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An on-going dilemma for companies striving to harness technology to help improve performance across a range of business functions is the question of “where digital should sit” within their organisational structure. 

Research for the recent Econsultancy / Blue Latitude Impact of Digital report found that digital is most likely to be part of marketing. In fact, more than half of the 100-plus companies surveyed for this report said this was the case (see chart below). 

Therein can lie a problem. Broadly speaking, the research found that while organisations are getting to grips with digital for the purposes of sales and marketing (including PR), they have been less able to exploit digital effectively to improve other areas of their business such as HR, customer service and product development.

A blog post published last week on Econsultancy goes into more detail about how exactly digital and the internet have revolutionised different parts of the organisation. 

As well as being cocooned within marketing departments, digital is also commonly ensconced as part of the direct channel or as a standalone team. There is more power to the elbow of digital when it is able to demonstrate its bottom line benefit as a profit centre. 

There can be a risk of digital becoming its own silo, but such a structure can still work very effectively provided there are processes and a culture which enable digital innovation to permeate other parts of the organisation. 

According to one senior executive interviewed for the report: “We [the digital team] are right at the core of things, learning and sharing. We’re involved where we need to be, and the rest of the organisation doesn’t see digital as something they can’t get involved in. Which is brilliant.”

But another said: "We [e-commerce] risk disappearing in the organisation: 13,000 people in branches, 3,000 in telephony and 30 of us within e-commerce. It is quite an interesting experience because often people do not know what we do.”

Where does digital sit within your organisation? (2010)

Source: Econsultancy / Blue Latitude Impact of Digital Beyond Sales and Marketing survey 2010 (n=119)

So where should digital and e-commerce teams sit? There is no right answer to this but business leaders need to ensure that their companies are evolving digitally, whether this is through matrix-type management structures or properly empowered digital champions. 

Apart from residing within marketing, the next most common organisational set-up is for digital to sit within “a separate digital team reporting into a senior manager”.  

Other types of set-up include a digital team which straddles more than one department, most typically IT and marketing, but also in some cases sales and communications. 

Digital’s original home in IT is decreasingly relevant. It is encouraging that only 6% of survey respondents say that digital is “part of IT”. Organisations are often impeded when IT owns digital although, of course, this department needs to be fully involved.  

Some respondents and interviewees for this research feel that insufficient IT resource limits the ability to deliver value to customers and the organisation. For most companies, it is crucial that they are able to incorporate some development function within their e-commerce or digital units, or are able to outsource parts of development.

The chart above, carried out for this year’s Impact of Digital research can be compared to data from Econsultancy’s Managing Digital Channels Best Practice Guide, written by Dr Dave Chaffey and published in 2008. 

Respondents were asked “what the main location was for digital marketing or e-commerce within [their] organisations”. Just under half of respondents (45%) said that e-commerce was part of marketing and 29% said there was “a separate e-commerce team supported by a senior manager”.  

Which is the main location for digital marketing or the Ecommerce team in your organisation? (2008)

Source: Econsultancy Managing Digital Channels Best Practice Guide (n=108) 

Linus Gregoriadis

Published 19 October, 2010 by Linus Gregoriadis

Linus Gregoriadis is Research Director at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn or Google+.

139 more posts from this author

Comments (3)


Chris McQueen

As a freelance UX Designer I'll often be reporting to the Head of Marketing. I'll constantly reminded that "...we marketeers' have been doing this for years" ... and in sets the deep sense of dread!

Whilst marketeers' have indeed "been doing it for years" that doesn't mean that digital is ONLY a marketing channel and that we should adhere to marketing operational practises. Some practises work and can be cross-pollinated, some don't and can't.

Digital and Marketing should be independent so that their resources can be applied elsewhere (e.g. Digital/IT for internal operations, enhancing workflows and business tools) whilst co-existing; sharing knowledge, experience and customer insight.

about 6 years ago

Steve Davies

Steve Davies, CEO at Fitch Media

This is not a ‘new’ issue, in fact we've been dealing with the same issue for decades as we assimilate technology into our organisations. In my experience the best solution is to create a transformation team (a centre of excellence in part) whose role is to instil the relevant capabilities and practices into those parts of the organisation where the value can best be realised. It becomes a programme like any other with a clear plan, value proposition and exit strategy. Where I see most organisations getting it horribly wrong is where they create a new functional silo around digital/IT/web which then fights the rest of the organisation for budget, attention and external visibility. This new silo then attempts to stay in existence for as long as possible, rather than operate as a transitional vehicle to achieve change. Best not to overcomplicate the issue, shape your organisation around the processes which add value to your customers and market position, then create 'temporary' teams around key steps in your digital journey - making and breaking these teams regularly to avoid creating silos and bringing team leaders in from different parts of the organisation who will then take the lessons they learn back out into their own environments when the project ends.

about 6 years ago


Steve Evans

Ahh that timeless issue of who gets to control online activity... Sadly it often turns into an ego battle between senior people who feel it's the most exciting and up and coming channel their business has at its disposal. I've worked in IT, Mktg, Customer Services and Operations. In an e-commerce environment operations is often the best place to put it. It's an operational sales channel and risks being treated as a marketing channel or technology channel if it sits in the wrong division. I like to keep it away from marketing and IT directors as they tend to be the actors with the biggest desire to keep it under their wings... In an ideal world businesses would be mature enough that it could sit anywhere and people from all over the business would pull together to operate, market and trade their digital assets.

about 6 years ago

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