Governance Modeling and Success in Content Management (CMS)

Governance Modeling and Success in Content Management

By Matthew Johnson
Technology Director
Razorfish CMS Center of Excellence

Over the past 15 years, content management has grown and evolved across organizations.   Content Management Systems (CMS) are now shifting from a product driven solution owned by technology departments to a mission critical digital communication system used by marketing and business units to directly execute on initiatives.  CMS has grown from document and web management of the late 1990s to a series of tools and processes of today to manage and distribute content across the web via blogs, twitter, social media, web-sites, email, mobile, etc.

Why do Content Management System projects cause so much pain in Enterprise Scenarios?

Large-scale CMS initiatives commonly fail to meet the short and long run expectations of business users.   Expectations usually revolve around the establishment of a simple, efficient, powerful, and relevant content management process (or content management framework).  This content management process will provide the enterprise with the operational tools to quickly create and deploy professional, high quality, and rich digital content.  However, many CMS solutions engender low satisfaction rates due to a discrepancy between what business users want and what they get.  A CMS will only deliver the promised business value when attention is paid to the non-technical issues of governance.

What do users want?

Efficient and intuitive ways to quickly add, update, share, re-use, and deploy large quantities of content across various distribution channels.   These channels consist of various online B2B, B2C, and B2E properties, which include web sites, micro-sites, widgets, mobile applications, extranets, intranets, blogs, email, and traditional media (e.g. print brochures or direct mail).

What do they get?

An expensive, complicated, often confusing content repository that is perceived to be out-of-date with current trends.  The very reasons for adoption of the content management system–decreasing time to market, increasing efficiency, and improving content agility are often the criteria the implementation fails to meet.  Many large-scale CMS solutions become rigid, creating operational and technical bottlenecks.

Governance is the Foundation of Successful Content Management

Why do most organization fail to get what they want out of a CMS? A majority of CMS initiatives are executed without proper governance models being established prior to product selection.  A majority of CMS initiatives prematurely dive straight into technical design and development, with the project leads hoping that the CMS software product’s features and capabilities will solve operational requirements.   More often than not, internal organizational pressure to deliver on time and to limit political discussions on content ownership, accountability, process, and cross-departmental collaboration cause governance model definition activities to be shortened or skipped.

In my experience across many Fortune 100-500 organizations, either external technical consultants or internal technology departments have defined and driven CMS initiatives.  Technology consultants seem to be the logical choice and are selected for their subject matter expertise and proven experience with delivering various product driven CMS solutions.   These subject matter experts quickly conduct interviews, assessments, requirements, and detailed designs over a typical project duration of 6-12 months.  In theory, these tasks are used to identify the strategic short- and long-term content management needs of the organization.   However, most of the time, these consultants are placed into situations where the client organization has limited or no expertise in operations management of large-scale cross-channel content repositories.  Business users and leadership typically do not have professional backgrounds in periodicals, journals, magazines, and newspapers.  These content-based industries are accustomed to the requirements and demands of effectively managing content assets, and have gained experience with the fundamentals of content management governance.

But most organizations are new to content management.  They do not have specific departments, roles, goals, and metrics directly tied to content production, oversight, and publishing.  This situation creates a significant gap for CMS design and implementation projects, since the core problem is a missing set of processes, operational guidelines, and skill sets, not just the need for a good tool.    Technology consultants are typically skilled in information and software architecture of various CMS platforms, but not in operations modeling and governance.  This results in a solution being designed from a primarily technical point of view and not specifically designed to meet the needs of a business user and their operational environment.

A governance model is essential for enterprise-wide content management initiatives that cross organizational boundaries and involve large numbers of employees and projects.  Successful content management solutions are driven by governance–that is, by people working together—not by technology.  Operational problems emerge from failures in day-to-day decisions about how content will be managed, as well as unclear assignment of roles and responsibilities.  The decentralized nature of many enterprise content management systems often leads to lack of clear ownership, inconsistencies in use, duplication of efforts, and strong dependencies on technical resources.

What are the benefits of a strong governance model for content management? Strong governance provides an operational and content centric foundation that facilitates growth, increases quality, and improves collaboration across organizational boundaries.  The end result is content that is more customer/user centric, better managed and maintained.   The sections below break down various strategic and significant areas that are affected by governance.  Each section explains the current state on many organizations and their problems, followed by a summary of a future state that can be achieved once a governance model has been established.

Benefits of Governance and CMS

The sections below break down various strategic and significantbusiness areas that are affected by governance.  Each section explains the current state on many organizations and their problems, followed by a breakdown of a future state once a governance model has been established.

