Are You Ready to Govern Your Content?

Are you ready to govern your content?

Enterprises face an execution challenge. They have a growing need to align their diverse and complex content operations. But for many, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do that—they need ways to bridge this gap.

Michael AndrewsPublished on May 18, 2021

Content governance offers a solution for improving execution. But it’s not sufficient to proclaim content governance as the answer. Content teams and executives need to fully understand the nature of their problem and the factors that can make fixing the situation tricky. 

The growing need to align content operations

Enterprise content operations exhibit some common problems. Disparate teams are creating, managing, and delivering content independently of each other. They approach their work in different ways and rarely coordinate their activities. They aren’t aligned with one another.

Even when various teams are producing great content, they can lack a common focus in how they approach their work. Some work is duplicated, and content produced by individual teams is inconsistent. Content teams in separate business units are focused on distinct products, services, brands, and geographic regions and tend to follow different practices. It’s difficult for the enterprise to manage all this content when it lacks common standards.

Enterprise content coordination is often overlooked. When it’s missing, the problem can be more severe than many realize. Enterprises can’t afford to ignore these issues. They can be a significant impediment to realizing the strategic objectives of the enterprise.

Enterprises in diverse sectors are discovering that they can’t become digital-centric organizations if their content operations aren’t aligned. Digital success is not only about buying technology but also about implementing it effectively to support corporate goals. It requires change management.

As business operations have become digital, enterprises need to change how they work with content. Their content needs to:

  • Operate at a global scale.
  • Service a growing range of different channels.
  • Provide a unified experience for customers.

Achieving these goals depends on having sound content governance.

The need to operate at a global scale

Digital transformation presumes that different business functions and divisions can work together seamlessly. Work has shifted online, away from conference rooms. It should now be easier for individual parts of the organization to collaborate. Enterprise data is more unified, making it easier to see how decisions by various parts of the business influence each other. 

Digital capabilities have enabled greater integration in enterprise functions. Information and services can be instantly available, and online content has become indispensable in business operations, relied on by both employees and customers alike. Enterprises should think about their content as a common resource, what content strategists Carrie Hane and Mike Atherton refer to as “connected content.” When enterprise content is connected, it can be available anywhere it’s needed. Different teams produce content that everyone in the enterprise can use. Silos are eliminated. 

The growth of channels

Most enterprises are now dealing with more channels than in the past. Even if your organization doesn’t yet support voice bots or augmented reality, you’ll be managing a lot of channels. You have multiple websites, customer and employee portals, various social media channels, and a range of smartphone apps for customers and employees. Everyone touched by this content, whether creating it or using it, needs a common understanding of what content belongs in which channel. 

The importance of coherent customer experiences

In the web-centric era, different divisions would debate about whose content appeared on the home page. Today, the home page is rarely the first place that customers visit. Headless content enables content to be delivered anywhere it’s needed. The context in which content gets used is increasingly important. Customers need to access content on many channels. As they access content, they are switching devices, moving physically between different locations, and building an understanding of topics over time. Their needs are no longer defined in terms of a single web page. They expect a range of content that together provides a coherent experience. Providing that to customers requires enterprises to ensure their content fits together. Content that’s developed in silos can’t do that. 

Problems in alignment

Your digital business strategy depends on having content operations that scale, channels that are coordinated, and customer experiences that are seamless. But content operations are rarely able to support that alignment. 

Teams are organized to produce content that supports particular goals and specific websites. They focus on their immediate responsibilities. The broader needs of the enterprise don’t factor much in how teams do their work.

Thanks to headless content management, content is now more modular and flexible. The same content can support the needs of many business stakeholders, not just a single team. It can be reused in different contexts, delivered to many channels, and customized and personalized to a greater degree than has been possible before. Teams can share content they’ve developed to the benefit of other groups in the enterprise. But that’s only possible if this output is “ready” for use by anyone. Various groups within an enterprise need to agree about standards for content that will be used widely or involves input from different parts of the organization.

Getting clear about the need for governance

Content governance is widely considered a best practice. Content experts have promoted governance for many years. The consultant Seth Earley wrote a decade ago: “Information and content governance is frequently a missing piece of a content management plan.” Lisa Welchman, the author of the book Managing Chaos, has been an advocate for the governance of content for two decades. 

Within enterprises, governance too often is viewed as desirable but not essential. It’s not a controversial idea— many executives and staff agree it is useful in principle. But in practice, big organizations can fail to make content governance a priority. Governance never takes root. That’s in stark contrast to other best practices that become well established over time.

Content governance involves changing habits. And much like committing to a New Year’s resolution, it can be hard to adopt a new routine. 

Content governance can be held back by a lack of clarity about who should be responsible for standards and what are the consequences of not having them. When the organization is foggy about what’s involved, it dampens enthusiasm. 

Governance is a collective responsibility. It is not a product that has a single owner. It touches on all parts of an organization, making it more challenging to launch and guide. The absence of governance creates problems diffused across the organization that can be difficult to notice. The friction caused by missing governance shows up everywhere but takes different forms, which can make it hard to monitor and assess. 

Though governance has remained below the threshold of attention in some enterprises, the heightened emphasis on digital transformation is now putting it in the spotlight. A lack of governance blocks progress on enterprise digital transformation. Enterprises need to take a fresh look at content governance and why it can’t be deferred.

