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Digital management

In 2015, Better connected investigated for the first time in what goes on behind the scenes in managing councils’ web and digital activity. Those responsible for managing these activities in UK councils were invited to complete a survey covering web and digital governance, strategy and policy, management of content, performance, usage, resources and budgets. Participants are able to view the results and benchmark themselves against similar local authorities. Here we publish headline results for all councils.

The survey received responses from 164 councils (40% of the UK total). The breakdown by type is as follows:

The survey covered a range of key issues including:

  • Where responsibility for the web lies within the council
  • Who receives performance reports
  • The number of websites that each organisation has
  • At what level digital champions operate in the council
  • Whether there is a digital strategy
  • How the organisation's digital commitment is rated
  • Impact of service re-design
  • Involvement of web teams in procurement of third party software and use of standards
  • Devolved content management
  • Which content management systems and forms suppliers are used and how this relates to site performance
  • Impact of initiatives to prune site content
  • Use of visitor surveys and other feedback mechanisms
  • Measurement of channel shift
  • Monitoring of web usage
  • Instances of customer accounts
  • Use of customer profiling and other data to inform digital activity
  • Information about resources and budgets for web/digital activity

Better connected 2015 sets out the results of the web management survey and also assesses the impact of each factor on the quality of the website as measured by Better connected ranking. Surprisingly, the level of resources and budget applied have no clear impact on performance by this measure, with greater resources and budgets not automatically leading to improved quality of the online experience. However the data show that some councils are clearly under-resourced (or under-skilled) and underfunded to do the job that is required. The potential for improvement is summarized by Better connected as follows:

Topic Finding Improvement potential*
Governance
Grade of web manager 23% do not have ‘manager’ in their job title 13%
Focus of web manager 54% have inappropriate focus in their job title 21% to 28%
Responsibility for web 76% seem not to be part of customer service 10%
Reporting line for web 63% have less than ideal reporting lines Up to 37%
Policy and strategy
Digital champion It's good to have the chief executive in this role - others have less impact Up to 16%
Digital strategy 32% do not have a digital strategy or add it into ICT strategy 19%
Procurement of third party services Only 10% involve the web team from the outset 10%
Content management
Web standards 30% now have web standards (eg accessibility, responsive) 21%
Editorial control 17% have nobody with final say over content 16%
CMS Significant variation in BC ranking according to CMS used 32%
Forms systems Significant variation in BC ranking according to forms system used 50%
Pruning of content Pruning seems to make major impact 39%
Performance and usage
Visitor feedback Too many rely on very few (if any) feedback mechanisms 7%
Channel shift measurement 19% do not or have no plans to measure channel shift 28%
My account function 66% do not yet use a ‘My account’ function 9%
Customer profiling 57% do not use customer profiling 18%
Use of data for web design 75% do not always use data to inform design 17%
Resources
User experience 18% have a user experience specialist 18%

*Please see Better connected 2015 for the method of arriving at these figures

Web and digital governance

Job titles

A significant minority (23%) of those managing the corporate website do not have the word ‘manager’ in their job title. Comparison shows that Better connected ranking is 13% higher when the word ‘manager’ is included in the job title. Where the words ‘digital’, ‘communications’, ‘customer service’ and ‘web’ feature in the job title performance is 28% and 21% higher than where ‘online’ or ‘systems’ - terms with a strong technology focus - feature. With the caveat that judging what someone actually does or achieves by their job title is hardly scientific, the analysis does suggest the importance of having a manager firmly in charge, not just an officer reporting to a manager who might not understand web and digital technologies.

Responsibility for the web

Back in the noughties, web development tended to sit with the ICT function. It then moved to communications, as people realized it was about much more than new technology. Later, customer services increasingly got involved as channel shift moved up the agenda. Our survey shows that communications has the biggest share (40%), followed by customer services (24%) and ICT (19%), with ‘mixed’ and ‘other’ accounting for 17%. In terms of Better connected performance, customer service rates 10% higher than communications, which is marginally higher than ICT. As with job titles, mixed arrangements offer the worst option.

Reporting of performance

Perhaps as important as the service which is responsible for the web, is the person who the web team reports to. By far the biggest share (41%) reports to the head of service (ie Tier 3 or below) followed by director of service (ie Tier 2) at 19% and corporate management board (or similar) at 12%. The difference between the best and the worst performance in Better connected, at 37%, is much wider than the difference relating to responsibility for the web. Better than average performers have a reporting line to senior management and the best has a reporting line to the full corporate management team. Reporting lines at Tier 3 or departmental level are less likely to lead to success. Reporting to a committee of elected members seems to be the worst option.

Number of websites

Relatively few councils have just one site (12%). 35% have between two and five sites, and 30% have over 20 sites, including one council with over 100. Intuitively, large numbers should have a negative impact on consistency, branding, resources and overall efficiency. However, the data shows no discernible impact on the quality of the online experience associated with the main corporate website.

