What should web management in whitehall look like?

At the government heads of ecommunications meeting on Tuesday – a regular get together of leaders of web teams across the government departments and some of the major agencies. Always a good chance to catch up, hear from guest speakers, and share experiences.

The main business yesterday was a lively workshop session about how we manage all our digital publication work (one department is assessing its resources and skills sets and wanted to pick the brains about everyone else’s set up).

Website rationalisation is preying heavily on everybody’s minds at the moment (this is the programme of work to close down the majority of ‘.gov.uk’ websites and migrate the existing content and online services into Direct Gov, Businesslink or sponsoring department’s corporate websites depending on the intended audience) and its making us all reassess how we conduct our business, what skills we are going to need in our teams, and how we will manage digital publishing in future.

Whilst there were many different approaches expressed around the room, the common thread seemed to be that there is a great deal of transition in changing the we way we manage our websites:

  • Technological change for those who have recently begun using content management systems, or are planning to migrate to them shortly.
  • Changing the function and responsibilities of teams from being perceived by internal customers as electronic publishing ‘putter uppers’ to setting standards and guidance (a kind of ‘centre of excellence’ role).
  • Change in terms of exploiting the use of CMS’s to delegate publishing rights to the business and release the time of webbies to exercise more quality control on content.
  • Change in terms of where we procure services from and how we manage suppliers – a better understanding now than, say, four years ago about what it is we actually want.

A very interesting session. There is a growing and real understanding amongst Whitehall webbies that digital communication is no longer simply about managing corporate domains (there was also a brief discussion at the end about the potential for government of engaging in social media and many are actively playing around with this stuff). Its good to know that people are switched on about the opportunities. The real problem is convincing the holders of the purse strings that we can’t do everything our customers demand with what we’ve currently got.

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  1. I can’t help noticing that the four areas of ‘change’ that you’ve listed are exactly as they were the last time I attended one of these same meetings – which, ironically, was about four years ago. A couple of them are basic content management principles, and should really have been put to bed years ago. The fact that we haven’t, says something.

    I’m interested by the word ‘transition’ here: it implies a shift from one thing to another, then it’s complete. But in reality, transition is continuous – and we don’t know where it’ll end up. Ajax, blog platforms, RSS, mashups, web services – all have changed the game in the last year or two. ‘Web thinking’ is basically accepting that you don’t know where you’re going, and getting on with it. Sadly the Civil Service doesn’t typically want to work like that.

  2. Well as you say, things are changing all the time which is why we are regularly reassessing our roles and skillsets. You’re right that CMS issues should now be past us but the truth is that CMS procurement and implementation takes time and money. The old DCA site for instance was entirely built in handcoded html and it isn’t the last central government site to be created that way.

    I don’t disagree with your point on transition and wasn’t implying that we are searching for an end point. Far from it, everybody I know in the government web world is working in exactly the way you suggest.

  3. You’re right about the handcoding, Jeremy. I’ve been shocked to see just how many sites are being managed without *any* content management whatsoever. I hate to think how much money is being wasted on coding contracts.

  4. Coders aren’t necessarily more expensive compared to deploying CMS solutions on web infrastructures. But it does make the site more unwieldy and less easy to change. CMS’s can go wrong too… yesterday our news section disappeared for a while due to a caching issue – it was great fun trying to work out what had gone wrong!

  1. June 7th, 2007

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