A major shift is occurring in who is in charge of the Web. Previously, responsibility tended to be with IT. Occasionally, marketing was in charge.

Today, the Web site—particularly the intranet—is the responsibility of the communications department. This is as it should be.

At a recent content management workshop in Washington, DC, a woman informed me that she had been nervous about attending. “However,” she said in a relieved voice, “when I saw all the other women here, I felt a lot more comfortable.”

In the last couple of years, I have noticed a significant shift in the profile of people who are attending my talks and workshops. In previous years, the crowd would have been very much male and from IT.

Now, around 70% of those attending are women. Most of these women have a communications background.

Communications is the natural home for the intranet, since the Web is inherently a communications vehicle. The public Web site should also be driven by a communications expert who has a strong marketing focus.

Currently, many organizations are struggling with a Web team that is no longer suitable. There is the pioneer who built the original Web site by hand. He (it was generally a man) persevered when the Web was largely ignored. It was his baby.

But now, the Web site has grown up and been embraced by the larger organization, and in those circumstances the pioneering attributes of doggedness and individuality often become drawbacks. The best pioneer knows when to gracefully step aside and let the Web site go to the next stage of development.

Graphic designers were often heavily involved in early Web development. The role of the graphic designer is greatly diminished today. The Web is about standardized design. Text dominates. Thus, editors and writers are in far greater demand.

Marketing people in love with Flash and splash screens often do more damage than good. However, if they understand that e-commerce is about selling with content, they can make a significant contribution.

In the early years, getting a Web site going was a major technical challenge. That is no longer the case. Web technology is becoming more reliable and standardized. Thus, the role of the IT department is becoming less central.

Some IT managers are only too happy to hand over responsibility. Their staff became accidental writers and editors. They want to get back to their core focus of making technology work.

Unfortunately, some IT managers like the extra power that owning the Web site gives them. These managers become blocks to progress.

Communications staff should embrace the Web, but many of them don't. Many are technophobes who think that because IT originally owned the Web, it must be technical. Others are locked into a print view of content. They don't want to take the time to learn how to write effectively for the Web.

So, it's not simply about shifting responsibility for the Web over to the communications department. Old habits will require changing. New skills will have to be learned.

But the change is well underway. The Web may have been the almost exclusive domain of techies. Today, it is increasingly the domain of communicators.

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image of Gerry McGovern
Gerry McGovern (gerry@gerrymcgovern.com) is a content management consultant and author. His latest book is The Stranger's Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online, which teaches unique techniques for identifying and measuring the performance of customers' top tasks.