Addressing myths – new council website

By on 17/08/2009 in Blog, Rebuttals

Glyn Evans, Birmingham City Council’s Corporate Director for Business Change, addresses some of the points that have been made recently about the almost-completed revamp of the authority’s corporate website www.birmingham.gov.uk

 
I've read with interest the coverage we've received recently on the new council website and I'm keen to put a few things straight as it seems people are in the habit of ignoring the facts for a good story.

Yes, the new council website is costing more than was originally estimated but actually it's not an overspend. Originally, the website replacement project was just that - a replacement for the (obsolete) technology we are using. And then we rethought; the new website will be at the heart of delivering improved services to everyone who lives in, works in or visits Birmingham.

This is a totally different proposition, and a totally different approach - and budget - was required. Also, yes, we did consider Open Source but no, it wasn't suitable, otherwise we'd be using it.

And again, yes, the website is being delivered later than was originally planned but it's not the same website as was originally planned.

Following the launch of business transformation, when we decided we would use the website as part of a major tool to improve customer services, would it not have been irresponsible of us to continue with the original website plans despite knowing the end result would be far from suitable if the scope had remained unchanged?

Whether people like it or not, we need to make sure that we have a site that is fit for purpose, one that moves with the times and doesn't end up outdated and difficult to use like the current one.

The new website that we'll launch in the next week or two is the start of something which will I believe in time be world-class.

Later this year we'll be launching our citizens' accounts, where the website will provide the front end to services that are truly joined up around individual needs.

I am confident that we are creating a website which is not only what we need now but also has the capability to be what we need it to be for many, many years to come.

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There Are 9 Brilliant Comments

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  1. First of all, thanks for tackling this issue head-on with this posting; and indeed, thanks for having this exemplary website itself.

    You’re absolutely right to reject the use of the word ‘overspend’ in relation to the initial £580k project. But as I hope you will recognise, not all the commentary has been based on that misinterpretation.

    £2.8m is ostensibly a huge amount of money to have spent on ‘a website’, regardless of its scope: and the decision to abandon the initial 6-month, £580k project in favour of a 4-year, £2.8m project has left the city with an ‘outdated’ and ‘obsolete’ website in the meantime.

    Was that the right decision? Will the long term gain have been worth the short term pain, not to mention the cost? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

    But if you did consider, and reject, open source, it would be highly beneficial for the rest of local and central government if you could elaborate on what you considered, and specifically why you rejected it. We may be able to do something about it.

    • KrisK says:

      I’ve spoken to Glyn, and here he addresses the comments made about open source…

      One of the comments in response to my initial blog was why we did not select an open source solution for our Web CMS.

      Open source is something I’ve long advocated. In a previous job I led the team that successfully bid for funds to develop the APLAWS open source content management system (http://www.aplaws.org) and subsequently chaired the programme board that oversaw the initial development. Whilst I’ve been at Birmingham we’ve investigated the potential of an open source desktop and, as part of the Digital Birmingham initiative, packaged up a suite of open source software on CD which was distributed free through our libraries to the public (http://tinyurl.com/ms2o9m).

      As you would expect, then, when we were looking at potential Web CMS solutions we did consider APLAWS alongside a host of proprietary products. And where I differ from some in the open source community is that I don’t think open source products are automatically better than commercially licensed products. And, as much of the cost in any IT project lies in localisation and implementation, are they necessarily cheaper.

      What I do expect is that open source is evaluated on a level playing field alongside commercial products. This is what we did with Web CMS.

      A decision on a software product is made on the best available information at a particular point, and I’m comfortable with the decision we reached at the time.

  2. Neil says:

    I’d like to enquire regarding one points

    “moves with the times and doesn’t end up outdated and difficult to use like the current one.”

    So, I’d be right in thinking that it uses current technology, and publishes things like RSS feeds – which have been around for a while.

  3. Brenda says:

    In what way was open source deemed to be unsuitable, and by whom?

    How can something like a website become ‘world class’ over time, when technologies change so rapidly? Surely the site needs to be um ‘world class’ from the off, and continually updated at the technical end to ensure it remains so. For example, you have ruled out the use of RSS feeds, which are essential in any modern website for a number of reasons, not least readibility. Perhaps the people advising you can tell us what’s so world class about leaving RSS out?

    • geoffc says:

      Thanks for the comments – they will be responded to in due course. But please note, comments containing any form of personal attack will not be published.

  4. Brenda says:

    “ignoring the facts for a good story”

    The facts are that despite a massively increasing budget, the old website is years out of date, your self-styled website manager spends many hours on ‘mindless chatter’ on Twitter, while ignoring any questions about progress and blocking people who ask them.

    I’d call that a story.

  5. Richard Morris says:

    “The new website that we’ll launch in the next week or two is the start of something which will I believe in time be world-class.”

    So, where is it?

  6. KrisK says:

    The latest update from Glyn is as follows:

    “The technical platform for the website has been signed off as ready to go.

    “A huge amount of work has been undertaken to get the new website fit-for-purpose and every effort is being made to finalise key content on the site as soon as we can.

    “However, due to the complexity and scale of the site, which consists of almost 17,000 pages, this is a massive job and we continue to be committed to only launching it when we feel confident that it is in an acceptable condition for our residents to use.

    “We are currently working flat out to remedy any remaining issues and staff from each directorate are viewing their content to refine the way the site looks and feels.

    “We are working to a go-live date of towards the end of next week but will not make any final decision on that until the middle of the week.”

  7. Richard Morris says:

    “However, due to the complexity and scale of the site, which consists of almost 17,000 pages, this is a massive job and we continue to be committed to only launching it when we feel confident that it is in an acceptable condition for our residents to use.”

    You knew this when you made your previous, over-optimistic, statement. “Under promise, over produce”.

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