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Q: Website management best practices for companies--centralized or de-centralized ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Website management best practices for companies--centralized or de-centralized
Category: Computers > Internet
Asked by: sabella-ga
List Price: $25.00
Posted: 09 Nov 2002 18:35 PST
Expires: 09 Dec 2002 18:35 PST
Question ID: 104375
I need this question answered by Sunday, November 10 so I will take
whatever is found by then. If nothing is found by end of workday on
November 10, then no response needed (my deadline is the morning of
November 11). Thanks in advance:

What is the best way to manage a website when there are multiple
business units/channels to work with? Centralized or de-centralized --
which is better and why? What are the pros and cons? How is conflict
managed in both scenarios.  And can you give real-life examples of 
companies that use the centralized approach or de-centralized
Subject: Re: Website management best practices for companies--centralized or de-centralized
Answered By: tox-ga on 09 Nov 2002 20:01 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
I have worked with numerous portal sites and for anything larger than
a small website, centralized management (in reality, it is actually a
hybrid betwen centralized and decentralized) is usually the way to go.
 However, I have also worked with many publication and content based
websites which benefit heavily from decentralized management.  In
essence, there are strong advantages to both models, which will be
identified, and most businesses incorporate both while relying more
heavily on one.

With centralized management, there are no migration of funds between
unit to unit and the flow of the funds will be more consistent and
standardized.  The people, equipment and data are all centrally
managed which leads to efficient use of resources, clear knowledge of
users and usage, and consistency of environment.  Generally
centralized business has high coordination (coordinate purchase
volumes, develop/coordinate strategies and systems), low duplication
of effort and skills, and the ability to train centrally.  This type
of management allows you to apply changes that benefit the total
organization.  Unfortunately the disadvantage is that changes are
quite difficult to make and thus is inflexible for new applications. 
Also the speed and responsiveness are generally slower, and unique
product support and expertise are much lower.

With distributed management, people, equipment and data are locally
(unit by unit) managed.  This allows easy experimentation, simpler
user control, and small-scale non-intrusive experimentations are
possible.  Each unit however will have a higher degree of expertise,
fast speed and high responsiveness.  This type of management
understands unique requirements of each channel/unit and has excellent
product development support.  Unfortunately, decentralized management
leads to poor use of resources and blind knowledge of the users and
the usage of funds.

As favoured by all corporations, centralized management (mainly
centralized but a hybrid between the two) provides a more stable
systematic and controlled environment which is the key to a long
company life.
There are needs for absolute distributed management in cases such as a
different country branch.  If the website targets international
market, then it is much more advantageous to have national operators
in each country (as most companies do).  Also, if the website is
content based, then most businesses find it more favourable to choose
a decentralized model to cover more grounds.

Now I will quote a real life example that covers the advantages and
disadvantages of both system.  What we have here is an online
publication website.

When implementing a new enterprise-wide content management system
(CMS), most businesses assume a decentralized model of authoring.

This devolves the responsibility for creating content back to
individual staff members within the business units.

While this is seen as an effective way of reducing costs and
increasing involvement, it is not without its challenges and risks.

In practice, neither centralized or decentralized authoring is the
single answer to all requirements.

To gain the best business outcomes, it is necessary to use both models
where appropriate, with a full understanding of their strengths and

Decentralized authoring

Content for the intranet or corporate website is 'owned' by a number
of different business groups within the organisation. It therefore
makes sense to give them the direct responsibility for updating their

In this decentralized approach, the authors are scattered throughout
different departments, all feeding information into the content
management system.


Harnesses the efforts of many authors. 
Content creation costs and resources are spread more evenly throughout
the organisation.
Makes the content owners responsible for their own information. 
Reduces the need for a large centralized authoring team. 
Integrates content creation into the daily activities of the business.
May provide more up-to-date content. 
There is no one correct answer: both centralized and decentralized
authoring have a role to play in an organisation


Extensive workflow is a pre-requisite. 
Large number of users to be trained. 
Challenges in motivating staff. 
Considerable change management effort required. 
Authors must juggle using the CMS with their other responsibilities. 
Overall co-ordination is more difficult. 
Many workstations to be configured with the CMS software. 
Higher licensing costs for CMS software. 

Comprehensive workflow is critical to the success of the decentralized
authoring approach. Using workflow, order can be brought to the
writing and publishing process, despite the scattered group of

The most important step of the workflow is the final review and
approval. This must be setup so that all published content is vetted
against corporate standards.

This is particularly important for content to be published on the
corporate website. Incorrect or inappropriate content exposes the
business to substantial risks and liability.

Do not underestimate the effort required to setup workflow rules in an
enterprise-wide CMS.

Training and change management 

If decentralized authoring is to deliver promised benefits, it must be
both used and supported by staff.

