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.

Should Web and ICT be the same

Paul Canning has posted an excellent and interesting post on whether the web and ICT should be the same, or at least be managed within the ICT function.  Dave Briggs also posted on the subject and supports Paul’s View.

I have a slightly different view and one which perhaps works in larger organisations (after all i work in a large county council)

  • Paul says:
    Web skills are very specific, you need to be across a lot of terrain. You need to understand SEO, usability, web content, have good people skills, be across various and ever changing IT, visual design, accessibility, marketing, PR … Even the very best IT managers don’t have this skill range so they can’t make informed decisions or informed choices across the range of issues which constitute good and most importantly successful web.
  • Dave comments:
    Indeed, I would add a couple of bits to Paul’s list about webbies needing to be excellent communicators, and maybe a real interest in policy is important too.

I would like to add the following view to this discussion.

Whilst i support some aspects of what Paul suggests which is i don’t think that ICT should manage and run the web as a whole, the skills required are far beyond traditional ICT departments.

However i believe that the web should be mainstreamed into the whole organisation and ICT are a key enabler in that process.  I also believe that corporate web managers will no longer be required in the format they are currently employed becuase of the same reasons ICT are not the best people to manage it.  I don’t think one single person can be responsible for all the areas that are now required to manage and maintain and effective web channel within local government.

I believe that it is essential and the only sustainable way to mainstream the web if that the right areas of the business manage there expertise area.  It is also worth including that sitting above this you need strong governance process and systems to ensure that this actually functions strategically and operationally.

My previous post “do we really need web managers” highlights some of the main areas that web managers would be expected to be responsible for, i have included them below with some additional context

  • Technology and Innovation – we are perhaps fortunate that our corporate ICT function has a team of Enterprise Architects who are there to look at the strategic business architecture which would include the web, but also looks at the latest innovations and how they can support and deliver business benefits, web 2.0 is one area that this team will look at. This woudl also include policy at a strategic level, but each area would include policy aspects which would need interlinking
    In terms of operational web development, this is provided by our in-house development team who do the actual programming etc.
  • Content (text, image, video, audio etc) – for me this the bread and butter of websites and is mostly driven by communications and marketing people across the council, but also involves web editors and publishers. what we need here though is a content strategy which highlights all content amd which channel it needs to be delivered to. This is wider than just websites
  • Information Management (SEO, metadata and taxonomy) – we are again fortunate perhaps to ahve a strategic intelligence unit who are the experst in this filed and in effect act as information architects. We also have a tool which helps us tag our pages with correct metadata and contributes to the taxonomy management
  • Services (what people come to do – the tasks!) – this has been the drive of eGovernment for the last few years and continues to be the main focus of websites now, but it driven by customer services and service managers looking to provide alternative channel of access for services. But we need to put the right service in the right channel if they are to be used.
  • Design/usability – a visual framework by which people navigate, search and perform information and search requests. This is a design function and in terms of framework is easy to manage but overall design needs to compliment the organisational brand, a communications and marketing role.
  • Marketing/Communications – a critical aspect of local government websites but not really exploited to the degree it should be. you need users to enage online to achieve the claimed efficiences that are bounded about by many people.

One last thought is that the original post by Paul cited Richard Steele, SOCITM’s President as stating ICT should run the lot, well to be honest i think this is a narrow and flawed view and that the only way to move forward is as an organisation, which collectively uses the web as any other channel.