Strategy and policy

Digital champions

Respondents were asked to indicate the digital champions in their organisation. The numbers are evenly spread across our categories of chief digital officer, corporate director, elected member, head of digital (service), and chief executive, with the exception of the chief digital officer, where there were many fewer. Based on Better connected ranking, The chief executive as digital champion appears to work best of all, 16% better than the chief digital officer (whose job is presumably about promoting digital delivery) and 13% better than a corporate director. There is some evidence that having more than one senior champion can be effective.

Digital strategy

In 18% of cases, organisations have a digital strategy and, in another 44%, this is part of a broader strategy such as customer service or ICT. 22% are developing one, but 27 councils (17%) do not have a digital strategy. In terms of Better connected results, having a digital strategy is associated with a 19% higher level of quality than not having one. Including it as part of a broader strategy fits between these groups, except where it is part of an ICT strategy, which appears to be a little worse than not having one at all.

Organisational commitment

Respondents were invited to rate their organisation's overall level of commitment to digital on a scale of 0 (none) to 5 (completely). 38% rated their organisation’s commitment as 3 and another 34% as 4. Only 21 (13%) were rated 5, while 25 (15%) were given 0, 1 or 2. When related to performance in Better connected, those rated as 5 are 39% better than those rated 1.

Service re-design

Respondents were asked if their organisation had re-designed any services from first principles to take advantage of digital technologies and if yes, to list up to three services that had been redesigned. Only 42% responded with ‘yes’, with half of them naming three examples. The impact of these redesigns on the quality of the online experience as measured by Better connected shows this to be small, but this is no surprise. Re-designing services is a long-term programme that might take several years to see through to the end, even for the major high-volume services. Additionally, Better connected focuses primarily on the front end of processes and it is possible, indeed very common, to have a high-quality online experience supported by an indifferent back office process.

Procurement of third party software

Third party software (eg library systems, planning applications) are probably the biggest barrier to a quality online experience. The business objective may be delivered in terms of the application, but Better connected has repeatedly found the online experience to be poor, or that the application is poorly integrated by the web team. The root cause is likely to be lack of involvement by the web team in the procurement by heads of service, so the survey asked about procurement policy. 10% are always involved, but 8% are not even informed until the software is implemented. In 43% of cases, the web team is ‘sometimes involved from the outset’. The best performance in Better connected (10% above average) is associated with being ‘usually consulted but after the specification has been issued’. This leads to a 30% better result than being informed after the event.

Standards

Respondents were asked if the organisation developed standards (eg accessibility, responsive), including in any specification of third party software to be used on the web for supporting service delivery. 40% had, 26% were developing them, 30% did not and 4% did not know. On average, those with standards have a 21% higher assessment in Better connected than those that do not, with those developing them fitting in between.

Management of content

Devolved content management

Respondents were asked how many people write or edit web content outside the corporate web team. More than two-thirds indicated that ten or more people either write or edit content. Around 10% rely on just one, two or three people. Comparing this with Better connected results, there is no evidence that relying on just one or two content authors results in a better quality website. Respondents were also asked about the number of full-time equivalents (FTEs) involved in writing or editing content across the council. The optimum number of FTEs appears to lie between five and ten. This result is ambiguous in terms of longstanding advice from Better connected (and the Government Digital Service), which favours the use of specialist writers for the web, rather than devolving content management to non-specialists.

Final say over quality of online experience

Responses indicate that the web manager (45% of cases) most usually has final say, but in 17% of cases, no one does. Where there is such a person (83% of cases), then the Better connected assessment of the online experience is 16% better than if there is not.

Content management systems

The market for content management systems (CMS) is very fragmented, with a wide choice available. According to our sample, market leaders are Goss (15%), Jadu (13%) and in-house systems (11%), with the most common open source systems being Drupal (6%) and Umbraco (6%). In terms of results in Better connected, sites using Easysite and Contensis (7% with 11 councils) do well, and there is also a difference of 12% between the two commercial market leaders (Jadu and Goss). The worst results in terms of performance are from the three sites that do not have any CMS.

Insert chart 7.16a and 7.16b

Forms systems

This market is also very fragmented market. Leaders are Firmstep with Achieve Forms (27%) and in-house solutions (17%) followed by Ebase, Goss and Jadu each with 8%. Measuring the quality of the online Experience, there is a difference of 50% between the best (Ebase) and the worst (Northgate). In-house solutions also come out poorly.

Insert chart 7.17a and 7.17b

Pruning of content

There is a trend (encouraged by Better connected and the Government Digital Service) to reduce uneccessary website content. On this topic, 15% of respondents had completed a major pruning before 2013 and 49% had done so in 2013 and 2014. A further 35% had plans to carry out a major pruning during 2015. There is a clear difference of 39% in the Better connected assessment between those who pruned content before 2013 and those planning to do so in 2015, although the picture is less clear for sites which pruned in 2013 and 2014.

Performance and usage

Visitor feedback mechanisms

Respondents were asked about how they get feedback about the visitor experience.