This is no small challenge when potentially hundreds of users across
the business will be creating content.

Considerable resources must therefore be devoted to the establishment
of workable processes, and providing sufficient end-user training.

Change management activities will also be necessary to eliminate the
natural resistance to change within an organisation. This includes
clear communication of the goals of the project, and ongoing updates
on progress and issues.

Finally, trust and respect must be established between the owners of
the content management system and the authors. Without this, staff
will be reluctant to embrace the added responsibility and workload
that decentralized authoring required.

Staff will not make time to write content, unless you give them a
reason to do so

Finding time 

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing decentralized authoring is the
lack of available time.

Staff already have a full-time workload with their normal activities.
Authoring is then an additional activity, on top of their existing

Unless management provides staff with sufficient time and resources,
it is unreasonable to expect them to shoulder this additional work for
an extended period of time.

The danger is that content creation will then slowly 'wither away'. If
this happens, the CMS as a whole will fail.

To avoid this, explicitly include content creation in the job
descriptions for staff, and provide sufficient time for them to do
their authoring well. This should also be assessed as part of their
normal performance review.

Centralized authoring

This involves setting up a dedicated team to create new content, and
manage the publishing process. This team consists of the following

technical writers 
subject matter experts 
There is close liaison between the team and the business groups that
'own' the content. In this way, the content team acts as a 'service
group' for the rest of the organisation.

All information that is published by the team is reviewed and signed
off by the business, to ensure accuracy and relevance.

Techwriters know how to write, subject matter experts know the
business: you will need both


Team skills ensure very high quality content. 
Simplified project management. 
Ensures that resources are available for even large jobs. 
Allows development of large, complex and highly structured material. 
Provides a central location for feedback. 
Ensures global consistency, and extensive cross-linking. 
Supports continual improvement. 
Ensures accountability for changes. 
Reduces the need for powerful and costly IT solutions (such as
Provides a 'driving force' behind content updating. 

Centralized team requires full-team staff and resources. 
Can form a bottleneck to updates, if not efficient and responsive. 
Updating is separated from business owners. 
Relies on processes to notify the team of changes. 
Ties with the business 

A centralized authoring team cannot work in isolation from the rest of
the organisation if it is to meet business needs.

Close links and communication channels must be forged between the
centralized group and the content owners.

If the content is to be kept up to date, mechanisms must be put in
place to notify the team of changes or updates.

If these notifications are to be sustained in the long-term, they must
be incorporated into the standard business processes.


While the ease of coordinating a single centralized team reduces the
need for a workflow system, it still has much to offer.

With all first-draft material being written by the central team,
workflow manages business review and final sign- off.

The workflow system sends the revised content back to the content
owners, before routing it through final editing and any legal

If there are a limited number of content owners, it is possible to
avoid the cost of a full workflow system, and implement manual
processes instead.

Professional standards 

If the centralized team is to deliver value to the business, it must
conform to the highest professional standards.

This includes: 

Documented style guides for authoring, indexing and linking. 
Rigorous project management and change control. 
Full audit trail of changes. 
Comprehensive process for editing, reviewing and authorising updates.
A centralized team is only as valuable as the professional standards
it meets

Guidelines for selecting a model

This section outlines some broad guidelines for when to use
decentralized or centralized authoring.

Use Decentralized authoring when: 

Content is already created as a normal part of daily activities (eg.
business documents).
Information is for internal use only. 
Frequent updates must be made. 
Quality of information is not critical. 
Staff have the time available to prepare and write content. 
Select an authoring model to meet your business needs  

Use Centralized authoring when: 

Information is very complex, or highly structured. 
There are legal issues surrounding the release of the information. 
Information is commercially-sensitive. 
A very high writing standard is required. 
The information must be 'distilled' from many different sources into a
brief format.
Overall structure and consistency is required. 
Content is to be published externally. 
Case studies

This section outlines typical business situations, and appropriate
authoring solutions. These are only generalisations, however: draw
your own conclusions based on your specific business requirements.


By definition, intranet content will only be read by internal staff.
It is therefore more important that the information is comprehensive
and up-to-date, rather than being perfectly written or structured.

For this reason, much of the intranet content can be created using a
decentralized model. This supports rapid turnaround, and allows each
section of the intranet to be directly managed by the business owner.

There is still, however, a requirement for a central 'intranet team',
who is responsible for the overall management of the intranet.

This team should consist of: 

technical writers or editors 
professional indexer or librarian 
information architect 
web designer 
technical staff and developers 
graphic artist 
They are responsible for tasks such as: 
creating the intranet style guide 
managing indexing and searching 
ensuring consistency across all sections of the intranet 
editing key content for clarity 
developing page layouts and designs 
overall information architecture 
managing linking between topics 
ongoing intranet development and improvement 
systems administration tasks 
Your corporate website brings as many risks as it does rewards  


The corporate website is one of the most visible faces of the
organisation. Any information published to it exposes the business to
a certain level of risk, whether it be an incorrect price, or legal
liability for misleading information.

