Headlines: April 7th, 2011

Councils should look more urgently at developing cost-saving self-service models of delivery as they search for ways to cut expenditure. This is a key finding from the Society of IT Management in its report Annual Report ‘Better Websites’.

Although the current budgetary crisis means that more and more organisations are realising the importance of self-service, few councils are vigorously pursuing the opportunity.

Form design, needed to enable customers to access many services, is a key area in which the report 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 report recognizes the progress that is being made in sharing between councils. 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 the report are still unable to provide one. The report points out the opportunity to use Local Directgov as a means to maintain links automatically in the event of major or minor changes.

The report 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 report, 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, libraries, leisure facilities, planning, housing, and council tax.