existing policies for impact by the establishment of new digital channels.

The university had much of the information required to draft policy. Therefore, we recommended that it actively do so and publish that information in an area that was easily findable and accessible to university digital stakeholders—as some of the existing policy information was difficult to discover. Also, we recommended that plain-language summaries of the policy be provided for those who were simply trying to understand the thrust of the policy, such as external support vendors and casual content contributors within the university.

We felt that primary stewardship for the digital policy definition rested with the Office of the CIO, as that function was uniquely qualified to understand both the internal and external drivers that might impact the substance of the university digital policy. However, authorship of policy should be delegated to Communications, IT, User Experience, and Records Management resources as required (see Figure 11.4).


Accountability for digital policy.

Digital Standards Findings and Recommendations

Like many organizations, the university had done an uneven job of documenting its standards. The lack of documented standards caused a lot of confusion and contention within the university community:

• Decision-making authority for standards was assumed and unclear.

• Design and editorial standards were lightly documented.

• Publishing and development and network and server infrastructure standards were poorly documented.

The university had begun to document digital design and editorial standards, but standards related to the digital publishing platform, portals, search engines, and other more technically focused concerns remained undefined and undocumented. Over the years, the core Web team (within IT) had assumed authority for defining many standards. But because this authority was assumed and not formally granted, often there was “pushback” from university stakeholders who had differing views.


Digital standards.

We recommended that overall stewardship of standards sit with the User Experience function within the Provost’s office (see Figure 11.5). We also recommended the input and decision-making authoring responsibilities be divided as follows:

Design: Communications and the Office of the Provost (see Table 11.2)

Editorial: Communications and the Office of the Provost (see Table 11.3)

Publishing and Development: Office of the CIO and Office of the Provost (see Table 11.4)

Network and Server Infrastructure: Office of the CIO (see Table 11.5)








Office of the Provost (User Experience)










Office of the Provost (User Experience)










Content Strategy


Office of the CIO

Digital Platform



Office of the Provost

User Experience



Registrar’s Office




Content Contributor Representatives








Office of the CIO – Infrastructure Systems & Digital Platform


Office of the Provost User Experience


Registrar’s Office






What Happened After We Left

The university agreed with our recommendations, but had difficulty finding internal sponsorship to implement all the staffing changes recommended effectively. This was interesting because the project was sponsored at a fairly senior level of the organization. However, this team is still firmly committed to its governance journey. There is strong collaboration and alignment among the core team members, and they have taken steps to define and implement digital standards effectively. They are also in the process of developing a formal university-wide community of practice that will recommend guiding principles to leadership. While not exactly our recommendation, they are moving in a positive direction.

We felt that the external business drivers and competition to this organization were not strong enough to engage executives (despite their sponsorship of this project). It is good, though, that the digital team is aligning around governance good practices. When digital hits the higher education sector more directly, this organization will be prepared to act.



Imagine this. You’re a director of digital for a multinational organization or a university or a government organization. (Anywhere. It’s your fantasy). You come to work one day and dial in to your monthly digital community of practice meeting where you and representatives from the global digital team discuss content strategy, the new shared CMS you are selecting and implementing. You hear a story from one of the country website managers about a new ecommerce initiative and openly discuss how others in the organization may join in the effort or leverage their knowledge. You report on how some new business initiatives from corporate might impact some of the digital standards your team has established—and then the team has a discussion about it. No one is arguing with you about your authority to make a decision. No one is threatening to build a rogue website on the side. You’re collaborating. You’re acting as a team. You’re governing well, with intent.

This story is real. This head of digital went from “I have no idea what’s going on” and complete chaos to effective governance in less than a year.

And you can do it, too.