With the growth of e-commerce, the need for quality control processes
has become even greater.

While a decentralized authoring model may be used to create the
first-draft content, all material must pass through rigorous editing,
review and sign-off.

With some pages drawing information from many different business
units, there is value in using a centralized team for the more complex
authoring tasks.

Either way, a centralized team must mange the website as a whole.
Their responsibilities include those listed for the intranet team,

Ensuring corporate branding is maintained. 
Meeting marketing and advertising goals. 
Ensuring a universally high standard of writing across the site. 
Ensuring the website is usable. 
Managing site structure, architecture and linking. 
While a content management system can do much to streamline the
maintenance of a corporate website, it will only succeed if due
attention is given to quality control issues.

Business documents 

The many thousands of business documents created every year within an
organisation present a clear case for decentralized authoring.

These documents include reports, plans, technical notes, and the like.
They are produced using desktop applications (such as Word, Excel,
etc), and must be easily published to the intranet.

By establishing a simple import process, staff can self-publish their
material into the CMS. In some cases, the workflow may be as simple as
obtaining appropriate sign-off from the staff person's team leader or

The only danger is that intranet users will become overwhelmed by the
sheer volume of information available.

To avoid this, ensure that all content is appropriately indexed, and
that a comprehensive site structure allows effective browsing and

The easier it is to publish content to the intranet, the harder it is
for users to find it

Complex manuals 

There normally exists within a large organisation several very large
documents, such as policy and procedures manuals.

These capture the core of the business' knowledge, and are complex and
highly structured.

With business decisions and advice to customers being made based on
these documents, it is critical that they are both accurate and

Updating the documents is no easy task, and issues of information
architecture and usability must be addressed.

For these reasons, such manuals should be managed by a central team of
professional writers. Working closely with subject matter experts,
this team can ensure that documentation challenges are met and


Centralized and decentralized authoring both have their strengths and
weaknesses. The first step to building a successful CMS solution is
understanding these issues, and how they impact on your business

Only then can an efficient, cost-effective and viable solution be
designed. Within a large organisation, this will consist of a hybrid
of both centralized and decentralized authoring.

In this way, the quality control of a centralized team can be
supported by the wide-spread resources of decentralized authors.

Source, The Intranet Journal, Auther James Robertson (c) 2002

I hope this answer has helped; feel free to ask for any clarification.

Request for Answer Clarification by sabella-ga on 10 Nov 2002 07:26 PST
Thanks so much for such a thorough and quick response. They only thing
else I was looking for was if you knew what type of management system
is used for a couple of Fortune 100 companies, say IBM or Disney. What
type of system do they use and why?

Clarification of Answer by tox-ga on 10 Nov 2002 08:37 PST
Here are some examples of top corporations implementing these
structural models.

Sun Microsystems; Sun originally had a decentralized management model
but as the company grew, the management decided to implement a uniform
system and changed itself to a more centralized management model.

Sun was originally a niche company making engineering workstations. In
the late
1980s, Sun began to enter the multiuser server market, offering its
products as
departmental and network servers. By the mid-1990’s, it was also
trying to sell higher end servers for enterprise applications and the
emerging web server market.
As the company grew, the senior management decided that Sun needed to
corporate IT systems to be able to manage itself as one whole company.
It also lacked knowledge of the enterprise market into which it was
trying to sell its high-end servers. So Sun decided to develop its own
enterprise systems running on Sun servers to improve its internal
information systems and to gain the experienced needed to sell and
support hardware in the enterprise market.
The effort to run Sun on Sun was hobbled by management problems:
some kind of centralized management structure to pull together the
decentralized business units and requiring them to cooperate in
developing the enterprise IT systems. In 1996,
Ed Zander took over as Sun’s first COO, restructured Sun to have more
management control, and started SunPeak, a project aimed at creating a
enterprise information system running on Sun hardware. This effort was
expensive and difficult, requiring the company to distribute its
Oracle ERP systems across multiple servers and do a lot of custom work
to make it operational. However, Sun sees the cost as justified by the
experience and understanding gained.

