Who should manage a government portal? You!


Recently I was asked this question in an interview: ‘Who should manage a government portal; IT people, marketing people or the content team?’

Turf wars have been fought over this ever since the Web first appeared, but the question never goes away. Ownership and management of any large web site is still hotly debated as departments fight for the right to own and manage the site, or wriggle away in disinterest.

The answer remains the same: managing a portal requires as much commitment and skill as developing the portal in the first place. IT, content and marketing people need to cooperate closely from the very start. Look for the team with enthusiasts, eager to understand all that’s new and changing, people who already know a lot, but also know what they don’t know.

Technical communicators are rare creatures—you straddle the IT-communications gulf, and so you are ideally equipped to work in this role.

If the organization already has a content team, that label implies an ideal mix of skills and sufficient understanding. But many organizations don’t have a content team. Business units produce and publish their own content, and other content work is shuffled off to the communications team as needed.

Disasters happen when a portal is managed solely by an IT group who leave all content issues to the communications team. Or an IT group without anyone who can write clearly and simply. Or an IT group that doesn’t realize that without clear content, the portal is worthless.

Disasters also happen when the wrong kind of communications team manages the portal. You know what I mean! Some comms teams are right up to date with web writing requirements. They understand the influence of words on search results, they know how to create content that’s accessible, usable, readable and findable. If they don’t know how technology affects the message, they’re eager to learn. Unfortunately, other comms teams live in a ghetto, without influence or energy. Secretly they wish that all things technological, including the Web, would vanish in a puff of smoke.

The marketing team could work OK as portal managers, but that would be pretty unusual. The gift that marketers can bring to portal management is active, up-to-date expertise in the culture of social media.

So, the management team for a government or other portal needs to include people with IT and communications skills (that’s you!) as well as modern online marketing savvy. It’s the skills that matter, not the current location of the right people.

About the Author

Rachel McAlpine (BA Hons, Dip Ed) is known internationally for her work in promoting quality web content. Since 1996, Rachel has been an independent consultant in all aspects of online content.

Rachel McAlpine’s 31 books include six about writing. Write Me A Web Page, Elsie! and Crash Course in Corporate Communications are widely used in New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific Region. Crash Course is sponsored by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of New Zealand and used in their Professional Competence Programme. It is also used as a textbook by the New Zealand Institute of Management for their popular course on Workshop Communication.

Despairing over the mountain of unusable online content, Rachel joined forces with Alice Hearnshaw to create CONTENTED, a smart system of online training for web and intranet authors. CONTENTED: content that makes people happy (the blog), carries on the QWC tradition.

Rachel is a forthright and entertaining conference speaker. She tackles many aspects of web content, from accessibility to search engine strategies.

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