Local organisations decide it’s website 2.0 time

Dunedin City Council and Simpl are very different organisations but the stories behind their website rebuild projects are remarkably similar

Local organisations are realising the state-of-the-art websites they developed in 1990s simply don’t cut it any more — it’s time for a web makeover.

New technologies and approaches to delivering content, such as blogging, and a need for improved content management systems (CMS) are two of the significant drivers behind this change, but so is a desire to really engage with customers and stakeholders in a way first-generation websites simply don’t allow.

Dunedin City Council and Auckland-based IT services company Simpl are very different organisations but the stories behind their website rebuild projects are remarkably similar.

Dunedin City’s general manager of customer service, Grant Strang, says the council’s old website was state-of-the-art, and even picked up several awards. However, the technology behind the site is now out-dated and there is no content management system in place either. The site, which had two million visits in the year to October 30, not only features information about council business, but also news, events, tourist information, weather updates, opinions and scenes from around the city. It is, effectively, the online face of Dunedin.

“Eighty percent of tourists come by road from Christchurch,” Strang explains. “The website is important for them.”

However, the site doesn’t meet the needs of people wanting to interact with the council, he says. The new website, currently being developed and expected to go live in February or March 2008, will allow transactions and also ensure they are actioned in a timely manner. Decisions regarding what transactions will be allowed online are presently being determined by what Strang describes as a “robust governance process”.

The new e-commerce platform and CMS will be standards-based and will also be consistent across the site.

Different types of activities have their own requirements, says Strang. For example, any consent process has to meet regulatory requirements and workflow has to be “best practice”.

“We are not going to be early adopters,” says Strang. “We’ll look at what others are doing and [then] decide what to do online.”

Strang says the project, being led by the Dunedin's knowledge centre manager Will Croft, is about putting the customer first. It’s about meeting the customer’s needs in a new way — Strang’s mandate is to connect technology to the customer in a way the city has not previously done.

The parts of the business that involve transacting with customers are, therefore, at the forefront of the discussion about what content will populate the site.

“It’s never been about technology, really,” says Strang. “That underlies everything, but it’s about making some 41 business units, each with their own interactions with customers, deliver a 24/7 website and response.”

He says that having such a dynamic transactional site presents obligations and responsibilities.

Issues with navigation and search the current site are also being addressed as part of the project. Content has to be looked at too. Strang says it “goes back to the 1990s without any version control”.

Strang says there are still decisions to be made regarding architectures, but so-called Web 2.0 features such as forums and blogs are being looked at.

Strang is also concerned the new site should reflect best practice when it comes to interoperability. He sits on the State Services Commission’s eGIF committee, which sets interoperability standards for government.

Perhaps surprisingly, the issues facing the Simpl Group, which quietly launched its new web presence last week, are remarkably similar to those Dunedin faces. Chief executive Bennett Medary says the old site was “overcrowded”. Layers and layers of information had accumulated over time, so the site was not focused on where the business is going, but on where it has been.

About 80% of the content of the old site has been removed, as part of the three-month rebuild. As with Dunedin, there was also a need to update technology and deliver a modern content management system.

As part of the revamp, Medary is about to join the likes of Rod Drury of Xero and Fronde’s Jim Donovan in fronting a chief executive’s blog. He says it will be a platform to communicate with a broad audience and not dependent on the delivery of speeches over lunch. In some respects, it will be better than personal communications, as it will allow people to conduct a dialogue.

“Blogging encourages an easy and rapid interchange,” Medary says. “It allows ideas to mature and find their place in the world.”

That said, Medary is up-front that he is behind some others in taking up blogging and will have to learn how to do so effectively. He also warns that putting up a blog creates a commitment to engage and to speak from the “heart and mind”.

The new site will be more conversational, he says, allowing Simpl to interact and communicate with communities of interest.

“We want it to be dynamic, collaborative and engaging,” he says. The site will evolve, after it has been launched, to deliver content that is “leaner, cleaner and fresher”.

Simpl’s website makeover was part of an almost total refresh of the company’s IT systems. Virtualisation was put in place, using Microsoft technology on IBM hardware, at the same time as the website project was undertaken. NZ-developed Sonar6 is being used for talent management and software-as-a-service systems for sales/CRM (Salesforce.com) and professional services automation.

“Apart from the general ledger, we’ve refreshed the entire business in the last four months,” says Medary.

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Tags dunedin city councilDevelopment IDsimplWeb 2.0blogging

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