Technology Governance in the Age of Acquia

Before every site build, consider good governance and future-proofed development practices.

One of the least glamorous but most important aspects of implementing a content management system is governance.

Frequently, a backroom technologist will half-heartedly define high-level system governance (roles and responsibilities), leveraging the same effort and interest typically reserved for IRS paperwork, during an early phase of implementation. This cursory exercise often receives little focus and is quickly forgotten among the excitement and intoxication of site construction.

Site construction is sexy. Governance is not. Creating something new is thrilling and addicting. We feed on the instant gratification of a minimal viable product like a drug. A lab rat, we pound at the lever, feverishly seeking instant gratification. Strategy and planning be damned!

Agile development, configurable Software as a Service solutions and continuous development have borne a generation of software engineers focused on building for today, not maintaining for tomorrow. But long after the adrenaline drains from our pores and the fog of construction dissipates, our nascent system must be nurtured, cradled and cared for. If we gave more thought to maintenance and extensibility while toiling away in our scrum teams, our solution might be different.

The lessons?

Don’t Sacrifice Long-Term Operational Efficiency for Short-Term Development Speed

Operational efficiency, extensibility and maintainability are frequently sacrificed for initial development speed. But considering maintainability from the outset can dramatically change the trajectory and overall value of the program you create. Good governance and future-proofed development minimize downstream issues, reduce technical debt and maximize long-term value.

Be Aware of the Conceptual Paradigm Shift

In large organizations, migration to a Platform as a Service (PaaS), like Acquia, frequently results in the creation of a singular environment shared among different operating companies or departments. With the robust features and functions of Acquia, it’s the right decision. Developing a set of shared functionality creates efficiencies and adds a significant feature and function set that no one organization or functional area could create alone.

But for an organization, migrating a series of stand-alone sites, frequently on stand-alone hardware or software, is akin to moving from a subdivision of homes to an apartment complex. In a subdivision, each homeowner is mostly autonomous—responsible for his or her own maintenance and updates. While in an apartment complex, a set of services is shared (sauna, anyone?) for the exchange of some autonomy. Want a pool? Need to knock down a wall? Better consult with the apartment management. But unlike in real life, your tenants, unaware of the technology behind the scenes, frequently lack appreciation of their move and the autonomy they have sacrificed.

Run Your CMS Like a Business

Technology owners of a CMS, sometimes low-level maintenance workers for a subdivision, are now newly minted apartment complex owners, responsible for the safety, security and satisfaction of their tenants, whether they like it or not.

If unprepared, this new responsibility can be an unwelcome surprise. If you aren’t aware that your tenants are demanding a pool or you let Mr. Smith in 1A start a fire by smoking, you will quickly find yourself in trouble. You must support the current and future needs of your tenants, ensure the facility operates smoothly and, like in a real apartment, be aware that a fire in one unit will quickly spread to all.

Thus, for a PaaS environment, effective governance is more than permissions and content workflows. You must begin treating the CMS as a business service and be cognizant of the service’s interaction with both the business and technology elements of the organization.

Define Leadership Roles

At Manifest, we frequently propose a joint business and IT governance model that is developed in the early stages of construction. We recommended the following division of labor:

  • Business as CEO
    Like a ship captain, business leaders navigate the program through the choppy seas of the organization and own the definition, refinement and ownership of the strategic vision and road map of the program. Like a politician running for office, they spend their days, among other things, shaking hands and kissing organizational babies.

  • IT as COO
    IT is the platform/technology owner and the management company that runs the apartment complex. Although not responsible for defining the business strategy, IT is responsible for ensuring that things operate efficiently, are properly maintained, are built well and will support the future needs of its tenants (as defined by the business leaders). This includes future-proofing new construction, ensuring that the work done is extensible and maintainable and ensuring that tenants are behaving.

Manifest’s Referential Governance Model

Although the proper governance model will depend on your organizational needs, Manifest typically uses the referential model below as a starting point.

Manifest’s Referential Governance Model

This model, when implemented properly and applied in the early stages of construction, can help ensure that you have long-term success and, more importantly, happy tenants.

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