The ‘hidden’ value of Local Government websites

An excellent post by Peter Barton, Head of Lincolnshire’s Web and Information Services Team (WAIST) over at the Waistline Blog on the value of Corporate Web Sites.

Now i’m not directly involved in our website anymore (only from a strategy perspective) but the issues and the points that Peter highlights are hitting the nail so perfectly on the head that i just hope that this kind of approach could be adopted in the next Socitm Better Connected Survey.

I suspect and i can’t talk for Peter but it may well have been triggered by webthrift site which is trying to surface the true cost of council websites – Peter writes:

It’s not just about cost per user. It’s about value to the user and savings to the council.

What i think is great about the post is that it demonstrates to me how the council website has become such a business critical tool over the last few years that i don’t think we have really appreciated the value it delivers into the organisation or even delivers for the customers.  BUT if it no longer existed then we would certainly see huge increases in contact in the other channels and that would naturally increase the pressure on front line and back office staff to meet those requests.

I say ‘hidden’ value only because the stats that Peter quotes are exactly the same kind of stats that we and i suspect most councils identified back in 2004/2005 when eGovernment was at its peak. This is exactly what we were aiming for – so did we ever celebrate our success – NOPE!!

So what happened? Why have we got in a position where we are questioning the value of council websites. Well i suspect it is because the web has moved on considerably and even more so our customers/residents.

The way information is created and shared and validated has changed. BUT the information is still so perfectly valid. If councils are getting the same or proportionately the same costs then we can happily say YES council websites do offer huge value. BUT we have a different path to take now, the services that were once on our sites accessed by a specific type of person can now be accessed by anyone anywhere because we have a new approach –  an open data and web services approach.

I quote some of the information from Peter’s post as an example of the simplicity of presenting the information in this way:

NB: The following information is quoted directly from the Waistline blog and the statistics relate to Lincolnshire County Council only.

  • No booking library books on line. – Around 4844 a month books are booked on line ( May 2009 figures) This figure is about a third of the volume of all bookings.
    If this service were not available we would incur an extra cost of around £15,000 to £30,000 per month and a reduction in service quality due to increased phone or face to face activity.
  • We would not be able to provide access to pdf downloads currently running at some 44,000 per month (May 2009 figures).
    Imagine if we had to send only a small part (say around 10%) of that number by post at around £3.00 – £5.00 each in postage and staff time. We would incur £12,000 to £15,000 per month extra cost. And a reduction in service quality.
  • No applying on line for jobs ( this is the largest single used area of most local government sites).
    In June 2009 473 job applications were made on line. At an average cost of applying by paper and post, which must be running at approximately £10.00 per application. This would mean an extra cost of around £5,000 per month and a reduction in service quality if this service were to be removed.

I would recommend to any web manager who reads this to do the same as Peter has and create a “what if” scenario and try and cost it? This will provide excellent evidence for a web strategy and development plan as well as surface the importance of the channel as a key service delivery tool and as a foundation or a platform for wider web service deployment.

This does mean that we need to rethink our approach to council web service delivery. But we can also acknowledge that we can do that in the context of huge cost saving and benefit to the organisation and our residents.


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