Website costs

June 1, 2011

The topic of web site costs still keeps popping up! This time from Craig Thomler in Australia, and I must thank en.europa-eu-audience for putting it under my nose, although I’ve linked to Craig since the start of this blog! Craig, of course, is aware of all the challenges in dealing with measurement of both the cost and value of government services, and in this instance points us back to the UK and Diane Railton at drcc, a communications agency, who points out the work of the Digital Policy team at the UK government Central Office of Information (COI).

The one trouble with the example of central government is that it is largely focused around single services and is unlikely to reach the complexity of the hundreds of services and thousands of web pages that local government deals with. However, an attempt at an approach is better than nothing at all.

Unfortunately the COI guidance states ‘Costs of fulfilling transactions must be excluded from reporting’, which in the world of local government where a key job for the web is channel shift, being transactional is a necessity and needs to be built into the costs and value, which then needs to be viewed within the channel costs as a whole along with any additional IT.

In 2009 I considered Channel Accounting but didn’t go into detail of the calculations required. I see it as necessary that it needs to be done at a channel level, with some way of costing for the web pages used, the software required, the hosting and links with any back office system (used instead of the human being channels whether telephone or face-to-face).

Modern government websites should not be the labyrinthine devices that are frequently seen, they should have the necessary information to facilitate self or mediated service, along with the links to key back office systems providing the more frequently used transactions, suitably linked to together where they overlap, such as payments with Council Tax inquiries, or planning applications.

In some ways this makes calculating web site costs and value more complex but if anything it is made so by archaic accounting systems that haven’t moved on with investment and value management. Under such a regime calculating costs is only getter harder.

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The cutting floor

June 29, 2010

The latest announcement of cuts from the new government appeared on Kable on the 25 June 2010.  The Minister, Francis Maude, is quoted as saying that he wants departments and agencies to slash the costs of their web sites “by up to 50%”. Since “up to 50%” could mean anything between 0% and 49%, it was a strange statement, but at least it’s not more than 50%! He also desires them to move onto a common framework, which is obviously one of the greatest savings.

Francis Maude has identified that the previous government’s instruction to reduce the number of sites has had limited effect and that there are 794 still open, whilst he wants to close 422, which  I calculate would leave 372. However, the COI report quoted in the same Kable report indicates £94million has been spent in the last year on 46 sites, which is a lot of money in anyone’s book. Unsurprisingly one of the new ones is that of businesslink.gov.uk, which I imagine is hosting the notorious EU Services Directive, discussed occasionally over the last six months.

Interestingly, both the Kable and Register reports lead back to the Central Office of Information web site, where they’ve just produced a new report that ties it all together with the Public Accounts Committee recommendations that originally started the cull. The CoI site also hosts the guidance to measuring costs, usage and quality, along with usability (I pointed to these in May 2009).

For local government, rationalizing web sites and at the same time gaining better usage is also a challenge but a major issue I believe is finding a CMS supplier with a licensing model that permits multiple .gov.uk domains without multiplying the cost up in an equivalent manner, so that sharing becomes a real option. If anybody can recommend one, please let me know…

My main grievance with the CoI methodology is that whilst in areas like inclusivity and usage it’s excellent, I prefer employing feedback from all channels to refine the service, not just the delivery mechanism, in this case the web or call centre. I accept central government is different, and they need to remember that too – a lot of local government contact is face-to-face and that should be recorded with the other channels.


Getting overfocused on the tools

June 15, 2009

Two recent announcements indicate, in my view, a focus on the tools rather than the delivery of services itself!  In the EU a company seems to think that using the social web will transform services and in the UK central government is using ABC to audit its visitor figures as part of the plan to cost benefit analyze its web usage.

First our so-called system of representative government is not going to make any real use of a tool that undermines its own powers. We can attempt to employ service user feedback to improve services (across all channels) but even that’s not happening to any volume. We can email blog, email and Twitter all we like but its not delivering deliberative democracy, its a one-way street. Its the same one-way street that has governments wasting money having numbers counted that are meaningless. The only use for vistor numbers is to compare across channels and watch the change.  We really need to employ the multi-channel feedback to tune the services, not bean-count for the sake of it.

The web can be a tool of service delivery, when we learn how to use it properly…


Guidance and metrics

May 20, 2009

The Central Office of Information has issued guidance on web metrics and costs although I’m not aware of comparative or equivalent ones for other channels, although there is the Contact Centre guidance, but nothing relating to comparative channels and channel migration.

One of these days…

However, a student at dear old Harvard has some propositionsfor us on the Complexity and Social Network blog there.