Digital – the next frontier?

It all feels a bit like Star Trek’s famous split infinitive but we now need to push on into new digital territories!

We have successfully built the digital foundations that can deliver transformation across the Council – a new, vastly improved website, redesigned microsites, a refreshed schools portal and implemented a social media strategy. A beta version of our new intranet is also being built and should go live in the next few weeks. So what is the next frontier?

While we have undoubtedly improved the customer experience, regained control and visibility of our social media and established a solid platform, we have still not fully delivered the much-heralded savings that are often attached to digital transformation.

This is a point in the development that many others have reached; it is also a point that many get stuck due to the different challenges the next phase brings.

What makes me hopeful that we will make the necessary progress is the fact that all the achievements to date have been delivered by an excellent in-house digital team that we have built that has worked closely with ICT and Customer Service teams. If we had gone external in terms of delivery, I don’t think we would have developed the skills, knowledge or relationships that would all us to get us to the next level.

That said, while all the existing skills remain relevant and needed, I think that the next phase will also involve a different set of skills. This is because we will now need to push into territory that is normally fiercely protected – the area of service redesign. Anyone who has ever worked in local authorities will know that this is a step not taken lightly but there is no choice if we are to start seeing the true potential of digital. It is not about putting the existing process online, nor is it about optimising the current process and then putting it online. It is about designing a journey from scratch with a digital mind-set from the outset. That is not to say that offline elements of the journey don’t need to be considered – they absolutely do, but they can’t be the driving force. Also an offline option needs to be integrated into any design to make sure that those unable to use the online solution are not left behind.

The culture and management structure means that to get into this area – the heart of the Council – will take political manoeuvring, the leveraging of influence, keen project management skills and a dollop of luck for good measure. Oh, and if I am going to continue the Star Trek theme, a fully loaded space-age taser set to stun!

Taking this blog back to reality, I am fortunate enough to have a place on our Corporate Leadership Team which provides the perfect platform to help navigate through the many challenges and natural resistance. Anyone setting out on a Phase II digital project that involves going into service areas will need a sponsor at the highest level – preferably the Chief Executive – if they are going to succeed.

We are identifying all of those customer journeys that would deliver savings by being optimised for a self-service, online delivery. This will often mean replacing a labour intensive process with an automated process. It will meet resistance. (Note to Editor: resist using the Star Trek phrase “resistance is futile”) The first journeys are likely to be the most difficult. Early wins will be critical.

Where’s Captain Kirk when you need him!

Posted by Martin Done, Communications and Marketing Director

What are words worth?

Those of a certain age may recall the song ‘Wordy Rappinghood’ by American new wave band Tom Tom Club. Although I’ve defined Tom Tom Club as new wave, the track itself was less genre specific, challenging the perceptions of its early ’80’s audience with a heavy rap and funky disco influence.

Lyrically it also presents a challenge, especially if you overlook the rhyme and dexterity of Tina Weymouth’s vocal and actually begin to think about what she’s saying:
“What are words worth?” is the oft-repeated refrain. As a line in a song it’s easily overlooked but taken in context with the rest of the lyric and given some real thought you’re left thinking, well, what are words worth? What are words really worth?

It’s a question we in the digital team at Nottinghamshire County Council are continually asking ourselves as we develop content in the new website and it’s a thought process that, as I found the other day, can get the grey cells ticking over at the most unexpected of times.

Out for a lunchtime walk in the sunshine, I passed a cake shop (yes, colleagues, you read that right, I passed a cake shop!) with a small notice pinned in the window ‘Back in 30 minutes. Out on a delivery.’

My immediate thought was that the two sentences were the wrong way round. In my head the natural order began with the ‘where’ rather than the ‘when.’ But my digitised self then took over and quickly rationalised the thought process. What is it that the consumer (user) wants to know? The shop is closed, so what is most important to them? Is it the fact that the owner is out on a delivery, or is it the knowledge that the shop will be open again in 30 minutes?

Leaving aside for the moment the fact that the proprietor’s efforts to be helpful where immediately undone by the lack of an indicated start time to the 30 minute timeframe, the realisation was that the wording on the note, or in this case, more specifically, the order of the wording, was correct. Had I been visiting the shop, I would have wanted to know when it was reopening. I didn’t really care why it was closed. So, the order was right, but the ‘Missing words’ (“It just don’t make sense, the way you did the things you did” – there I go again, showing my age with musical references from my childhood) meant that unfortunately the shop ultimately failed its user test.

