“A glimpse of the future”

Colin MacDonald is the Government Chief Information Officer (GCIO) and is tasked with delivering the Government ICT Strategy and Action Plan, which was approved last June by Cabinet.

Part of this work includes improving the way government interacts with New Zealanders online by changing our approach to providing information about services. A ‘beta’ website was launched in August to test out a better way to tell people how to get the help they need from government. The GCIO has a message for agencies about supporting this work.


I’d like to start by thanking you for your involvement in the beta.govt.nz programme of work.

It’s a really important programme, and it’s important because it’s not just simply the redevelopment of newzealand.govt.nz, it’s not just the redevelopment of a website. It’s actually a glimpse of the future because, this is the way that we are going to start to develop and focus our services much more for our customers. Much more putting our customers at the centre. And so it has a really important place in the future ecosystem, as I like to think about it, that New Zealanders will use to interact with government to access government services.

So many of you will have seen the beta.govt.nz site, and you’ll have seen that it’s actually quite different to the previous site. It is a pilot version, and it’s a really important step, not just in developing this new way of doing things, in terms of how it looks, but actually the process that we go through. Because what beta.govt.nz is all about is about getting feedback. It’s about getting insight into what is it that our customers really want?

Because right now we know that we’re not delivering information that’s focused on the user. We are delivering information that’s important to us. Now, we know it’s important to our customers too, but we don’t put it into their context. We put it into our context, and beta.govt.nz is about trying to put it much more into their context, so that they can go to this site, and they can do the business that they need to do with government. And I like to think of it as getting in, doing what you need to do, and getting out.

Commercial websites like to be sticky, they like people to hang around, because they’re usually trying to cross sell. They’re trying to get them to do more business. Government websites, the research has shown that people want to get in, do they want to do, and get out again. And beta.govt.nz is trying to do that as best we possibly can.

And people want to do it when they want to do it, in the way that they want to do it, not in the way that we’ve prescribed. So beta.govt.nz is available on smartphone, on PC, on multiple devices. And as much as we can, we’ve tried to future proof it to be able to be available on future devices. It uses an open platform, and that makes that future proofing much, much easier. And again, what we’re hoping to do here is that we do it once, and then everybody can leverage from it.

We’re really trying to find out what works and what doesn’t work, and we’ve done a lot of research. We’ve taken a lot of time to try and understand that, but we want to keep going down that track. And the more information we can get on there, the better we can tell how this is meeting customer’s needs, and what’s working, and what’s not working.

And this is where we need your help. We need your help to make sure that the content that goes up on that site is accurate. That it’s customer focused, it’s user focused, and it reflects the products and services that your agency provides, and that we do it in a customer centric way. We’d like you to help us by doing a fact check on the information that’s up there, and helping us to keep it up to date.

It’s a team effort, and we’re really keen to hear from you on what you think of the site, and how you think it’s working, and how you think it will work for your customers. Because this is a really important opportunity to really start the future now. Doing things quite differently from how we’ve done them before.

First of all, putting the customer at the centre, and secondly, orientating information and the services, and the transactions around customer needs rather than around agency needs.

And I think we all know that that makes sense, and we know there will be some challenges in doing that, but if we get on with it, we start now, then I think we’ve got a really good chance of putting together a fantastic channel that New Zealanders will really want to use to access government services. So thank you once again for your contribution.


  1. Comment #1. Brett Young:

    the beta govt site home page initial impression.
    makes me have to think (not intuitive)
    not engaging

    You might as well just have a search box and leave it at that. There is no obvious personalisation (putting the customer first) and the only order is alphabetical. I didnt even see a bilingual option. I realise its a Beta, I suspect more of an Alpha!

  2. Comment #2. Colin MacDonald

    Thanks Brett for your feedback. It’s an important part of our process, as we’re seeking feedback through the Web Toolkit, the Beta site itself, and through ongoing user research. The site will continue to evolve over the next couple of months. The team will get back to you on findings from our recent round of research.

  3. Comment #3. Jared Gulian

    Thank you Brett. In our user research, we’re generally finding two responses to the site. When people first look at it they think it’s very plain. Then, once they start doing tasks, they’re generally finding it easy to use. Just this week one of our users in user testing said, “I would use this site frequently. It’s much simpler. It’s like a little government Google, without having to look at all those horrible busy government websites.”

    However, we know the site is not perfect. In fact, the homepage is one of the areas that we know needs work, based on feedback we’ve received. One user said of the homepage: “Too much in one page, but a good breadth of what you probably want. I like the list of popular pages.”

    One of our principles is that we are user-centred and base our decisions on evidence, rather than what we think. Our users are varied, and that makes it challenging. Even so, our user research is helping us to prioritise features and improvements in a very illuminating way. We’ll continue to make improvements to the site based on the very valuable evidence that we’re gathering.

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