Centralized Web site management is key to success

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Over the past decade, Web site management shifted between marketing and IT departments in most organizations, often in a decentralized structure. Now, it’s become a tightly run, centralized function at most b-to-b companies, with involvement from virtually all departments in the organization.

BtoB asked marketers whose Web sites ranked in the top 10 of this year’s NetMarketing 100 list (See Special Report, page 14) how they manage their sites, who calls the shots on investments and major changes, how the sites are budgeted and how various departments work together to post content and upgrade the sites.

"As businesses look at their Web in-
itiatives, they realize they can’t look at this thing as an isolated initiative—they have to look at it as an integrated effort," said Harley Manning, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

According to Forrester data, 50% to 60% of companies manage Web sites in their marketing departments; 20% to 30% manage them in standalone e-business units; and 10% to 20% run them in IT.

"Companies realized they needed to move the Web sites into a more centralized business function, typically marketing. Or, if it is kept by itself, build very tight linkages with other departments," Manning said.

IBM Corp. is a classic example of a company that has adapted its site strategy and organization to the growth of the Web and changing market conditions. Its site,, launched in May 1994 as a pure information site. It was organized in a decentralized fashion, with various departments posting content and managing Web functions.

"At IBM, like many other corporations, the Web sort of sprung up in the various business units as static catalogs and places to go to find information," said Lee Dierdorff, VP-Web strategy and design for

In 1998, the Web site function was moved into the Business Transformation Office, a newly formed organization under then-CIO Steve Ward. The unit was formed as IBM recognized the critical role of the Web in transforming business.

"The Web was becoming a real channel for people to execute purchases and support transactions," Dierdorff said.

In 1999, a centralized organization called was formed, managed within IBM’s Global Sales and Distribution division. Rich Fennessy, general manager of, makes all management and budget decisions for the home page and corporate aggregate-level pages, within the parameters of the sales and distribution organization. All decisions and Web budgets relating to IBM brands, including Tivoli, WebSphere, DB2 and Lotus, are made within those business units.

Within each brand, the product organization is responsible for authoring and updating Web content. However, marketing communications and technical specifications are centralized functions, in order to provide consistent communications across brands.

Changing with the times

Microsoft Corp. is another company that has shifted its Web management as technology and the Internet marketing environment have evolved. Its site,, launched in 1995 under the product support organization.

"That’s where most of the content was, so that’s where the site was managed," said Tim Sinclair, general manager of, who at that time was director of sales/marketing tools for Microsoft and was in charge of the Web effort.

In 1996, Microsoft shifted Web management to a decentralized organization, with business groups such as marketing, sales and support responsible for developing and maintaining content. At one point, about 20 different groups around the world had content responsibility.

"We realized we needed to get common messaging and provide higher value to the customer, particularly as the Web became much more core to their job," Sinclair said, pointing to critical Web functions such as downloading sample code.

To provide this consistency, the Web management function was moved in 2000 into the Windows Platform Division, run by Jim Allchin, group VP, who reports directly to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. One reason the Web group is under the Windows division is purely operational—the site runs on Windows software.

Content is managed by individual site managers, each of whom has responsibility for audience segments including developers, IT professionals, business decision-makers, information workers and consumers.

Microsoft has 150 IT professionals working on the site, which receives 8 million unique visitors a day.

It’s a huge undertaking. To integrate the Web into all of its offline marketing and advertising strategies, the Web group is brought into strategy meetings at the earliest stages with product marketing, marketing communications and Microsoft’s ad agency, McCann-Erickson San Francisco.

Nextel Communications first launched a brochureware site at in 1997. Initially, it was under the marketing organization, then was moved to IT about a year later. It now runs the site in its product and services group under a centralized organization led by Tim Dunne, VP-business development.

"We realized that to do it right and make it effective and useful to our customers, we needed more focus as a centralized organization rather than a decentralized organization," Dunne said.

Budget and major Web infrastructure decisions are controlled by the products and services group, which works with each Nextel organization, such as customer care, marketing and sales, to create an integrated roadmap for the site.

A Web site executive committee—including the heads of the marketing, products and customer care departments—meets monthly to go over major Web projects and investments. A Web review board, consisting of director-level executives across various departments, meets biweekly to review Web projects.

CDW stays the course

One of the few companies that continues to manage its Web site in the same decentralized organization since its inception is CDW Corp. The site launched in 1995 as a collaboration between marketing and IT, and the organization has stayed that way ever since.

Located at, the site accounts for roughly 20% of the company’s total sales and receives more than 100,000 unique visitors a day.

To manage the site, CDW conducts weekly collaboration meetings between marketing, sales and e-commerce.

Kurt Baldassari, director of e-commerce, has primary responsibility for the site and attends weekly marketing meetings to communicate information about Web projects and collect input from marketing on Web projects."It’s truly an integrated effort," Baldassari said.

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