Structuring a digital team

Digital team matrix

I have an idea of how a digital team could be structured. It would be a matrix of Service Units and Business Units that creates an interwoven and interconnected team that is focused on collaboration to achieve the service delivery and business objectives.

The Service Units would be responsible for delivering digital services for the organisation. In this non-exhaustive list we have advertising, email and social marketing, the website and analytics, but the list would include every service that is delivered by the department. Each Service Team would manage any platforms and suppliers associated with the service and be the main point of contact for the Business Unit Managers/Teams. The Service Teams, as the experts in their areas (Gladwell’s Mavens), would make recommendations to the Business Teams about how to use their knowledge and services. They would know that they can’t achieve their objectives without working closely with the Business Teams.
The Business Units would be closely aligned with the objectives for the department, in this case online donations, stock collection, event sign-ups, membership subscription, and online retail. The Business Teams would be proactive in approaching the Service Teams to implement their plans. They know they can’t achieve their objectives without working closely with the Service Teams.
This kind of matrix framework and reliance on each other for achieving objectives would naturally foster greater collaborative working without trying to tackle the ‘silo problem’. These teams can continue to work in their silos but they can only achieve their objectives by working together. Communicating the need to be objective-led is another problem.

Libraries face their Kodak moment

Almost 8,000 jobs in UK libraries have disappeared in six years, about a quarter of the overall total, and 343 libraries have closed, an investigation by the BBC has revealed.

Every industry has been disrupted by the digital age and companies that fail to innovate (like Kodak infamously did) can easily fall by the wayside. Libraries are facing their Kodak moment as they struggle to figure out how to continue to exist and offer a useful and valuable service.

One of the ideas mentioned for the future of libraries is for them to become community hubs, but this is just about keeping the building open and so misses the point of a library. Libraries were once the only and best place to find out information and gain knowledge. Full of books, magazines, newspapers and DVD’s on all kinds of subjects, and a system for getting any book that your branch didn’t have reserved and brought in for you, libraries were market leaders in delivering the worlds knowledge. Now, Google, Wikipedia, Amazon Kindle, and NetFlix have taken the role of libraries, digitised it and put in our phones. It’s no wonder libraries can’t keep up.

So, maybe with no chance of catching up with their information, knowledge, and entertainment competitors perhaps libraries should think of themselves as just buildings. It’s hard to imagine how they could diversify  in any other way.

Why do digital departments have such a high employee churn rate?

Is it because the young people who are hired to work in digital departments are building their career and are able to use each job as a stepping stone to the next position?

Is it because the reward and recognition package offered by the organisation doesn’t match the expectations of the people?

Is it because the structure and nature of the organisation doesn’t match the desire for creativity, self-expression and independence of these people?

Is it because digital is a fast-moving industry so staying on a position for less than a year is considered normal?

And is it a problem? Of course each recruitment costs the organisation, but what if a person in a role for six months provides enough value to the organisation that in fact it’s worth it for both parties.

What I’d do with the Independent

As the first major newspaper to move to being exclusively digital, The Independent has raised some interesting thoughts on how they can successfully monetise the digital content business model, whether through advertising, subscription, or some other means.

Of course making money is important, but despite much of the response to the shift saying that the reason for going digital is to save costs on printing and distributing physical newspapers, I think The Independent has the opportunity to become more than just an online newspaper. With the right strategy, The Independent could become the leader in news, articles, information, and storytelling.

Achieving this would take three things.

1. Real-time news delivery. This means feeding up-to-minutes reports about what’s happening all over the world to a single platform where it can be aggregated, organised, and delivered before anyone else.

2. Expert encyclopedic knowledge. Having experts from any and all areas of study and practice writing informative articles would form a knowledgebase with both depth and breadth, and become the go-to site for finding out the facts. It could usurp Wikipedia, with its user generated approach, by giving people more authoritative information.

3. User generated articles and story-telling. This could be achieved by buying or some other similar platform. There would be a free account for the majority of users with a voting up by the readers of the most popular articles, and premium paid-for accounts to generate revenue and allow for more serious writers and companies.

The real power of these three types of content in one place is the ability to cross-post and show related articles together. For example, companies could write articles about their products, charities about their work, and people about their experiences knowing that their content would show alongside relevant breaking news stories, almost a Google AdWords for written content, further increasing the revenue.

How The Independant’s shift from print to digital reveals the difficulty with digital content business models

The Independent is going digital, scraping its print version to save costs and attempt to become a world-class world-wide digital publisher.

Phil Hall, joint head of investment for Mediacom UK, said in The Drum:

The print sales are low and obviously there is a production cost involved in producing print and this is part of the reason for their shift to a digital business. While they have a decent digital subscriber base, the challenge as it is for any digital business will be to monetise that. There is certainly a possibility that they will look at a subscriber model, or they can hope that the quality of their journalism is such that they will generate more traffic and get a greater return from advertising.

The move to ‘more digital’ or ‘digital only’ content is clearly an attractive trend for a every business that deals with content. Digital production, done right so it can be repurposed, can be more cost effective than print so it’s easy to see why any content producer would shift to digital over print. But, as The Independent shows, its not quite that simple. Just being more cost effective in production doesn’t necessarily lead to greater revenue in consumption. People may well consume more content via digital means, but they do so in a very different way. Articles are read, photos looked at, and videos watched with a fast-paced throwaway approach. On the other hand, we have an innate feeling that words and images in print are somehow immortalised and so more precious, that we should take time over reading them, and pay them more attention.

This difference in consumption is what makes the digital business model so difficult to make profitable. As Phil said above, The Independant has only two potential income streams: subscription and advertising. The Subscription Model is a difficult one to get right for a newspaper as it needs to make its best content publicly available to show its quality and value, in which case subscribers are left with paying for lower quality content, and the Advertising Model, which is under increasing pressure because of the rise of ad blocking software.

Other types of organisations face the same issue. A charity could quite sensibly choose to move more of its print content to digital formats, and justify this move as saving print and distribution costs. But that fundraising campaign flyer that drops through your letterbox might hang around longer and be taken notice of more than the banner ad that you didn’t even notice as you were reading an article on The Independant’s website.

I’m a believer in all things digital, and of the digital transformation of organisations and society, but I also believe in knowing what you are trying to achieve and understanding the end-to-end process and impact of decisions like ‘going digital’. Perhaps digital, with its limited revenue models, will force organisations to accept more streamlined and smaller business models. Perhaps it will force businesses to accept lower revenue in return for greater cost-effectiveness. Perhaps ten percent profit on one million pounds turnover is better than one percent profit on one hundred million pounds turnover.