Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Does your department adequately manage your website?

As a former and current business owner I'm constantly considering and reflecting on our numbers regarding how well my agency's online channel is performing. My goal is to maintain an ongoing awareness of our performance and why we're performing in that manner.

To that end my agency has multiple web reporting systems in place and I use them regularly - given that I've been measuring websites now for over ten years and have a good feel for valid and invalid web metrics.

For me measurement leads to effective management. Without the information from measurement over time I cannot make good decisions regarding our online channel, provide expert advise to senior decision-makers, advocate for appropriate development of the channel or prioritise the content updates that are most importance to our audience.

However this doesn't appear to be the experience for all website managers across the Federal public service.

Per a report in the Canberra Times, the Commonwealth Auditor-General says many Federal Government agencies inadequately manage their websites, are unaware what they cost to run, and risk providing the public with outdated or inaccurate information.

The ANAO report, available as a PDF at Government Agencies' Management of their Websites was published on 16 December and involved a survey of 40 federal agencies, followed by an audit of five.

It found that agencies were increasingly relying on websites to provide information and services to the public and that,
This increased reliance by agencies on websites to provide information and services, brings with it a greater need for agencies to have sound approaches to manage their sites. Poorly managed websites not only increase the risk that information and services are not provided to website users at reasonable cost to government, but can have adverse impacts on other service channels such as extra work loads for call centres and inquiry outlets.
It also commented that,
All of the audited agencies monitored website user activity and satisfaction. However, none of the audited agencies reported specifically on how their websites were meeting their respective purposes and how they were contributing to agency business goals. Also, most agencies had little information on the costs of operating and maintaining their websites. Agencies with websites that pose significant risks to service delivery or that have multiple websites would benefit from an improved understanding of their website user activity, performance, and cost information.

In the forty agencies surveyed, only six maintained firm website cost data - meaning that the other 34 did not have a clear idea how much their online channel cost relative to other channels.

In another case the ANAO reported that one agency simply provided raw weekly hit data to management as a performance tracking tool, with no explanation of what 'hits' meant, nor what a good or bad outcome would be.

The ANAO followed up with four recommendations for agencies,
  • develop a clearly stated purpose for each website;
  • strengthen agency decision making through improved risk management;
  • review content management processes and practices; and
  • strengthen performance monitoring and reporting.

I agree with all of these recommendations. They're an important basis for the management of any type of channel, program, project or product - and a website is certainly no exception.

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