June 19th, 2003
The redesigned Utah.gov portal has recently been launched. I must say this is a major improvement, especially in terms of usability. The old portal home page suffered from information overload and the new home page is much more concise. I especially like the live 24/7 help that allows you to chat with a live person and ask questions. I didn’t try it out, but if the right resources are behind it, I can see it being a very useful tool.
I’d like to see the state agencies incorporate their own websites into the look and feel of the portal rather than just use the global navigation bar across the top of their sites. This would project a more unified identity. I understand they are currently using (or are looking into using) Interwoven’s Teamsite as their content management system, which would facilitate such a gigantic task.
I checked the 508 compliance of the home page and it appears that there are only a couple minor fixes that would need to be made and the site would be compliant with the US Government Section 508 Guidelines.
All in all I think the new portal looks and works great. Congratulations to the team behind it.
May 9th, 2003
As I recently mentioned, I syndicated the news and the upcoming events on the Spanish Fork Website. I placed two semi-standard orange XML buttons (in each of these sections on the homepage) which linked to their respective RSS feeds.
This morning I received some negative reaction to this from some people at Spanish Fork City. The problem as they related it was, “What is this orange XML button for? All I get is jibberish when I click on it”. Now when I decided to provide these RSS feeds I didn’t run it past these people because I just figured that they would think it was so cool to provide this sort of service. It didn’t occur to me that I would get a negative reaction over it.
This caused a moment of clarity for me, that (in my utter geekdom) I realized that I was in the vast minority when it comes to understanding the value of RSS. Although RSS has been around for some time now, it is still largely underused. Even I had never really used it until I started this weblog and Trillian Pro came out with an RSS Viewer plug-in.
We came to a compromise that instead of the XML button, I would provide a small link at the bottom of the news and events sections called “Syndication”. There I would briefly explain the concept of syndication and provide links to all of the feeds. This would have probably been the appropriate way to do it in the first place.
So the lesson I have for those wanting to provide RSS feeds is to remember that the driver behind wanting to provide these feeds is probably because you understand the concept and see the value of RSS. This fact makes you a very, very small percentage of the population of your users…especially for a government site. So make sure to educate your users in the process of providing these feeds.
May 6th, 2003
The new Spanish Fork City website was launched last Friday without problem. There are still a few things I would like to tweak, but they were non show-stoppers. The new site was mostly a re-architecting job to serve as a base for new eGov applications.
Here are a list of some the new features:
- Dynamic “skinning” system: allows the look of the site to change throughout by switching to a different skin.
- Web-based control panel: Allows even the most non-technical user update things like news, events, etc.
- Yard Sale application: The city wanted to cut down on the amount of signs that were being posted for yard sales, so now people can submit their yard sales online to be approved for posting on the website.
- More powerful forum: The forum software was upgraded to a more robust PHPBB system.
- Dynamic site index: The site index is dynamically generated ensuring that links are always up to date.
- Integrated search engine: Originally we were just going to use MyComputer.com’s search engine, but there were limitations and problems with that so I decided to use PHPDig, a small and fast site search engine that is highly customizable.
- More usable global navigation: Through the top menu, nearly the entire site is categorized and is easily navigable from any page. A standard side navigation is available for linking to relative sub-content.
Overall I am pretty satisfied with the way the site turned out. One thing I regret now though is not using an open source CMS like Plone. There are many features that a CMS provides out-of-box that I had to build myself.
March 11th, 2003
There is an interesting article in TechRepublic entitled “Creating a business case for a government IT project”.
The article listed 10 key questions to ask when considering the implementation of an eGov project.
In most circumstances, the decision to proceed with an IT project will depend on a “business case” that is presented to senior decision makers (elected or otherwise). Since few new government programs have an explicit ROI, decisions to create a new program are almost always calculated in a political context. In a political context, key questions include:
- What problem exists that must be solved?
- What people/stakeholders (how many constituents) does this problem affect?
- What solutions are available to solve this problem?
- What are the benefits of each solution?
- What is the relative cost of each solution?
- What stakeholders are affected by the intended solution?
- Are stakeholders willing to pay for this solution or must government fund it?
- Can other fund sources be used?
- How can these stakeholders affect my political future?
- If we pay to solve this problem, what other problem goes unsolved?
The article goes on to identify what variables are used in measuring operational efficiency, constituent value, and political return. It is a definite “must read” for anyone involved in implenting eGov systems.
March 3rd, 2003
I have been searching high and low for a free content managment system/framework. I have played with all of the nuke type CMSes and some built on the Cocoon framework, but none that have I looked at so far have been as good as Plone. I discovered Plone, which is built on top of the Zope application server and Content Management Framework (CMF). I have been thoroughly impressed with its out-of-the-box capability, usability, and most of all extendability.
February 20th, 2003
In my class “Strategic Use of Information Systems” we read and analyzed a case study about the Singaporean Government’s implementation of their National Information Infrastructure. Singapore’s NII was defined as a “common electronic platform for efficient delivery of information and services” and consisted of three core components–conduit, content, and compute. Each component under the purview of several government agencies and involved many players in the public and private sectors. Conceived in 1992, the NII has been the foundation for Singapore to attain the status of a “developed nation” by 1996. Originally it was thought that this economic status would not be attained until 2020.
February 12th, 2003
There are very few local governments that use branding effectively. And I’m not just speaking about their websites. Why is it so hard to use the same logo, color schemes, and general design when it comes to other things like fleet and service vehicles, publications, signage, etc? Perhaps it’s because the brand that they currently have, which usually consists of a logo, isn’t very good to begin with. If this is the case, I see absolutely nothing wrong with using the help of a good design firm to come up with a new one. Rebranding goes on all the time in the corporate world.
I believe that costs can also reduced with a unified branding approach mainly on the basis of simplification. The most important reason to use unified branding, is that you provide a unified look whether it is on a billboard, a police car, or your website and this is much more professional.
February 5th, 2003
In early 1999, I started at St. George City as their web developer. It was there that I quickly became aware of what technology could do for city governments. But, being a part-timer there, my voice wasn’t heard when it came to providing e-government services over the web. They thought the web was great for distributing information, but they didn’t have the grand view of what could be accomplished beyond that. I can’t say that I blame them much, because at the time, my “vision” couldn’t be backed up by my skillset.
I am currently working with Spanish Fork City on rebuilding their website. Can I say deja vu? They haven’t quite got past the idea that the web is great for just distributing information, but they are moving in the right direction. (Their new website should be rolled out in the next few weeks.)
As I see it, there are two major obstacles that prevent small cities from embracing the web for delivering government services:
- Lack of technology understanding
- Lack of funds to implement e-government systems
These are both tough obstacles to overcome, and in the coming weeks, I will be writing more on how I think it can be done.
February 5th, 2003
Thanks to David Fletcher for his mention of this weblog. He writes…
It’s true, I am an intern at Novell in the IS&T department, but I got started in IT & web development by working in local government.
January 24th, 2003
Theresa A. Pardo
Albany, New York-based Center for Technology in Government
I agree that “transforming government service delivery through the use of technology” is the primary objective. It is about technologies and building websites, but they are merely a means to achieving the primary objective.