How content governance solves the problem of misaligned content operations

The core idea of content governance is simple: standards make coordination easier. Enterprises develop and adopt common standards for how they work with content when this work affects more than one team. Common standards will reduce effort and improve quality. 

For example, a well-known hotel chain had to rethink content roles and responsibilities as the organization shifted to omnichannel content. No longer was the web the dominant channel. Different digital products needed to seamlessly come together to support the customer experience. They needed a company-wide approach to thinking about their digital content.

Standards bring both change and consistency to content operations. They provide a bridge between the intentions of the enterprise as a whole and the work of teams.

First, governance elevates quality across different teams. By adopting a common standard, various teams will improve their practices, becoming more efficient and impactful.

Second, governance ensures quality over time. By following common standards, all teams will do their work in a consistent way, and everyone is confident that the content is ready for their purposes. 

Launching governance: The cold start problem

The need for governance seems self-evident. Across the enterprise, the scope of content activities keeps getting broader: more topics, formats, channels, and audience segments. The inconsistencies in how various activities are done are becoming more noticeable. The need for coordination is urgent. Time to get the engine of governance fired up.

But getting governance started can be challenging. Organizations often find they face a “cold start” problem. It’s similar to when, in extremely cold weather, a driver tries to start a car engine that hasn’t run recently. The engine doesn’t start immediately. 

Despite the benefits that governance can offer, efforts to get it going can get stuck. Widespread interest that’s needed to launch governance fails to build momentum. The promise of governance can seem elusive or unachievable.

This inertia shouldn’t be surprising. After all, it’s just another symptom of the root problem: the enterprise’s content operations aren’t aligned. One shouldn’t expect a consensus about the objectives for governance instantly.

Three common hurdles get in the way of starting governance:

  1. Agreeing on the scope and scale of what needs governing
  2. Having a common time frame—how long an effort is required
  3. Politics and the question of who should be in charge

Some stakeholders may question the need for a comprehensive governance program. They may view specific problems in isolation rather than as a web of interrelated issues. Not everyone will at first see governance as needing to address a wide range of activities that shape enterprise content. This perspective can result in dealing with governance problems in a piecemeal manner.

Stakeholders may also differ on the effort required to resolve governance problems. Some may view governance problems as one-off issues that can be fixed with a quick project. They won’t at first see governance as involving a long-term commitment.

And stakeholders may have divergent ideas about who should be in charge. Some will want to dictate everything by themselves; others will prefer to have no one telling them what to do. When there’s no defined process for discussing practices and standards, decisions can be driven by the clout of individuals or organizational divisions. If governance is viewed as a power contest, perspectives tend to be about control or autonomy instead of based on the requirements for the enterprise as a whole. 

Enterprises should foster a dialog about the purpose of content governance. When launching governance, agreeing on why governance matters is more important than deciding everything about how it is done and what it covers. Fortunately, not every detail about governance needs to be decided at the start. The scope of governance can be open-ended, and it can evolve as the organization collectively understands its requirements and priorities and becomes comfortable with developing decisions that work for everyone.

Indeed, the diversity of perspectives highlights one of the governance’s key benefits. Governance helps enterprises to sort out poorly defined or ambiguous decision-making authority. Governance can take politics out of decisions. It offers a framework to answer questions such as:

  • Who’s in charge?
  • Who decides?
  • How do disagreements get resolved?

By providing a forum to discuss requirements and options, governance allows for different stakeholders to provide input on their perspectives. It does this by providing a repeatable and predictable process for discussing, deciding, and implementing enterprise content standards.

Fostering governance

Governance is a long-term program, not a short-term project. It takes root over time rather than happening as a big bang event. As a result, the discussion about implementing content governance shouldn’t be considered as an all-or-nothing proposition. Governance can launch with a focus on a few core areas that everyone agrees are priorities for the whole organization. As stakeholders gain experience with content governance and how it works, they will feel more comfortable with expanding the scope of governance. Early successes will sustain the program. 

It helps to break down governance into three ingredients:

  1. The standards that will support governance
  2. The development of standards
  3. The implementation of standards

The first ingredient is the standards that support governance—tools that everyone in the enterprise uses. Standards specify how teams and systems should perform various operations. These standards take different forms:

The next ingredient is the framework that supports the development of these specific standards. This is sometimes referred to as the “governance model.” It specifies who needs to be involved with standards development, how these people will be organized to support that work, and how standards get input and get adopted.

The final ingredient is planning how adopted standards need to be rolled out across the enterprise. There needs to be an implementation effort to inform, educate, and get feedback from users of the standards.

While launching a governance program may seem daunting at first, the good news is that you already have some governance in select areas. For example, you probably have certain legal policies relevant to enterprise content, covering areas such as privacy, disclosures, terms and conditions, allowable statements and claims, non-discrimination statements, or how to ask for consent. Similarly, your organization likely has enterprise-wide security and IT standards that influence content such as data protection and retention. These standards show that your organization already recognizes that governance is important. You are ready to take your content governance to the next level with a comprehensive range of standards that align how teams produce and manage content across the enterprise.

Written by

Michael Andrews

I’m Content Strategy Evangelist at I appreciate the value of great content. My mission is to help others produce the best content they can.

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