Self-service and shared services and should go hand in hand to improve council websites

Published on Monday, 04 April 2011 09:38
Posted by Scott Buckler

Councils looking to improve their websites and accelerate development of cost-saving self-service models of delivery should be thinking about sharing services that will improve their websites with other public providers, says a new briefing from Socitm Insight(Monday April 4th)

 

Better websites: sharing content, applications and resources points out that the current budgetary crisis means that more and more organisations are realising the importance of self-service. Shared services are also recognised as a key means of reducing costs. But few councils are putting the two approaches together in a way that could speed improvement of council websites, something that is much needed, according to Better connected 2011, the latest edition of Socitm’s annual report on council websites.

Sharing website content is an obvious solution to the considerable problem of keeping up to date the large number of pages found on council websites. Shared A to Z lists offer an efficient approach to content maintenance as well as consistency in the user experience but are rare, with councils in Cumbria, and some in Derbyshire and Leicestershire leading the way.  

Sharing of ‘Find my nearest’ facilities would help the 44% of councils that, according to Better connected 2011, are still unable to provide one. The briefing points out the opportunity to use Local Directgov as a means to maintain links automatically in the event of major or minor changes.

The briefing describes how using syndicated content from the three government supersites (Directgov, Businesslink and NHS Choices) is a further means by which local website content can be improved at a time when local resources may be scarce.

Sharing applications has just as much potential says the briefing, citing the sharing of applications for seeking and applying for jobs, such as the Hampshire jobs portal and the similar facility that operates in Dorset. The same approach could be adopted for any of the ‘top tasks’ on council websites including rubbish collection, schools / youth, libraries, leisure facilities, planning, housing, council tax, and so on.

Form design, needed to enable customers to access many services, is a key area in which Better connected 2011 highlighted usability problems likely to inhibit self-service, and where the sharing of development and best practice could bring about improvement more quickly than isolated activity by different council web teams.

The briefing also describes a more conventional form of shared services in which the same web team supports two or more different council websites. A case cited is that of Carlisle City and Allerdale, two district councils that are sharing web resources as part of a wider shared ICT service. The two websites use the same CMS, the same templates and the same e-forms, although the branding of the two sites is quite different. There is no reason why this approach might not be implemented elsewhere.

‘The website is a critical corporate asset.’ Says Martin Greenwood, editor of Better connected and author of the self service, shared service briefing. ‘It needs to perform effectively if channel shift potential is to be reached. Sharing content, applications and resources, whether locally, regionally or nationally, is a strategy that will deliver the change that is necessary at the speed that is now required.’

 

Source: Socitm

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