And it’s that way of thinking we’re continually engaged in as we review and rewrite content. We’re questioning each and every word, the way in which the words are phrased, the order in which they’re written, what’s needed and what’s not, all with the ultimate aim of enhancing the user experience and making the site as easy to use as possible. Is there a value to using the word? Is it the right word? Does including it make the overall content easier to understand?

“Hurried words, sensible words, words that tell the truth, cursed words, lying words, words that are missing the fruit of the mind”, sings Ms Weymouth (in French – more creativity in word usage!) as the song continues to provide the English semantics students amongst us with much to ponder.

Our aim at Nottinghamshire County Council is to build a website which provides that fruit and feeds the mind, leaving the user with a nutritional experience. That, to us, is what words are worth.

Posted by Andy Lowe, Senior Digital Officer.

Blueprint on a page

BlueprintCommunicating large-scale, complex and cross-Council projects in a simple and easy-to-understand way is, as we all know, challenging.

That is why we have “borrowed” a concept that we particularly liked that is being used by the New Zealand government (opens a PDF). It’s called “Blueprint on a Page” and uses a mixture of graphics and words to communicate what the mission, vision, activity and, most importantly, the difference it will make to all the customers and stakeholders.

This focus on outcomes along with the timescales hopefully makes it easy for anyone, no matter what their knowledge of the subject, to quickly grasp what it is all about.

Also, the process of getting it down on a page challenges the project owner’s own understanding of what will be delivered and by when, which is often not a bad thing in itself.

Alongside the Blueprint we’re working on our Site Ethos which will give more clarity and talk about the why of our content, design and technology for The Ethos is another idea inspired by the work of others – in this case Kevin Jump who explains the value of creating an Ethos on his blog here. We’ll post our version here soon.

Anyway, the idea is that the Blueprint does the talking – so it is over to you, let us know what you think (leave a comment or send us your thoughts using this form). If it is a concept that works, we will try and roll it out for other projects in the near future.

You can open or download a copy from the link at the bottom or click on the image to see a bigger version.

Open and download a PDF of our Blueprint on a Page.

Posted by Martin Done, Service Director Communications and Marketing.

Taking a content inventory

In order to plan the steps we need to take toward building new online services for we need to know what we already have, where it’s coming from and who’s using it at the moment. This means one of the first tasks we’ve turned our attention to is a content inventory of the current website.

This isn’t a small undertaking – the current website is a hefty 25,000 pages and draws content from or provides a gateway to a number of online systems (both in-house developed and managed web apps and third party systems). We need to know what’s there, where it’s coming from, who’s looking at it and how it fits with access through other channels.

As Kristina Halvorson explains (in her book Content Strategy for the Web),

If you don’t know what content you have now, you can’t make smart decisions about what needs to happen next.

The first stage of this is a content inventory or audit – an Excel spreadsheet which captures all of this information.

What did we do?

Carrying out the audit has been a whole team effort. Digital officers have moved through the current website and captured the structure and some basic data about each page or link. They’ve added to this web stats about each page – how many visitors it’s had in the last 12 months, how many of those were using non-desktop devices and what percentage of the total is internal traffic.

Around this extra information has been supplied by colleagues in IT about where the content currently lives (much of it is in our content management system but some is not) and from Customer Insight we can begin to build a picture of contact about specific services through other channels (and know where additional content to enable this is stored, for example in a customer relationship management system).

What have we found out?

We now have a detailed map of our current content and a high level view of how its being used.

We’ve confirmed some things we already knew – which areas of the site are popular, how big the site has grown and the many means of navigating the site can lead to some dead ends or multiple routes to content.

By capturing information on which bits of our site are aimed at specialist audiences, and match this with information on origin of visitors and contact through other channels we’re beginning to understand which content we might want to handle or locate differently as we move toward a new

We’ve also been able to see ‘hot spots’ on the site where the majority of visits are coming from non-desktop devices (such as smartphones and tablets). We knew that overall traffic from these devices accounted for around 58% of visits, and that our current site isn’t responsive so was probably offering a pretty poor experience for them. What we’ve seen through looking closely while carrying out the audit is that some pages have up to 80-90% from non-desktop devices. This information will help to focus research, design and testing on the new website.

What will we do next?

We’ll be using the content inventory as a base document from which we’ll be taking information to carry out specific tasks (such as doing card sorting and other exercises to inform the structure of but we’ll also be expanding it so we know more about the content.

While most of the current inventory is quantitative we’ll be expanding the qualitative side – analysing the effectivness as well as the accuracy and currency of the content we have. Much of this will be done as we rebuild services or areas of content for the new site but capturing it, and then building audit into our ongoing process of managing the new digital services, will help us make informed and achievable recommendations about the online services we provide. 

(Posted by Sarah Lay, Senior Digital Officer)