Corporate Web site plans few and far between

Quick -- who is responsible for your corporate Web site? Content, security, privacy, accessibility. Do they all fall under one umbrella or do individual business units run their portion of the site like an autonomous fiefdom?

A recent Watchfire Corp. survey found that security is the top corporate Web site concern. While almost 90 percent of respondents, representing a wide array of industries and government departments, said security was a critical issue, barely half could muster the same concern for privacy and accessibility, and far less seem to be concerned with corporate branding and third-party content.

To top it off, this concern did not always translate into action. For example, most companies (slightly more than half) said privacy is a critical issue, yet 60 percent admitted they did nothing to monitor compliance with privacy laws. At the heart of the problem is the need to create a corporate Web site continuity plan -- in essence, deciding who should be responsible, and what should get done.

David Grant, senior marketing manager with Watchfire in Ottawa, said the survey results are surprising.

"[They] thought they had a decent grasp of the issues, but when it came to actually asking them what they were doing, they weren't doing anything," he said.

Part of this is due to the fact companies are still struggling with Web site ownership, he added.

None of this is news to Nancy McTavish, consultant for e-business strategy and change with IBM Canada Ltd. in Markham, Ont. There are problems with data inconsistency across companies, she said.

"Sometimes the Web content will say one thing and then someone calls the 1-800 number and the client rep is communicating information different from what the customer read on the Web," McTavish said.

Before companies try to tackle the individual issues (privacy, branding and the like), there is a need to create consistent Web procedures.

Companies need to have clear policy on how content gets posted and updated so that there is an appropriate structure to do this, McTavish said. The technology can then be adapted to the policy.

Though Victor Keong said the days when Web sites were run entirely independently are long gone, he agrees with McTavish that underlying corporate principles and standards are the key to success.

"[It is] not so much that you need one group to take care of the entire Web site, but you need to have and commonality across different divisions," said the partner with the security services group at Deloitte & Touche in Toronto.

Policies do not all have to be decided by one group. Whereas branding might be a marketing issue, the chief technology officer should set security, Keong said.

"We are starting to see the Web come back under more traditional corporate control," Grant said. "It has becomes so integral to your business it is no different now than any other medium you have to interact with your customer base."

One example of corporations losing control of their Web sites is the monitoring of third-party links. Many large corporate sites can have tens of thousands of these links. The Watchfire survey found that an astonishing 91 percent of companies were either trying to monitor them manually, or not doing it at all.

"I am not surprised at all…I see a lot of that," Keong said. But he warned it could become a corporate problem if the linked site has been hijacked or taken over by cyber-squatters. "It has happened in the past," he said.

"The information that is going to be provided should enhance service to the customer…rather than replicate the inefficiencies that we have had before," McTavish said.

Regardless how a company decides to divvy up Web control, "someone needs to be accountable," Keong said.

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