Governance and Strategic Alignment

Current State

  • No clear alignment of the organization’s various content owners with brand’s strategic direction
  • No set governance body to administer  content and terms of use across channels
  • Low awareness of content inventory by other departments (Marketing, Public Relations, Finance, Accounting, Digital Agencies, Advertising Agencies)

Future State

  • Clearly defined objectives and alignment with strategic directions and goals of the organization and brand
  • Clear governance structure, roles and responsibilities regarding content management
  • Clear ownership and accountability for various content assets

Content Creation and Editing

Current State

  • Ad hoc and unstructured – leading to duplicate content, inaccurate, out-of-date, or conflicting content
  • Technology, vendor, or product specific processes that may not be adopted by the business users at all – because real-life work environments, workflows, resource allocations/skillsets and training needs have not been taken into account

Future State

  • In-depth planning and scoping
  • Standardized yet customized processes and workflows across the organization and external vendors
  • Faster time-to-market of relevant and fresh content

Content Quality and Compliance

Current State

  • Technology-driven structure of content directories, taxonomies, metadata, content types, and authoring interfaces
  • Inconsistencies in content across channels and organizational units
  • Inconsistencies in terms of use and presentation of content across channels
  • Content that does not communicate current branding or align with messaging
  • Duplication of content and efforts across the organization
  • Non­compliance of content with organization guidelines

Future State

  • User-friendly and business-driven content type definitions, taxonomies, and metadata that can be shared and re-used across business units, for greater adoption
  • Content alignment with segmentation, brand, and organizational messaging
  • Greater consistencies in use of content across channel
  • Consolidated, streamlined, and up to date content
  • Delivery of a more a consistent user experience
  • Compliance with organization standards (such as legal requirements, messaging, branding, accessibility)

Organizational Awareness

Current State

  • Lack of awareness of content life-cycle process
  • No proper process for creating and updating content
  • Lack of awareness of responsibilities and requirement for maintaining content
  • Lack of promotional calendar/ lack of awareness regarding how to market and promote content to targeted channels, customers, partners, and other departments

Future State

  • On­going communication and collaboration among business units, partners, and other organizational departments
  • On­going communication and liaising with agencies on roles and responsibilities
  • Higher quality online and offline content distribution channels via structured and operationally efficient content management

Building a governance model

Goal Setting

Once an organization has identified developed a general content management strategy and vision, it’s imperative to then define a set of specific that address governance needs.  These goals typically include the following:

  • Create a process that improves time-to-market of new and existing content
  • Create a formal decision-making process that is accountable, strategic, rational, balanced, and consistent
  • Provide the organization with a framework to identify, prioritize and manage content modifications and enhancements
  • Establishes a vehicle for communication regarding content management up, down and across the organization
  • Enable the sharing of content and resources across the organization
  • Create an organizational body that can oversee “shared-cost” investments and avoid duplicative work

It is important that these goals are communicated and aligned to business needs.  Executive sponsors must clearly dictate their definition of a goal and their expectations from each department to properly align objectives across organizational boundaries.  In enterprise situations, where different organizational units have vastly different priorities, objectives, and performance measures, it is essential that a clearly defined goal be presented to all stakeholders.

For example, the needs and wants of technology and business units can be in direct conflict.  Technology departments often focus their goals around centrally-controlled solutions that maximize return on investment and closely align with specific architecture and resourcing guidelines that were establish months to years before a CMS project was initiated.  The systems and processes that technology groups deem acceptable may be in direct conflict with the operational needs of business units.  Once a common set of goals are agreed upon in definition and scope, the cross-organizational units will be on common ground to participate in the design and development of a governance model that supports content management.

Governance Structures

When it comes to governance, there are many of operational/reporting structures that an organization can adopt.  These can include:

1. Hierarchical

Hierarchical Structure is based on the concepts of division of labor, specialization, and unity of command. In the context of CMS, key content decisions and approvals are made at the top and filter down through the organization. Middle content managers, writers or content contributors do the primary production and deployment of content to various channels. Middle manager then communicate up to their superiors the outcomes and request approvals for publication and deployment.  However deep and nested hierarchies can impede leadership’s access to how content is being written and used across the organization. This results in leadership that does not understand strategic makeup and uses of content across the channels. Technology is typically used to support, store, and communicate content requests along the lines of the hierarchy and to support/supplement the content management procedures

2. Flat

Within a flat structure, content decisions are centralized and-or decentralized at an individual level.   Individuals or groups are empowered to do what needs to be done with regards to content creation and approval.  This structure can respond quickly to content needs, especially in highly dynamic and uncertain environments.  However, the flat structure often impedes long term growth and achieving economies of scale in content management.  Routine technology work is often done by the individuals themselves or off-loaded to external resources.

