Standards enable collaboration

Lisa Welchman by Lisa Welchman, November 19, 2014

When we work with organizations and start talking about standards, internal business units and divisions frequently seize up. All organizational sub-entities believe that they have a unique value proposition, so therefore, they also believe that they should not be forced to follow digital standards emanating from a centralized corporate digital team. This is almost a universal sentiment. But we have yet to see an organization whose digital presence would not improve drastically with the definition, implementation, and enforcement of corporate digital standards.

The reality is that most organizations can no longer afford not to have standards. You’ll never be able to take your digital presence from the mess it is today to the well-oiled, task-centered, commerce, operational, information-dissemination machine you require without the expression and use of standards. And that type of digital presence requires serious organizational collaboration around information structure and arrangement. Standards enable collaboration—by normalizing what needs to be normalized in order to share data, information, and technologies across business silos.

If you head up a digital team that is resistant to adopt digital standards, here’s a couple points you can present that may help them change their minds:

The Internet and World Wide Web is one big collaboration

The reason the Web works in the first place is because of standards. It’s easy to forget this fact as a new generation enters the web profession. Those in business who were relatively earlier adopters of the Web remember the pre-WYSIWYG-tool years.  We had to make frequent visits to the World Wide Web Consortium site to figure out how to properly structure an HTML document so it would render in the browser.  For those of us who work in the online profession, standards are our roots. Every organization should have their set of standards, their own internal WC3 so to speak, to ensure that their digital presence scales with quality and consistency.

Don’t confuse freedom of expression with freedom from standards

Any part of an organization may have a unique online message or goal (what the words say, what the pictures look like, what the tasks are to be completed). But that doesn’t mean that they are free to implement those needs any way they want (with any technology, in any design format, etc.).  Most businesses accept corporate standards in some capacity (look and feel of a business card, telephone systems, payroll systems, etc.). It’s important to help your internal digital community understand that digital operations take place within a standards-based framework as well.

Helping your digital team understand the importance and power of standards is a first step toward the basic management of your website. It is also the major stepping stone to being able to move toward a more sophisticated approach to digital management and governance. That includes the ability to decentralize production while maintaining content and brand integrity. It also encompasses implementation of functionality such as multi-channel delivery that cuts across multiple real-world and digital channels.