Monthly Archives: April 2012

Is Drupal CMS the magic bullet for Open Source in UK Local Authorities?

Is Drupal CMS the magic bullet for Open Source in UK Local Authorities?

For the past few months we’ve been working with Drupal -  the Open Source Content Management System (CMS) – for a Local Authority client, implementing an Intranet site. We’ll be saying some more on here about this project in the near future once we’ve got some features and functions to show off.

Drupal is currently up to version 7 and the feature sets have already been locked in for v8 (which is due in the next 12 months). Whilst Drupal 6 is still the more mature version of the CMS we’ve jumped to Drupal 7 because the difference between versions 6 and 7 is quite pronounced, making the upgrade path more convoluted than normal. Upgrade to v8 will be a much smoother transition with v9 already on the drawing board.

As interesting to the maturity in features of the core Drupal CMS is the richness in functionality and usability of the extensions and bolt-ons to the core Drupal system that have been developed by the CMS’ world-wide developer community.

One example of this is the Workbench suite of modules which has dramatically improved how site administrators manage, update, publish and archive content to and from their portfolio of websites and webpages, allowing them to tailor workflows to their editors’ needs and to individual or departmental content management responsibilities. With Workbench user permissions can be configured around internal departmental structures rather than to the structure of websites, making the content management and workflow process much more intuitive and reflective of internal organisational structures. As a result Council Web Teams can devote more time to managing and updating content rather than having to develop Drupal core code in order to make their CMS meet the often challenging internal demands for publishing and updating new and existing content across their organisation. The Workbench suite is a prime example of the kind of user-friendly modularised extension that brings Drupal closer to the corporate-wide Internet and Intranet requirements of Local Authorities.

In the past Council web teams have often lacked the in-house coding skills that are required for developing the Drupal code base in order to meet their web content and functionality requirements and have instead opted for proprietary solutions or have tied themselves into contracts which require a significant financial investment in the time and skills of external consultants and programmers. However, with the advent of modules from the world-wide Drupal development community such as Workbench this Open Source CMS has reached a level of maturity, functionality and usability that can respond to the demands of a corporate-wide implementation in any UK Local Authority.

I’m a customer, get me out of here!

I’m a customer, get me out of here!

Is your website “customer focused”? And what does “customer focused” mean anyway?

Do you often visit a website and end up frustrated at being unable to find the information or the service you need? Even if you find the relevant page is the layout of the page so off-putting you end up more confused than when you first arrived?

Organisations, particularly in the public sector, are being encouraged to deliver more services via the web. Too often organisations build their websites around the internal structures of their organisation forgetting the fact that customers don’t necessarily know who or what department is responsible for the service they’re looking for. 24/7 social media and networking sites and the advent of sophisticated mobile devices has created an ‘on demand’ mentality in the consumer. The simple rule of thumb is that if it’s more than two clicks away from your Home Page you’re not really giving the customer what they want so they’ll go elsewhere.

Customers will be more willing to browse your website and buy other services from you AFTER they’ve found what they’re looking for and not before. If they get what they want at the first time of calling they’ll assume your organisation knows what its doing and will be more likely to come back and use your website again. If your organisation provides an online facility to pay a bill or to apply for a licence then make it obvious on your Home Page that a customer can link to that service directly as soon as they land on your Home Page. Keep the relevant link to the relevant service simple and obvious, using as few words as possible. Don’t lose the customer by burying the link in amongst links to web-pages that are irrelevant.

Design is a very subjective issue when it comes to how a page looks but accessibility and usability can help ensure that your site is customer focussed at an objective level so that even if your design doesn’t please every visitor what your website delivers in terms of functionality and accessibility does and makes your organisation and services indispensible and worth using time and again.

Here’s an example of a website’s Home Page that really puts customers first. (Click here to link to the website; and by the way we had nothing to do with it!). We like the way the Council prioritises the layout of its Home Page with proactive customer pages (i.e. links to pages with services that require customers to input information via the website) at the top of the Home Page, followed by reactive but dynamic customer pages (i.e. links to pages with information that is updated regularly) in the middle and the more reactive and static pages (e.g. links to pages that explain how the Council is structured) at the bottom of the page. The quick jump ‘Popular Tasks’ list is also a good idea. It shows the Council know what customers want from them.

We like the simple instructions: “Apply”, “Pay”. It can’t be much clearer than that and it certainly doesn’t need to be any more complex!

Having a map on the Home Page is a great idea. It tells customers where to go and what services and facilities are near to them without expecting them to have to search for those services on a department by department or a service by service basis. Using interactive mapping is a great way for customers to browse your website to find out more about your organisation and the services it provides while at the same time helping them place themselves at the heart of your services (e.g. by entering their address or postcode).

The more that people use your website to meet their needs the more time they will spend browsing the website which in turn raises the potential for more services to be delivered efficiently and cost-effectively via your website.