Who's Minding Your Corporate Web Budget?
By Lisa Welchman
I've often worked with web teams frustrated by the inability to get funding for a new project or headcount. Often they complain that the web team and its needs aren't taken seriously given the value the web provides to the organization. I frequently turn the argument around asking them: how much money did your organization spend on the web last year and what did the organization get for that investment? A very small minority might have a sound answer for me, but the vast majority pause for a moment and then give an answer that usually starts with "it depends."
The real answer is they don't know.
In order to be able to effectively calculate the value of web efforts and manage and staff them in a mature manner, organizations should take a moment to understand the full spend for the organizational web -- whether that's an intranet or an external partner or a public site.
Many businesses do not have a clear understanding of how much they spend on the web. Because it grew so organically and unevenly, frequently there is no rhyme or reason to the people, processes, technology, and funding that support corporate web development.
In working with teams on defining shared services models for the web over the last 10 years, I've noticed two trends: First, the money tends to follow divisional or line-of-business size or revenue generating capacity. The more people a group has or the more money they make, the more they get to spend on the web. Second, just as there are content and technology silos on the organizational presence online there are internal budgetary silos when it comes to paying for the web.
For the minority who give me a confident answer when I ask about the total web budget, there are two prevalent scenarios. One is IT centered and the other marketing-communications centered. In the IT-focused scenario, executives point to the amount of money spent on things like web site hosting, web server hardware and software, load balancing, replication, database and other infrastructure software. They also mention web content management systems, search engines, portal software and development efforts. Sometimes they'll include the amount that different lines of business spend on web applications, especially if a corporate IT team does development.
In the marketing and communications focused scenario teams will detail costs for web design and content generation efforts including information architecture, graphic design, content strategy, writing and, more recently, social software strategy and execution.
The reality is that a web budget is all of the above and more. What's usually missing in the budget quote are IT and marketing communications efforts that happen outside of the "central" corporate teams. This includes services that are provided by outside vendors to lines of business. That could be application development, design, editorial, or even web site hosting services. Also frequently left out of the tally are headcount dedicated to web within lines of business. And, lastly, there is the headcount associated with the internal coordination required to align various lines of business, countries and sectors in order to create a unified web presence -- the glue that keeps everyone working together.
The following list is not complete, but to get a running start on figuring out your total web budget, consider the following costs:
Design & Editorial: This includes graphic design, content strategy, writing and editorial, social software strategy.
Information Organization & Access: This includes the development of things like taxonomies, metadata tagging strategies, information architectures and the development of the business logic required to support information retrieval internally and via web and enterprise search.
Web Tools & Applications: This includes development and support of web infrastructure publishing tools like web content management systems, portals, search engines, social software, and collaboration tools. It also includes the development and support of online applications.
Network & Server Infrastructure: This includes cost associated with hosting, replication, load balancing and core infrastructure software like server software and databases. You should also address cost of hardware here.
For all of the above, be sure to consider both central corporate efforts and sub-division or lines of business. Make sure to include headcount, software, consulting and vendor support.
Warning: be prepared for sticker shock. From a budgetary standpoint, the web has come a long way from the lone webmaster in the corner with a text editor and some graphics software.
When presented with the broad list above, many organizations have to go on a web budget treasure hunt to "find" their web site. There are domains and servers they didn't know existed, along with technology redundancies (some that make sense and other that don't). And sometimes, in very large organizations, there are whole web initiatives that the central corporate marketing and IT team didn't even know existed.
But once the hunt is complete, the extended web team family has a clearer understanding not only of the web budget, but also of the scope and functions of the web within the organization. In some instances the organization may realize that asking for more wasn't really necessary. They find that eliminating unnecessary technology or hardware and software redundancies can provide the needed resources for that new initiative. And today, when corporations are tightening the belt, that's good news.