Higher Education Web Development Blog

Communications or IT? Who Should Rule the University Web Team

Good governance over web development teams can make the difference between making a real impact or working in chaos. There are many benefits from being led by either, but let’s take a closer look at the potential drawbacks.

Problems under Communications/Marketing

What can go wrong under a marketing-led regime?

Short-Term Campaigns and Initiatives Get Priority. Senior administration will sometimes be far more involved and invested in the outcomes of this group’s work, than with IT, so the pressure is on. Even with good management, this group is working on tight deadlines or quick turnaround projects. If this is left unchecked, the focus of the web team will always be scattered and they will never make progress towards long-term goals or projects that are considered low-prestige or low-visibility, like maintenance and end-user support .

Valuing Form Over Function. User feedback, usability testing, and other measures of success can become less important than opinion, appearances, and vanity metrics. Underneath all these shiny exteriors, technical standards could be one of the first things to be sacrificed.

Lack of Experience Leading Technical Projects. This can lead to designers and developers wasting hours of work and significant sums of money on incompatible or overpriced technical solutions. This can happen especially when web developers aren’t involved early on in the process or don’t have a say in selecting the right tools.

Problem People: The Royal Court of Perfectionist Designers

In the worst case scenario, designers rule, but it’s absolute power and it’s not benevolent. Web developers can’t deviate even one pixel from carefully-crafted mockups and need to use fashionable, bleeding-edge techniques in situations where they’re not effective. Lack of a veto from IT and unreasonable technical demands can create environments where web developers and IT are basically treated like peasants.

Problems under IT

With that said, there are different challenges working for friendly IT overlords.

Your Website is Never the Top Priority. People making decisions tend to prioritize maintaining the infrastructure more than the technologies and software that run on it. They’re probably right, but still…

Lack of Specialization and Narrow Focus on Technology. Especially if there’s a small team, everyone may have an official role or dabble in web development. Its harder in these groups with different skills and backgrounds to get everyone using any specialized web tools or techniques. They have their real jobs to do. Big picture, non-technical things like design or where a project fits in a user’s experience as a whole may not get enough attention before the discussion moves to provisioning VMs and databases.

The Pace of Change is Slower. Infrastructure changes usually happen on a different timeline than web development. Another factor is that those changes need to scale up, so decisions have to be more deliberate. IT project managers expect to plan well in advance in order to work within outages and maintenance windows, not constant change requests. This emphasis on stability can potentially lead to stagnation.

Problem People: Radical Fundamentalist System Administrators

At its worst, this structure can give power to risk-averse admins who don’t have any incentives to provide new tools or entertain new ideas. Their ideologies are fixed, so don’t ask them to upgrade software or to change their holy configuration files. In their zeal to defend the organization from evil, they end up holding web projects hostage by refusing to support less stable (i.e. innovative) technologies and methods. These policy and security bottlenecks often torment the souls of developers and designers who just want to do their jobs.

So, what’s the answer?


Instead of creating silos and duplication within each department or a bureaucratic nightmare of meetings and approvals between two very different units, I’m coming to the conclusion that the web team itself is the group with the skills that overlap the two fields. It doesn’t really fit within either one.

No Collaboration Without Representation

Ideally, there would be collaboration on all sides, but that doesn’t happen on its own. From marketing and communications, developers need to incorporate the right designs and branding messages to reach project goals. From IT, developers need secure and stable platforms along with access to the right tools for efficient workflows.

No matter how things are structured in an organization, someone needs to give web-related issues the in-depth attention that modern websites and applications require.

This is my opinion. So, is better to bend the knee to one group? Or is it time to declare independence?


Priscilla Chapman

WordPress Developer, Web Support

Priscilla Chapman is a web developer specializing in WordPress working from Gainesville, Florida.

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