A new kind of Council Web Strategy

You should know that the local authority web manager has a pretty hard job and is often stuck in between a rock and a hard place. Often with no budget, no resources, but yet still required to manage a service delivery platform, communications platform and a citizen engagement channel. How do i know this, well i used to be one.

Anyway i wonder whether the strategies that are created for local authority websites (i am assuming that some are created here) are focusing on the right thing?

The reason i say this is that i often hear that local authority web managers and web teams have issues around web ownership, web governance, web resources and acceptance by the wider organisation that the corporate web site is a key access channel and so on. So what should change for this mind set to be different.

What i think we need is a strategy for the web channel that actually talks about “Exploiting” the channel for business benefit and value creation and not a strategy that focuses on how we will build it, what technology we will use and what level of security we will apply. These are of course very important things but in my view should actually be contained within your organisations ICT Technical Strategies and not within the web strategy.

So what would a Strategy for exploiting the web look like?

I recently read a book called “Fruition” by Chris Potts and it was a very good read, it is actually about the wider ICT agenda but there are major lessons for web and web strategists as well as corporate strategists.  I recommend reading it if you are remotely interested in ICT, Web and Technology in organisations. The following is an extract about the book:

The Scenario

What happens when corporate strategists decide to take over the IT agenda, ignore all the IT Strategy orthodoxies and use it in ways that the IT specialists never intended? What are the consequences for the strategy, the Chief Information Officer (CIO), the company’s IT people and the investment plans for IT?

Whilst reading the book i also thought about the lack of this kind of strategy during the eGovernment  Agenda and it made me think about the current Government ICT Strategy –  Are we creating the wrong kind of strategy again? I think we do need a strategy for how we will implement technologies and decide what technologies to use and adopt and whether we will use cloud services or develop and Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), but it seems to me that what we lack and maybe one of the real reasons ICT has not aligned itself with the business is because it struggles to present its strategies in terms of exploitation and value creation.

I used the example in the book and made a quick and dirty attempt at a generic web strategy for any local authority and this is what i came up with. (If you read the book, you will notice i haven’t really changed that much).

The challenge of course is to work within your organisation to make this strategy work. I recommend you read the book to understand the journey and implications of developing this kind of strategy within the wider ICT environment. But i think if you do those things you will end up in the same place and will want to move forward with this kind of strategy.

This is not yet a reflection of the County Council Web Strategy and there would be a little bit of work to do before we could get this adopted, but this is not a major challenge and will be something i will work toward. It is of course a completely different way to look a strategy in local government and one which i think will make us more corporate and work towards the agreed priorities and direction that the council has set in the strategic plan.

Local Authority Web Strategy

Strategy Promise (outcome)

  • We will maximise the value we create for citizens, staff and stakeholders from all our investments in the Internet, digital technologies and the World Wide Web (WWW).

Key Principles (truths)

  • Our strategies and business plans depend, in part on us successfully exploiting the use of the Internet and the World Wide Web.
  • Value is a portfolio of measures and is whatever the Council’s strategies and operating plans say it is.
  • Each directorate/department is accountable for the value their part of the organisation creates from investments in the internet and WWW.
  • The Internet and WWW is a multi-disciplined function and service platform and requires a collaborative and unified approach to achieve value.
  • The Corporate Web Manager is accountable for the total value that the organisation creates from all our new investments in business change involving the Internet and WWW.

Core tactics (actions)

  • Plan and execute our investments in exploiting the web by starting with value creation and working backwards
  • Focus our investments in exploiting the web on those types of value that are vital to our strategies and where we can make the highest contribution
  • At business unit and corporate levels, proactively manage the total impact of change made from investments in the Internet and WWW.
  • The Corporate Web Manager should lead on Internet and WWW development and activity.

7 thoughts on “A new kind of Council Web Strategy

  1. My head hurts! Keep it simple I say.
    Just out of interest do the think ‘advertising’ has any place on a local authority website? Is this creating ‘value’ for citizens or for ourselves?

    1. I think that this is an interesting area. We have to ask ourselves why we are in a position to consider that anyway. See first paragraph.

      I feel it could offer value if the advertising was appropriate and whether we felt that the overall value was compromised by the approach taken.

      But without the strategy, we will make decisions not based on value but based on immediate need.

  2. Great post Carl, could I urge you to post it also in the Socitm web community on the IDeA CoP? It would be good to get discussion going around this.

    Your ideas chime with a current project I am working on for Socitm which is a report on customer access with particular reference to the web channel. In my research I have been asking about councils’ customer and customer access strategies, and its stiking that about half of those responding have customer access strategies that do not cover the web channel. Slightly odd when Socitm data and that from other authoritative sources is showing the web to be by far the most popular channel for customer enquiries.

    Your comments re ICT strategy are on the button too, and chime with Socitm’s own thinking here, particularly in relation to the Government ICT Strategy. Our recent press release on Socitm’s response to the strategy said:

    The over-riding emphasis on reducing the cost of government ICT, a key plank of the Government ICT Strategy released in January, is disappointing, says Socitm, the professional association for public sector ICT.
    A better focus for the Strategy would have been on the much greater potential to cut government’s costs through effective deployment of ICT in the delivery of public services.
    In its policy briefing on the Strategy, Socitm argues that, while reducing unnecessary ICT cost is critical in the current financial climate, the Strategy fails to discuss or demonstrate the wider opportunity for reducing cost and improving all public services through the application of ICT. Consequently, it remains unclear how a focus on just cutting technology costs would deliver the Strategy’s stated aim of “improving the living of the citizens and businesses”.

    1. Thanks Vicky,

      Will cross post on Monday.

      I agree that some wider discussion about exploitation is essential if we are to realise the potential of the web.

  3. Thanks for a very useful post Carl. I completely agree that the IT strategy needs to be geared towards maximising value for customers and the business. I’d welcome the day when this principle becomes a reality:

    “Each directorate/department is accountable for the value their part of the organisation creates from investments in the internet and WWW.”

    In order to achieve this you need excellent skills in writing water tight business cases and mechanisms in place to measure and demonstrate ROI. Data tends to speak for itself. Otherwise getting commitment from individual services/departments to invest in web improvements and drive through business change (in order to realise value from investment) is no easy task.

    Some more skills for the web professionals framework Vicky?

    I also think if the Web Manager has overall accountability, the strategy has to be adopted by senior managers/leaders.

  4. Michelle
    Yes, definately skills for the framework – Mary Wintershausen, the consultant putting this together for Socitm is in the final stages of preparing a draft for consultation. I’ll draw her attention to this. Also Carl’s said he’d post his original comment into the Socitm web CoP so lets get discussion going in there too. I forgot to meintion above that Socitm is about to publish a document called What all council chief executives must ask about their website – it replaces the usual executive briefing we do on Better connected and is an attempt to raise chief executives’ awareness that eg the web is already for many authorities the most significant access channel by far..

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