Category: Uncategorised

It’s a bit hush hush at the moment, but…

It’s a bit hush hush at the moment, but…

We’ve recently been awarded a contract by an English Local Authority to deliver their new corporate website and internal intranet using the Drupal development platform. The project will start in June 2012.

The project will be the first delivered from the Anywhere Council template.

More soon as soon we’re allowed to say more about it!

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.

November 2011: Bolsover choose our e-Consultation service

By: admin

November 2011: Bolsover choose our e-Consultation service

Bolsover District Council has opted for our e-Consultation service in support of their Local Development Framework

The e-Consultation system will be used for Site Specific and Area Based Allocations and DPDs and will replace the Council’s in-house system. Having a dedicated e-Consultation service has been proven to provide significant financial savings to Councils by freeing up time and resources through the use and application of dedicated software tools that render the consultation process less labour intensive and more efficient. Software as a Service delivers further savings by negating the need to configure and maintain the software in-house, allowing the Council to concentrate on delivering its services to the public. Everything is delivered through a standard web browser.

One of the Council’s key aims is to strengthen the way it engages with local people, to provide them with the opportunity and the means to contribute directly to shaping where they live. The Web offers an ideal platform upon which Bolsover Council can make their planning process more accessible, more open and more transparent. Our ongoing customer support services will help the Council in their efforts to deliver a successful LDF programme right through to Inspector stage whilst ensuring that the online public engagement process ensures they meet e-planning best practice targets.

October: Corporate Web Mapping for Pendle Borough Council

October: Corporate Web Mapping for Pendle Borough Council

Pendle Borough Council has chosen Blue Fox Technology to deliver a corporate web mapping solution that will save time and taxpayer money and will significantly improve how the Council engages with local residents via the Web.

The ambitious corporate web mapping project covers key areas such as the Local Plan, planning applications and decisions, and location-based services such as problem reporting and ‘Where’s My Nearest?’.

Web mapping has been identified by Pendle as a critical component in its strategy to improve public access via the Internet and, by doing so, drive down costs and deliver important services tailored to the needs of the user.  Once implemented the corporate web mapping system will help local residents easily find and locate key information, policies and decisions based on where they live or work simply by typing in their address or postcode. The web mapping applications implemented will also be accessible via mobile devices making the communication process even more convenient to users than ever before.

Integral to the improvements to public engagement via the Internet is the way the web mapping will integrate with existing back office systems in order to ensure that mapping and data can be updated as quickly and efficiently as possible without the Council having to invest in any new software of hardware.

Blue Fox Technology’s experience and knowledge in database management and G.I.S in conjunction with its web development services has meant that all the web mapping applications will be supported by administration and content management systems that can be operated by both technical and non-technical officers and can be accessed 24/7 from any computer in any Council office or building.

Does Your GIS data need a Road Test?

Does Your GIS data need a Road Test?

Is your GIS data fit for purpose?

Can you

Increasingly these users understand and acknowledge how maps and data can help them meet business requirements and project objectives. As they devote more time and effort to implementing web applications in their day-to-day activities their expectation levels are rising about the relative and comparative quality and accuracy of the data that they access and interact with. They are not only users but also stakeholders who make a substantial investment in the data by relying upon it as resource. As a result they expect and demand that “their data” is fit for their purposes.

Such demands place great pressure on data custodians and GIS managers. They have to ensure that data that perhaps was previously only accessed via a GIS on an internal IT network can also be accessed across many other software platforms and data channels, including the Web. Where GIS data was previously viewed as a back office resource it is now identified as a vital asset in support of front-line information management, communication and decision-making to be accessed by multiple user groups, both internal and external to the organisation.

For data custodians the challenge is to ensure that GIS data is fit for these multiple purposes and stakeholders and remain so.

This is where Blue Fox Technology can help.

We can provide an objective assessment of your GIS data

Our development and production team has 65 years combined experience in capturing, geo-referencing, structuring and publishing GIS data and mapping of which 20 of those years have been devoted to publishing GIS data on the Web for our clients. That experience has taught us time and again that the main issue delaying a project or increasing a project’s costs is the quality and accuracy of the source data from which the project deliverables are to be derived.

The type of data problem and the reasons for why it has arisen vary considerably, particularly where data is extracted from 3rd party proprietary systems or from legacy systems that are poor at supporting extended access and integration. In the push to improve ICT infrastructures and software capabilities within organisations the data itself is often overlooked, resulting in a new set of problems that are often more difficult to identify because the source data is no longer stored in the system where it was originally created and maintained. 

At Blue Fox Technology we use a number of GIS and other mapping software to support our cartographic and GIS services and web application developments. We have to be prepared and ready to import geospatial data from any software or operating system and have therefore developed additional applications and semi-automated routines to help us analyse and cleanse data to ensure it is fit for its intended purpose. A primary aim in the way we use GIS software is to quality control client data so that it is sufficiently accurate and open in structure to be utilised online to meet the functional requirements of its target web application.

In using open source technologies to develop our web publishing software and content management systems we have to take account of the proprietary systems and software from which maps and data are being derived. That is why open standards are so important in our work, they ensure that data quality, structure and content remain consistently accurate and accessible.

Take your data for a Test Drive

Against this backdrop of knowledge and experience we are offering a new service.We’re offering to give your GIS data a Road Test, to undertake a series of quality control processes to analyse its content and structure and accuracy. We will import your data and interact with it and undertake real-time practical tests in GIS, web applications and other software to help you identify what amendments and improvements can be made to your data to ensure it can deliver the products and outcomes you and your projects require, both now and in the future. 

We will produce a report that explains what tests have been undertaken as well as outlining their results alongside a series of recommendations about what corrections and improvements can to be made to bring your data up to the required standards. These tests will include subjecting your data to interaction and functions provided in other software products and applications that are indicative of the types of projects and end products in which such mapping and data are typically implemented.

With the service we’re not trying to sell you a system or recommend alternative software to what you already have. That’s losing sight of the issues that the service is designed to help you identify and overcome. We’re simply helping you to add real and quantifiable value to your data so that you can confidently deploy it as and when you need to without fear of compromising yourself, your data or the project for which it is required.

If your data is fit for purpose it will allow you to make better judgements and decisions about how your investment in that data to date can deliver real value for money to users and stakeholders.

If you would like more details and prices for the Road Test service please contact us via the feedback form.

Opus3 – Drawing Tools

Opus3 – Drawing Tools

Opus3’s interactive mapping client includes customisable drawing tools for drawing points, line and polygons over your map. The drawing tools can be customised and categorised based on your own criteria for data capture. All captured data is stored in the Opus3 relational database and can be exported from the Opus3 CMS as XML, MapInfo TAB or ESRI Shape file. In addition an image file of the map with the drawn features can be generated by the User and sent as an email attachment if required.