The future for digital sovereignty - why it calls for a fresh IT/Marketing partnership

Mindsets around digital sovereignty are changing. You can see this in the approach that two of the largest open source projects take; while WordPress is aimed at the widest possible audience, and making it possible for anyone to build and host sites, Drupal is aimed at larger organisations – while it might be open, it is less about democratising the web and more about creating experiences. What do these approaches have in common, what do they mean in the context of the shift around digital sovereignty, and what issues will proponents of the open web have to think about in future?

Illustration of two boats hanging from puzzle pieces that connect. Teamwork and partnership concept
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Technology professionals accountable for the web are increasingly running into the joys and pains of owning an active channel for driving growth. Customers are not just searching online; they’re looking to take action. Websites are no longer just brand assets, or places to publish content. They are now in the critical path for achieving business goals, but bear a host of new responsibilities in an era of digital sovereignty.

Both IT and Marketing assume that they own the website and are responsible for making decisions – 84% of marketers claim decision-making responsibility but so do 87% of IT leaders, according to our research. When there’s more pressure to perform than ever, this puts additional stress on IT and Marketing to partner effectively, particularly around customer experience and data. If you’re not in control of your web channel, able to make changes and adapt to an evolving technology landscape and market expectations, able to responsibly leverage your own lawfully acquired first-party data, you’re going to fall behind.

Some IT leaders may read this and wince. Within many organisations the IT/Marketing relationship can be tense, but the ramping importance of getting things right represents an opportunity to forge a new working consensus.

Building this consensus and implementing websites effectively is especially urgent given macro-economic trends taking place around digital sovereignty. As consumers, we have more rights around our data and how it is used. In response to these moves, we can see the leading device makers and browser companies are more privacy-forward in their design, which is already having a huge impact.

For example, Apple restricted device tracking last year, leading directly to Facebook shedding $25 billion in market capitalization because iPhone users suddenly couldn’t be microtargeted through their ad platform. Similarly, Google Chrome will drop support for third-party cookies starting in 2023, which will cause turmoil in the worlds of AdTech and MarTech. And of course the steady pace of regulation marches onward, most notably with the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act coming to the European Union, and the US announcing that it’s FTC is beginning a rule-making process to “crack down on commercial surveillance and lax data security”.

While we might welcome these changes in our personal lives, they represent new challenges in our professional ones.

IT and marketing need to collaborate

All these pressures will affect how businesses use their website channels over time to attract and retain customers. Marketing organisations need results quickly, and have to respond to changing market conditions in real-time. In the past, this led Marketing teams to use a variety of third-party digital tools to get things done, whether that’s relying on Social Media for demographic targeting, widgets from the MarTech 10000 for capturing signups, or wholesale relying on an external tool to deliver website or microsite experiences.

These decisions can frustrate IT, but in a world where the median tenure of a CMO is 30 months, the need for speed is paramount. While time pressure isn’t going away, the conditions that allowed for those kinds of quick-fix shortcuts to work are.

Successful Marketing leaders must increasingly drive results they’re used to getting via third-party paid programs via first-party owned channels. This means web experiences they actually control, where they can build and leverage customer intelligence to build off their own data. Successful IT leaders will get ahead of this trend by investing in their ability to leverage the web in an agile fashion, and to safely and effectively gather and leverage customer data.

In practice, this will mean both sides will have to understand the customer journey, how that gets turned into data, and the processes that take place around that data over time. The aim here should be to keep as much of the speed and agility that businesses need, while also respecting any digital and data sovereignty requirements that are in place around these implementations.

Open Source, DXPs, and Digital Sovereignty

Web workloads naturally exist “outside the firewall.” As such, they’re often early targets for migration to the cloud. This can be a great opportunity to level up the overall approach you have in place.

Many companies have historically looked to Digital Experience Platforms (DXPs) for website management, but DXPs are ironically not cloud native. They’re based on the old enterprise licensed software delivery model, and still come with a cumbersome infrastructure overhead. What’s more, their proprietary nature means they have an obscure software interface that’s only really understood by a few thousand highly specialised developers, most of whom work at big Systems Integrators. This is hardly a recipe for agility, let alone responding quickly to digital sovereignty requirements.

Open source technology can help you embrace the reality that websites are software projects, without the enterprise baggage. Rather than writing your own from scratch, leverage an open source project and apply the principles of DevOps to move fast and make it your own. Most open source web frameworks are intended to be used this way, whether it’s an ultra-mature content management system (CMS) like WordPress or Drupal, or a modern front-end framework built on React, or even a combination of these. This approach offers a much faster time to market compared to traditional DXPs.

Further, good open source projects feature active communities of practice with thousands or in some cases millions of developers for hire worldwide. This access to talent and training lets you respond quickly to urgent needs. Open source projects also improve over time as innovations are contributed back, a “rising tide” that helps everyone to manage common requirements. But ultimately you own your implementation, which is key to having full confidence in the context of digital sovereignty.

Own your digital future

Regardless of whether you are running an open source platform or stuck with a more traditional DXP, managing your website(s) effectively will involve more collaboration and iterative change, and less “big bang” relaunches. A strong Website Operations (or “WebOps”) practice will keep the business in control of its digital roadmap, with the stability and security needed to move fast without breaking things. It enables the democratisation of more and more digital operations within the firm, allowing an increasing number of use cases to be handled outside IT. This gives front-line teams web tools they can use to self-serve, as well as letting individual business units bring their own technical talent to bear to solve their specific needs.

A WebOps practice can also help build a more successful partnership by actively engaging Marketing roles (designers, content creators, campaign managers) as first-class members of an agile team focused on driving business value via the owned web channel. This kind of “fusion team” can be a catalyst for change, creating quick feedback loops and cross-functional camaraderie. Ultimately, these teams can be role-models that change the tenor of an organisation.

With a stable foundation and closely aligned working relationship, it’s possible to tackle bigger and more strategic business problems. Now that you’ve got the customer experience in hand, you can start safely and sustainably building your first-party data repository. Not only will this future-proof your organisation against the coming changes in the digital marketing landscape, but you can ensure that you follow the requirements around digital sovereignty that apply directly to your business, rather than relying solely on your tool providers.

Ultimately, implementing a better partnership between IT and Marketing is what’s needed right now. It’s necessary for Marketing to reach for their holy grail of delivering the right experience to the right user at the right time, which is how they will maximise the business value of their most important digital asset. That requires control over the experience plane, the ability to pull insights from data through analytics, and a way to close the loop and take action based on insights. It’s necessary for IT, which will have to bridge those gaps and ensure that the infrastructure side meets requirements around availability, security and compliance. And it’s necessary for the overall business to function efficiently and effectively in an environment with more rules to follow when it comes to working around data. Teams that understand the three-step process to deliver the right user experience in a timely way will be invaluable to the business.

About the author

As Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Pantheon, Josh Koenig is focused on making the Open Web a first class platform for delivering results. At Pantheon, Koenig’s mission is to liberate web teams from the confines of enterprise monoliths and the drudgery of infrastructure operations so they focus on their real strategic goals using the highest-quality tools of the trade. Championing the value of the developer experience, and the need to demonstrate impact with data, his work combines the visionary ideals of Open Source with the pragmatic utility of the agile approach.