How big is your web presence

I’ve been doing a bit of research linked to my previous role as corporate web manager, on how many websites and separate domains the council uses to present and display information.

However this got me thinking to what a good number should really be for local government. I know Martha Lane Fox has suggested that central government should have one site, whilst I agree in principle I’m not convinced that this is actually practical for local government. I’m not referring to one for the whole sector I’m specifically referring to a single council’s web presence and this is not including social media domains.

So far I have found just over 65 separate websites which are either directly presenting council information or are presenting information in partnership with one of more partners.

It is this last scenario, more than one partner of course which is gradually increasing across the council as we move forward with a commissioning agenda, so how do others councils approach this aspect of web provision…do your partnership sites sit on your platform but have their own branding, do they sit within your branding?  I’m keen to find out what others are doing in this area.

I have actually looked at all of the sites and apart from a few sites they all pretty much offer a good level of interaction which can not be found in our current website.  The majority again pretty much contain the appropriate branding for the site and where applicable include the councils branding.

The big problem though is that they are all disconnected from the main council site. You can not currently search this sites and for some you can’t access via the AtoZ either.  This is a major fail and as previous web manager, well I won’t say how I feel about it.

So why do I think this is not practical. Well firstly we are not very good when it comes to partnerships to specify that all content be presented via the councils site. Most if not all partners wish to have their branding used equally and therefore the councils website often presents a barrier. To review this will take time and of course development resource to bring this sites internally.

But why would we, what is the value in creating a single site. Surely a framework of web delivery is more appropriate, a site which displays core council information and either embeds content and functionality from other sites or use a federated search solution across all domains to allow users to find and access all of the content and services.

There is a cost saving to reviewing the sites, but there is also a cost in moving and migrating the sites, so this would need to be considered on the basis of delivering value and not just for the sake of a “pure” website.

Now I’m not suggesting that this is the right or the wrong approach, I merely believe it isn’t practical for all councils.

I think local government web managers have a tricky job to balance the customer journey and pure single website vision with the increasing move toward commissioned services with a mixed economy of service delivery and service providers.

So how many sites does your council have and how are you managing the wider web presence.

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.

Do we really need web managers?

Now this is a question that has bothered me for some time and has caused me to question the validity of my job.

I want to ensure that my councils websites is one which can benefit and deliver efficiencies for the organisation and one which provides services and information for our customers. A simple vision but one which is way out of my scope as a web manager.

I of course have influence on aspects of the website, style, tone, design (although branding is more important). But when it comes to range of services and what people really want to do in terms of performing tasks, this is something that a service manager needs to be engaged in and needs to decide whether they wish to spend their service budget on a channel that for some is still unknown. When we don’t have huge amounts of information about the types of online customers we have and serve.

My dilemma and perhaps cause for confusion is that the web is too broad an area to be managed by just one person, a web manager and their team.

When the web is in fact at the heart of a range of existing disciplines in the council.

  • 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.
    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 (metadata and taxonomy) – This is the field of information specialists and 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 – last but not least, 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.

How can a web manager truly manage all of those aspects to ensure that the website as a whole develops consistently and in a usable way. They would need to be multi-disciplined and have a wide range of knowledge or they focus on one area and do that well.

It maybe that what we need is effective governance and key people from each specialist area to ensure that we can deliver a multichannel approach. Not to cut myself out and sell myself short, i have managed to do elements of this co-ordination for the past 4 years, but that is all it has been – “Co-ordination”, it has not been about truly managing the website as a strategic platform for business and staff. Perhaps my dilemma is that iu ahve outgrown my role instead of it out-growing me.

The web needs to be mainstreamed into everyday business thinking and when that happens you won’t need a web manager as it becomes part of how we work.  However you will need all those specialist areas to focus on the wider picture.

I could be tempting fate but stating such things but this is my dilemma, i welcome your thoughts