Future proofing your web presence is not just a buzzword – it’s real leadership

The political business is rife with sayings of conventional wisdom that are either thought-provoking, like “Praise in public and criticize in private”, or darkly funny, like “If you want a friend, get a dog”, or both.

A whole dictionary of sayings about leadership is also in wide circulation, like “If you are one step ahead, you’re a leader; if you are three steps ahead, you’re a martyr”, and one of my favorites: “If you want to be a leader, then find a parade and jump in front it it!”

These two sayings about leadership are really talking about the future. And not just that but a future where a leader plans for his or her role in it along with the role of his or her organization and followers. In other words, it is about planning for survival: your own, your organization’s, and the people you care most about.

Future Proof This!

Future proofing – described dismissively as a buzzword in Technopedia – is nonetheless defined as “a product, service or technological system that will not need to be significantly updated as technology advances.”

I am working with a client who is interested in local governments, economics, and demographic details of a given population. This means that the client wants data. Lots and lots of data. Data from external sources beyond our control and that may change often and unpredictably.

The easy way out is to research the data, stick it on a web page, add a few links and attributions, and then tell everyone that the page is live and they should rush to see it. This works perfectly well whether in plain vanilla HTML, WordPress, Drupal, Squarespace or newer and edgier content management systems on Node, Go, or the latest JavaScript library.

Then some issues come up. Want to put up another page? Matching the visual style and flow is good for branding, so just copy the page structure. What about 100 pages? What happens when the brand logo or color changes? You can go change all 100 pages though you may notice that they already include creeping changes that appeared over time.

And what if you’re on a team? Who will train the team members? How do you allocate their time? Does your budget cover the workload you anticipated?

And what about the data? How often will it change? Who is going to check? How does it get tested for code errors, security risks, and even spelling and grammar?

This is just the beginning of issues I can think of right away. When we get at scale, then the issues get intense. How about 1,000 pages? 1,000 data points? 200 sources of data to track, authorize, pay for, and use?

Define what future proofing means for you

My client project requires data on several local cities from several local sources. For now, I have to manually grab data from those sources, although in the future the website would by itself tap an external API and populate it automatically each time the page loads on someone’s screen.

Web pages are built from a list of fields filled in by a human writer or editor. Each field is a discreet little piece of data – say, a list of local officials or a link to community resources. Anyone creating or updating a page need only fill in the actual data into those fields and it will appear.

Branding, color, and general message are all preserved – that should be managed by the marketing managers. The web code doesn’t get touched – that is the domain of the web developers. When organizations only need to update their data, that data is the only thing available for updating.

The data can change; even the format can change. New data points can emerge and they will just get assigned a new field. In this way, the future is a little bit safer than it was before.

David Kissinger consults with companies, trade associations, non-profits and entrepreneurs on external affairs, public relations, marketing, advocacy, IT strategy, web development and content.

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