Web Optimisation at Internal Affairs

Bene Anderson recently ran a Web Optimisation project at the Department of Internal Affairs. He's joining us on the Web Toolkit to share his experiences and the templates that came out of the project.

All across the New Zealand Government, agencies are looking at their web presence and trying to decide if they’re using the online channel as effectively and efficiently as possible. The same is happening here at the Department of Internal Affairs.

Over the last year Internal Affairs has been running a project to optimise our use of the online channel. This followed previous work to merge several sites into a redeveloped corporate site.

For us, the case for web optimisation had some key motivators:

  • cost savings by reducing the number of sites and supported technology platforms;
  • improved reputation through demonstrating best practice and compliance; and,
  • presenting user-focused content in alignment with Rethink Online.

So did we whip everything into shape in a year? Did we manage to turn a large department, recently grown larger with the merger of National Library and Archives NZ, into Web Channel Utopia? Well, no. But we did make progress, and the wheels are still in motion.

In the interests of cross-agency sharing, I’d like to take you through our journey. I should mention that the National Library already had a programme underway to optimise and rationalise their websites, which continues to deliver terrific results. (I am a big fan of natlib.govt.nz.)

Taking Stock

The first question was, “What have we got?” Not as easy a question to answer as you would think. To answer the question, we started a register of Internal Affairs websites. We gathered information under 20 headings, using staff knowledge, existing sources, and the all-of-government register already available in the Government Web Community shared workspace.

Our headings covered things like:

  • general information (type, function, audience, purpose);
  • ownership;
  • cost;
  • who is involved; and,
  • technical information.

Simply talking to the business and providers about their sites produced results. For example, when we asked who was the day-to-day person responsible for websites, there was sometimes no clear ownership, and a person was nominated.

Quick Wins

While checking the details of our register with the business owners, we asked general questions like what plans they had, and whether they evaluated success or usage.

From these discussions we listed ten quick wins, which we planned to deliver on if they proved to still be a good idea on closer inspection. For example, we found nine websites that could be decommissioned, and an opportunity to move unusual DNS records to the free all-of-government service.

Presenting the Facts

We summed up the register and the quick wins into a light report. It was enough to present the facts and figures without the need for commentary.

For example, we found:

  • 43 websites identified as candidates for rationalisation (which meant merging sites, mostly);
  • 21 different content systems in use at Internal Affairs; and,
  • 12 hosting providers.

In one case there were 7 websites delivering community information, which are now being merged.

The report gave Internal Affairs a clear picture of our use of the online channel.

A Strategy for the Online Channel

Running in parallel to this web “stock take” was the development of Internal Affairs’ Online Strategy 2012-2015. The strategy laid out the current state and future state, providing objectives and the interventions needed to meet them.

The strategy is concise and was well received. It brings together directions from Internal Affairs IT strategy, like moving to IaaS and consolidating technology, as well as wider government strategies like Rethink Online and using the upcoming Common Web Services platform. The underlying theme is of shared services and collaboration across government, to save money and provide a better experience to the public.

Agreeing on an Operating Model

One of the strategic interventions identified in our Online Strategy was to clarify how we operate online. With the recent growth of the department through mergers, and changes in staff, there was no clear operating model.

So as part of Web Optimisation we put together a model that has four key principles for the Department:

  1. Collaboration for successful online delivery

    Venn diagram showing three circles representing the disciplines of content, system, and user experience. The three circles overlap and the intersections represent the collaboration required for good websites.
    The Venn diagram above shows the intersections between content, system, and user experience, the three disciplines required to successfully operate a website. Each discipline is further defined by examples of its key responsibilities and expertise. The content discipline includes writing in plain English, web editing, publishing, promotion and marketing, and communicating with users. The system discipline includes technical architecture, hosting, development, testing, and security. Finally, the user experience discipline includes information architecture, visual design, interaction design, analytics analysis, and digital engagement.
  2. Continuous improvement—Websites aren’t wallpaper! You can’t leave them until they peel or look dated, then rip them down and glue up something new. They need to be reviewed and continuously improved to meet your audience’s needs, and to keep apace with changes in technology. This work needs to be budgeted for.
  3. Website non proliferation treaty—Setting up a new website may not be the best approach. There may be other suitable, existing channels that can deliver what you require. Cluster information around the audience, not around how the Government is structured.
  4. Shared ownership and risk—the Business, IT, Information Services and Communications have objectives and strategies that websites needs to align to. So while funding comes from the Business, the ownership and risk are shared.

A Single Point of Contact

The operating model also examined the roles and responsibilities needed to run a website. It identified those that were missing, and in particular a web manager to be the single point of contact, to provide support and guidance to the Business.

Information to Support Staff Working Online

We have published templates, processes and general guidance on the Department’s Intranet. These included a 'Do I need a website?' questionnaire (Word 29kB) to reduce proliferation, a website budget planner (Excel 31kB) and an enhancement and defect log (Excel 38kB) to help embed continuous improvement. The web manager will keep the web register and the information updated.

We’re not saying these templates are perfect. We know they’re not, but have presented them in the interests of cross-agency sharing. We’re trying them out for the first time, and they will most likely need to adapt as we learn. We’d be happy to hear what you think. And if you are working on something similar, how about sharing yours?

Audit

Finally, we did a quality audit. We audited 46 websites under the following headings: content quality, accessibility, user experience, and technical maturity. This gave the Department a good overview of issues. For example, only a handful of our websites are currently designed to respond to different screen sizes.

Each audit presented a recommendation to the business. Their feedback was incorporated into the final report. These ranged from fixing minor areas of concern, to a complete design refresh and moving the site onto the upcoming Common Web Services platform. Here is a redacted Sample from the Websites Audit Report (Word 317kB), and the Website audit template (Excel 67kB).

The  accessibility portion of the audit report does not represent a comprehensive assessment template for establishing a website’s actual accessibility or compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, as required by the New Zealand Government Web Standards 2.0. But it did provide an indication and spotted obvious problems. Similarly, the other assessments were based on a small sample of pages. This kept the volume of work manageable within our constrained budget. This approach is by no means a substitute for an actual and complete assessment of a website's accessibility or WCAG 2.0 conformance.

What’s Next?

The optimisation continues, with opportunities identified to further reduce the number of websites and consolidate technology. From the audit we have prioritised older informational websites, which need to remain independent, to be migrated to the Common Web Services platform.

The business groups will also continue to act on recommendations made, and the web manager will report back on overall progress.

What is your agency doing about optimising its use of the web channel?

Sample Templates

Feel free to reuse these as you see fit! If you do make some improvements it would be great to feed them back.

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