3. Matrixed

A matrixed structure typically assigns content resources two or more business units in an effort to integrate and cross pollinate content across organizational silos.   Matrix structures often fail due to resources not having the tools, policies, and procedures required to meet high demands of their customers within the organization.

Each structure has its pros and cons when it comes to CMS.   However, an organization is not restricted to use just one structure within its governance model.  All structures need to grow and change due to growth and environmental changes in business.  It is beneficial to design a structural roadmap that outlines how the CMS units will evolve.  It is beneficial to start simple, small, centralized, flat, and then evolve into structure that is aligned with demand and needs.  There is no right answer in selecting a governance structure, but is essential that the organization assesses the current environment,  but also anticipates hot content growth will affect it resources and policies.

Identify Roles and Responsibilities

Within large companies, perhaps the hardest and most time-consuming task required for defining a governance model is the assignment of roles and responsibilities.  The goal of this task is to plan and assign the activities for day-to-day operations and maintenance of content and content consumers.  A key component of this process is to assign ownership and authority.  This is easier said than done in large companies.   Although many large companies seek to encourage easy interaction and coordination across business units and reporting hierarchies, the boundaryless (open door policy) organization hasn’t truly materialized for most.   Many organizations still continually struggle with accountability and ownership.

Due to this fact, many CMS solutions retreat into a silo model, where a generic “self service” content management system is established. Content silos create an overall environment that suffers from duplication of work and poor cohesion of content.  Each silo often becomes a general dumping ground of content.  In turn, the user experience of customers and business users diminishes as they become confused due to sheer volume of content and inconsistencies.

What are the signs of a self-service/silo model?   Usually the organization has established a central CMS repository controlled by information technology.  Each business unit can optionally sign up and be allocated a folder within the CMS system that is under the business unit’s control.   These business units are basically delivered a password and generic web site template.  The business users then proceed to struggle with the “now what?” question and continually call IT for help.

Within the enterprise, content traditionally has numerous layers of oversight across departments, each of which participates in clearing and approving content for consumption across online and offline channels.   This causes an issue when identifying ownership and accountability.  If the organization leans more towards consensus in governance, rather than ownership, accountability, and leadership from the top down, then  the scenario where nobody can agree so nobody makes a decision is unfortunately quite common.  This usually creates a level of organizational paralysis in regards to content management.

Who is the “editor in chief”?

While content ownership is often distributed among many departments, it is important to ensure that definitive ownership of the content resides with one individual.  Figuratively, this resource will serve as the organization’s editor in chief. The editor in chief is the overall executive with CMS subject matter expertise and has the final authority and responsibility for the enforcement of content procedures and policies.  This executive role maintains a macro-level view of the content, the content’s purpose, and its use.  The editor in chief will provide guidance to the content owners, enforce the governance model, and act as the decision-maker.   This role prevents organizational paralysis and serves as the overall “tiebreaker” where disagreements arise.  With a clear chain of command, the governance model will be efficient and clear, helping to create an environment with a higher probability of success.

Once the editor in chief role is established, oversight committees should be established up to report to the editor in chief.  Oversight committees will be needed to handle the economies of scale in CMS issues across the organization and to ensure consistent and relevant policies, information, and tools are effectively delivered to the various business units..

Once a clear line of executive ownerships has been established, the definition and management of the roles, responsibilities, and user experience associated with each CMS stakeholder and user (departments, partners, etc.) is critical to success.  It is extremely difficult to identify and change the processes-workloads of resources throughout the organization.   Executives must continually resist and prevent technology from driving the identification and establishment of procedures for managing content.  The organization should leverage existing operational workflows in approval and editorial procedures.  This will ensure the organization will always have a clear definition of governance and content management procedures.

To put it into perspective, if the business owners have a clear governance model for their management of content, then they do not have to worry about a CMS server outage or disaster recovery scenario.  The organization will have the fundamentals of a content management process to rely on and continually operate.  A CMS software solution should enhance an organization’s existing content management process – not take the place of people and processes that work.

If the introduction of a CMS and the roles assigned to business departments and/or individuals represents a substantial departure from business-as-usual, buy-in from executive sponsors and revision of job descriptions will be necessary in order to properly support content management.  It is critical to develop and maintain a clear communications plan toward the goals and objectives of enterprise content management.  This will not only keep the engagement on track, but also get critical buy-in from users and stakeholders.

Establish Policies and Procedures

The next step in governance model planning is the establishment of content management policy and procedures.