Lets take another example, ATI Technologies; this company incorporates
both structures.  Originally ATI Technologies had a simple centralized
management structure when it was merely a national level company;
however they reconstructed their management model with their
"A step-by-step approach allows you to expand slowly and carefully. In
this way you have multiple regions and economies to rely upon. With
expansion to a global model, the question of whether you should have a
centralized management structure versus a decentralized one arises.
Again, there are no set answers. For ATI, we have taken the best of
both approaches, where our engineering research and design teams are
centralized but our marketing is decentralized. In this way we
maintain order in the development of products but allow country
managers to have control over local marketing programs. "
The following is Unilever's experience in changing its management to a
centralized one.
Centralized entrepreneurship allows firms to develop processes quickly
through improved communication (Prahalad & Doz, 1987). These formal
entrepreneurial efforts usually target internationally viable
products, which may or may not be appropriate for specific local
markets. Conversely, companies using localized R&D processes can
achieve greater responsiveness to local market needs.  Yet, because
the resulting products have to be tailored to particular local markets
they may lack international appeal. Unilever's experience offers an
interesting illustration of this dilemma.

      As one of the world's largest food manufacturers, Unilever
offers a wide variety of branded products in nearly every country
around the world (Christensen, 1998).  A decade or so ago, the company
consisted of literally hundreds of organizationally distinct operating
companies, where most of these units had been acquired at various
points in time.  Whereas these business units historically had pursued
product development and branding strategies independently, Unilever
was anxious to move to a more centralized management model, aiming to
leverage its fixed investments in brands, new product development and
manufacturing capability across multiple, even global markets, without
sacrificing local responsiveness.

      To balance its local strength with its global operations,
Unilever introduced several processes and procedures hoping to focus
its innovations on developing international brands, rather than
locally-oriented products.  For example, the company formed different
groups that were responsible for particular innovations.  These groups
spanned geographic boundaries with contributors from multiple
countries.  The first effort made under the new structure was the
development of Krona.  Krona was intended to be a global substitute
for butter and margarine, which at the time had a serious image
problem in some countries because of health reasons. To develop Krona
into an international brand, Unilever used Germany as its primary test
market and employed the feedback it received from that market to
improve the physical product, packaging, and marketing activities. 
While test markets in Germany were successful, Krona was not as
successful in other national markets, probably because of differences
in local tastes. Upon reviewing the results of the Krona introduction,
Unilever's centralized innovation processes may not have considered or
comprehend these differences.

      As the Unilever example makes clear, centralizing innovation at
the firm's HQ can have important advantages and shortcomings.
Companies seeking to foster entrepreneurship need to create a system
of communication that allows them to learn from their existing local
markets and guide the decision making process. This ongoing informal
dialog between HQ and individual subsidiaries can also help managers
decide where it is best to locate and support different
entrepreneurial initiates. HQ can harmonize and integrate these
initiatives and link them to the firm's strategy.  An organization
that has learned this lesson well is Glen Raven Mills Inc. of North

      With textile operations dating back to the Civil War, Glen Raven
is considered by many to be the most "innovative and forward thinking"
firm in the textile industry (McCurry et al, 2000).  Though textiles
have not historically been viewed as an innovative industry, growing
international competition has forced some companies to vigorously
pursue innovation. In recent years, like many other companies, Glen
Raven has seen its operations affected by NAFTA and rising
international competition. In response, Glen Raven has increased its
international operations, while it has worked hard to strengthen its
domestic market. Glen Raven has transformed itself from a
run-of-the-mill textile company into a global marketer, wholesaler,
and transportation company that can efficiently move
means-of-production around the globe. The company saw entrepreneurial
activities as the major source of its product and process innovations.
These innovations have also served as the cornerstone of international
expansion. Currently, Glen Raven operates 30 offshore marketing,
sales, manufacturing and customer service facilities, including
offices in China, Australia, South Africa, Mexico and Central and
South America. To further encourage entrepreneurship throughout its
international operations, the company holds each operating unit
responsible for incubating ideas and products. These units have
benefited from both formal and informal entrepreneurial activities in
creating new products or developing new business ideas. Glen Raven has
also reinforced these entrepreneurial efforts with strong capital
investments to improve its technology as a way of leveraging its
competitive advantages.

Source: Shaker A. Zahra, Department of Management
J. Mack Robinson College of Business
Georgia State University

The owners' desire to have centralized or decentralized management
will greatly influence the decision as to the appropriate business
structure. In general terms, centralized management means that the
owners of the enterprise relinquish control over management to one or
a group of persons. Where decentralized management exists, the owners
of the enterprise retain management authority.
As a general rule, corporations and limited partnerships provide for
centralized management through the board of directors of the
corporation or the general partner of the limited partnership. By
contrast, general partnerships typically have decentralized
management, with all partners participating in management. Limited
liability companies and business trusts may, depending on the terms of
their organizational documents, provide for either centralized or
decentralized management.

Here's an interesting article related to the evolution of a company's
sabella-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $5.00
I give this researcher five stars for the quick and thorough response.
I was amazed how quickly I received a response. I asked for addtional
clarification and received that just as fast. I thank you very much.

There are no comments at this time.

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