Marketing? Corporate Communications? Or is it IT?
It's been a common discussion lately on some of the web design boards and podcasts I listen to. Unfortunately I think there are some significant limitations to all of those choices: Marketing has a primary function of communicating to consumers/end users; Corporate Communications is generally focused on communicating to the media and investors, and IT simply wants to get something done that fills a need but doesn't cause problems with the 'real' concerns of their department. Communications - to end users, media and investors - is only half of what a truly effective site can be (or less!). What about post-sales support, technical assistance, ongoing existing customer engagement? All things that can require much more technology than the basics of a 'brochure' type of website. Without buy-in or assistance from IT, how does the site tie in to customer records to allow authenticated, customized support? How does the ecommerce portion of the website connect with Salesforce or other CRM/ERP type of systems? How can the offline marketing and communications efforts tie into online engagement to provide better metrics of success? Sales, Customer Service/Support, Accounting (payments, rebates, etc) - all groups who could benefit from connections in between that can be facilitated with readily available web technologies all together providing exponentially better end-user experience directly related to the efficiencies gained by those connections.
The biggest value derived from a website is when communications and service to the end user is provided throughout the lifecycle of their experience with your company or institution: from introduction, sales development, the transaction itself (where applicable) and ongoing support and updates (information, software, other products) well past the point where an end-user typically falls out of view. Bringing all these things together involves everyone, making it difficult in the best of circumstances for any one of those groups to effectively 'drive the bus'. While I think that Marketing or Corporate Communications are better prepared than most, I must say that I'm becoming a much stronger advocate for a different structure altogether: a Web Services group that sits at an equal level, providing service and cooperation to both communicators and the rest of IT. The allows one group with the best set of skills required to focus on the users - both external and internal - to provide the best and most comprehensive experience.
The nature of the web is one of constant interplay between communication, engagement and technology. No one group in most corporate structures is really suited to this, yet the benefits and return on the investment of setting up such a group, especially in a large enterprise, is enormous. Web technologies can bring together disparate parts of the company in ways never before possible, leading to countless opportunities for innovation. After 15 years of the web's existence, there are more possibilities than ever, and shockingly few companies that truly leverage them to their fullest potential. The innovation needed here is a recognition that the current options are self-limiting, and the key to realizing the fullest benefit of web technologies across any platform is putting the right people at the helm.