Common activities include:


  • Determine which policies are decided at the Enterprise, Unit and Individual levels
  • Develop a security/permissions model that implements the content administration model
  • Develop staffing plans to support both the content and technical processes
  • Content Authoring and Publishing Procedures
  • Determine content approval workflows for various content types
  • Develop a site administration model that covers the content
  • Cross-Organizational Knowledge Sharing
  • Develop processes for the creation and management of knowledge sharing communities
  • Tech Support
  • Develop development processes for ongoing enhancement of the platform functionality
  • Develop a model that covers the various page types, functionality and user administration of the site

Identify Content Distribution and Analytics Strategies

A key aspect to building a successful and future oriented CMS process in understanding how organizations what to use and track content.  If organization identifies these channels of distribution early, it can proactively address governance and operating structures needed to the address the operational requirements to support these scenarios.   For example, content can now be distributed via:

  • Traditional Web Sites
  • Email
  • Micro-Sites
  • Wikis
  • Widgets
  • Blogs
  • Social Media (Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn, etc)
  • Micro Blogs (Twitter)
  • RSS
  • Flash
  • Mobile Browser
  • Mobile Applications (Apple iPhone App Store, Google Android Marketplace, Blackberry Marketplace)
  • APIs

Many of these new web 2.0 content distribution scenarios demand quick and almost real-time approval and production scenarios.  Hierarchy driven content management systems allow for significant lag between when content is produced and when it is deployed into the wild.  However new content distribution mediums can create havoc within most large organizations.  Many organizations do not have operational readiness to quickly  establish flat and decentralized systems where low to mid level resources have direct control over what can immediately be posted to a blog or wiki.  In order to be successful in CMS and governance, an organization must proactively address these common questions:

Legal: How can the legal department handle the bandwidth to approve every blog, wiki, social media and twitter posting?
Accountability: How can our current hierarchy handle content quick approvals?  Who should have the authority to create these types of content?
Collaboration: Who owns the blog, wiki, etc ? (Marketing, IT, Oversight )
Support: Who will support the blog, wiki, etc ? What are he service level requirements we need?

Sample Governance Model

Content Management Leadership Committee

  • Headed by editor in chief
  • Provides strategic direction setting for enterprise content and the development of a content management process/framework
  • Approval authority for content polices where there is a significant policy impact at a cross organizational or company level

Content Management Department or (CMS Dept.)

  • Reports into the Content Management Leadership Committee
  • Provide content policy direction and management procedures
  • Provides content management and content production expertise
  • Collaborates with various cross-department stakeholders and experts to develop a content management framework
  • Content Management Teams or Focus Groups

Reports up into CMS Department

  • Applies policies of the content management framework defined by CMS department
  • Manage specific content verticals in collaboration with organizational units
  • Members may consist of subject matter experts from other units or divisions (Strategists, Writers, Designers, Developers)
  • Provides content and technical assistance on CMS framework (Content Production, Approval, Sharing, Distribution)

In conclusion, the design and development of a governance model that support content management roles, responsibilities and activities drastically improves the probability of success in the adoption of content management system.

4 thoughts on “Governance Modeling and Success in Content Management (CMS)”

  1. Hi Matthew,

    As the recent poster notes, this isn’t a new article, but it stands out as a really useful overview of the key issues, and your experience of actual client work is clearly evident (not always true in these days of over-the-top self-promotion). I really appreciate how your approach is technology-agnostic as well: so much is written with specific systems in mind, or as a promotional tactic by CMS vendors.

    It’s interesting how the pendulum seems to swing between control and devolution, with CMS/Editorial/Content teams re-tooling (growing or shrinking, narrowing or widening skill-sets and roles) with surprising predictability.

    I think the centralized approach can work well when the website small to medium size (say up to 5,000 pages). In the case of large sites (over 20,000 pages) and complex organizations, CMS/Content teams tend to groan under a punishing maintenance workload (true of a client I’m working with now).

    For these companies, some form of devolved publishing seems unavoidable as a coping strategy. The key challenge is to create a supportive environment for distributed teams, and as non-disfunctional a relationship as possible between them and a Quality Assurance team charged with maintaining standards through periodic reviews, spot checks and a rolling program of training and support.

    So, it’s true that the technology-led approach doesn’t succeed very often, largely because implementing governance is a people problem, as your article makes clear. It’s all about changing the culture.

    Thanks again for writing this – it’s helped me refine some of my own thinking, and you can’t ask anything more from a blog post.


  2. Although the article is few years old, it is quite comprehensive and detailed. And really, governance hasn’t changed too much in the past 10 for ECMS. The author makes some good points. One key addition is that the user roles need a governing body. For example, a call center rep needs a governing body that understands inbound call requirements, not necessarily someone from Sales and Marketing.

    Good stuff.

  3. Great post with valuable insights! I’m still trying to process how setting up the governance model relates to setting up a business case and measuring the maturity of Content Management in an organization, as well as how this relates to an overall ECM strategy. CMS is a fascinating discipline :-)

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