SOCITM (Society of Information Technology Management)
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With cuts in public sector spending looming, councils must take a fresh look at how the web and self-service can deliver more for less says Socitm Insight briefing

With future council spending cuts being widely predicted following the budget, local authorities are being urged by Socitm Insight to take a fresh look at their websites and their potential for delivering more for less.


The message of Learning from Better connected 2009, a new briefing based on research published in Socitm’s annual report on council websites, is that customer self-service must move sharply up the agenda if councils are to meet future demand for services against a background of static or falling budgets. This advice is based on the fact that self-service is considerably cheaper for the council and, according to other research, very popular with council customers.


However, the briefing highlights the fact that, according to data from the Socitm Insight Website takeup service, failure rates for council web enquiries are high, running, even in the more web-savvy councils, at between 10 and 40 per cent. That means that many web enquiries simply reappear at the council as more costly phone or face to face enquiries, so that the web ends up being a source of wasteful ‘avoidable contact’ rather than what it should be, which is a means of reduced ‘cost-to-serve’.


For most councils, turning this situation around means major changes in thinking, culture, and practice around web governance, management and delivery, and the briefing covers in some detail the strategic blueprint developed by Socitm Insight for this new approach. Key points from the blueprint include the following:


. Governance: the website needs to be managed as a corporate asset, driven by a strategy reflecting corporate and service objectives, owned by top managers, and setting out clear priorities for the site


. Channel management: phone, web and other channels need to be managed in an integrated way, with information collected about take-up, satisfaction and costs for all access channels used for channel management and to examine potential for moving more customers to ‘self service’.


. Community engagement: web 2.0 tools and techniques should be exploited to make web communications properly interactive


. Structure: there must be fresh thinking about where the web team sits within the corporate structure, and this must facilitate close co-operation with customer services and active input from the corporate policy function. Web manager and contact centre manager must communicate regularly about patterns and frequently of customer enquiries and the website must meet the needs of contact centre staff answering phone or face to face enquiries.


. Web team focus: web teams must complement technical and design skills with marketing and service understanding so that they can focus on customer needs


. Service manager engagement: all managers of front-line services must develop a web focus, taking into account the fact that the web is now the most used channel for council services. In a ideal world they would be pressing the web team for ways of improving frontline services


. Content management: councils must overcome the tendency to keep adding to the website’s base of information, and close attention must be paid to the quality of anything put up


. Website testing: the focus should be on key tasks and testing should cover the whole customer journey to ensure customers can complete what they came to the website to do



The rest of Learning from Better connected sets out the main findings of Better connected 2009, including the top 20 council websites and the best non-council sites reviewed (a mix of central and regional departments and agencies, emergency services, social housing providers and voluntary sector).



The briefing also uses the results of the survey to explain all the standards that must be achieved by a website for Better connected to consider it in a ‘useful’ website, and to set out the extent to which, currently, councils are achieving these criteria. The same approach is used to report on ‘what is a ‘usable’ website?’ and information is also included. about how well used council websites are.



A ‘live’ version of Learning from Better connected 2009 will be held as a one day conference on 19 may in Birmingham. Details are available at: https://www.socitm.gov.uk/socitm/Events/Learning+from+Better+connected+2009+conference.htm 

Learning from Better connected 2009 is available free of charge to Socitm Insight subscribers and can be downloaded now from the Socitm website. Non-subscribers can buy a printed version of the briefing at a cost of £50 (£40 for Socitm members whose organisations do not subscribe). It can be ordered from www.socitm.gov.uk 



Further information



Further information about Learning from Better connected 2009 and press copies of the briefing in pdf format are available on request.



Vicky Sargent, Socitm Press Office

Tel: 07726 601 139 email: vicky.sargent@socitm.gov.uk 



Martin Greenwood, Programme Manager, Socitm Insight

Tel: 01926 498703 or 07967 383755 e-mail: martin.greenwood@socitm.gov.uk 

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