Chart 7.19a Visitor feedback mechanisms

Chart 7.19b Impact of visitor feedback mechanisms

Chart 7.19c Impact of number of mechanisms used

Around half of all councils responding use a visitor survey at the end of the visit (Socitm’s own version and in-house alternatives) and 41% some sort of ‘rate this page’ mechanism. When related to Better connected performance, the visitor feedback survey comes out as the most effective – 22% more so than ‘Rate this page’, which comes out lowest, and 13% better than having no feedback mechanism. Use of several feedback mechanisms appears to deliver a marginal improvement in the quality of the online experience.

Measurement of channel shift

42% of councils responding say they measure channel shift already and another 39% plan to start within the next 12 months. Of the rest, 9% do not and the remaining 10% do not know if they do. However, only 26% of respondents know what percentage of all transactions (by volume) are actually carried out online. Respondents were also asked to state take up for five common transactions and for up to another five transactions. Figures were:

Transaction Councils responding Takeup
Pay council tax 21 19%
Pay parking fines 16 43%
Renew library items 9 36%
Report missed bins 17 24%
Apply for school place 19 72%

Other transactions specified by respondents reflect the wide range of council services. The replies to these three questions about channel shift indicate that its measurement is not yet a well-embedded practice. Only a quarter of councils can supply transactions data and only half of those could indicate online take-up of five common transactions, with even fewer able to offer data for alternative transactions. Those councils that measure channel shift do 28% better in Better connected compared with those that do not, suggesting that where measurement is in place, it may stimulate web teams to improve the customer experience of self-service.

Monitoring web usage

Respondents were asked how they monitor use of their website. As it is free, useful and well respected it's surprising that 40% of councils do not use Google Analytics. The main alternatives were Siteimprove (24%) and Sitemorse (8%) with about ten other products in use, each by just one or two councils.

Chart 7.23a Monitoring web usage

Use of ‘My account’

These facilities enable customers to register with the council to complete transactions and sign up for regular alerts (eg jobs, planning). We asked if such a facility exists now or is planned in 2015.

Chart 7.24a Use of ‘My account’

34% have such a facility, 30% do not and 36% plan to introduce one in 2015. This tallies with data from our digital engagement survey that found 33% of councils to have an account available. In terms of take up of these accounts, only eleven councils (30%) have a take-up by households higher than 10%; another 13 councils (35%) have a takeup between 5% and 10% and the rest have less than 5%. The highest takeup reported is 56%, by a London borough.

With regard to performance in Better connected, councils that have a ‘My account’ facility or plan to do so in 2015 are ahead by 9% of those that do not.

Customer profiling

This activitiy allows councils to become more sophisticated in understanding customer behaviour. 43% of councils use customer profiling via Mosaic (from Experian) or an equivalent. This contrasts with 29% who do not and with another 27% who do not know if they do. On average, those who use Mosaic are likely to have an 18% higher quality of online experience than those who use no customer profiling, according to Better connected results.

Use of data for website design

Nearly two-thirds of respondents stated that they sometimes use data to make decisions; most of the rest claim that all their decisions are data-driven, leaving 18 councils (12%) who rarely use data to make decisions, or not at all. Those who always use data perform 17% better than those who rarely do, according to Better connected. The majority who sometimes use data come in the middle between these two points.

Chart 7.26a Use of data for website design

Resources and budgets

Staffing

Respondents were asked to share the number of full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) who are involved with web development, according to a certain classification of skills, and whether they are available in-house and from outsourced services.

Resources summary by type of council FTEs

Council type FTEs
County council 10.41
Shire district 3.12
London borough 6.30
Metropolitan district 10.10
Unitary (England) 5.34
Unitary (Wales) 4.78
Unitary (Scotland) 4.95

Chart 7.26a Use of data for website design

Comparing resources with the Better connected assessments, there is a difference of 36% between the resources supporting four star sites and those supporting one star sites. However, the resourcing for two and three star sites does not fit into this pattern, with two star sites having on average 0.60 FTE more than three star sites.

The Better connected report 2015 (add link) provides for each type of council a resource profile of the typical council and a resource summary by Better connected ranking. The resource profile shows the FTEs for each of seven categories of skill plus a total of outsourced specialists.

Budgets

Respondents were asked to share their web budget information for 2014-15 covering four elements of direct costs, including all outsourcing costs (overheads being deemed too complicated to collect). To normalise the data, we compare budgets as a percentage of the net current expenditure of the council as a whole (figures provided by CIPFA).

Type of council Budget 2014/15 % net current expenditure No councils % total
County council 334,012 0.13% 7 26%
Shire district 81,322 0.16% 39 19%
London Borough 226,905 0.05% 10 30%
Metropolitan district 305,687 0.04% 10 28%
Unitary (England) 209,901 0.06% 20 36%
Unitary (Scotland) 119.856 0.03% 15 47%
Unitary (Wales) 132,453 0.04% 10 30%

Comparison of budgets with the quality of the online experience as measured by Better connected stars shows no correlation between budgets and quality of work.

 

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