10 Questions to Ask When Redesigning Your Local Government Website
Making the decision to redevelop your local government website is no small task. There is a lot to consider, and rushing into a decision can end up causing headaches and wasting money - both in the short term and the long term.
As you prepare to evaluate your website development options, ask the following 10 questions:
1. Are You Using a System and Vendor Specialized for eGovernment?
Make no mistake about it, a local government website is entirely different than a retail or business website, and if you're using a vendor to create your new website, experience in developing government websites is essential.
The needs and challenges that a local government faces (i.e. using taxpayer money wisely, keeping citizens informed during times of disaster/emergency, being open and transparent with data, etc.) is completely and totally different than that of a business, and a vendor with extensive experience in developing websites for the public sector is a must if you want it done right.
And utilizing a government content management system to operate and administer the website is every bit as important. Most local government staff probably wouldn't classify themselves as website coding experts, but they still have a need to update and post content to the website in a timely, easy and efficient manner.
Using a system that was built with the understanding that not everyone is an HTML code genius is critical to getting important information out to the public.
Ask yourself, is it important that the system running your website was specfically developed for the unique needs of a government organization, and that the company implementing the solution has a long, proven track record of working specfically with local governments?
It should be.
2. Is Cheapest the Best?
Sure it's a cliche, but remember the saying "You get what you pay for" when evaluating your options.
Every budget will be different based on the needs of each community. It’s important to hire a vendor that can meet those needs not just in the here and now, but in the future as well.
And let's be honest, free is never truly free. Consider staff time and hidden support costs when evaluating the true cost of a vendor.
If you opt to let your council member's cousin's nephew's best friend build your new website because they offered to build it for cheap - or worse, for free - expect to get a website that looks and functions like it was built on the cheap by your council member's cousin's nephew's best friend.
3. A Local Vendor Will Keep Our Money Local, Right?
Supporting the local economy should always be near the top of the list of priorities for local governments, no doubt.
But also know that the sustainable websites and advantageous packages that a government-specific vendor can provide will lead to long-term cost savings that will benefit your economy more than a one-off decision made every four or five years. And government website vendors understand you have a duty to spend taxpayer dollars wisely.
Think about the various products and services you already use. Chances are, your police cars weren't manufactured in town, nor your word processing software on your computers developed by a vendor down the street. Fantastic if they were, but how often is that the case?
You'll have more time to focus on important issues with the time and money saved by employing a website management company that is the best fit for the job, no matter where they are located.
4. What Happens When Bad Things Happens?
A little secret: Technology doesn't work 100 percent of the time. We know...shocking.
When your website technology breaks, who is there to support it, fix it, make it right?
Is it an already overworked IT department staffer? Is it a local vendor who can't provide the 24/7/365 support assistance you need?
Or is it a vendor that provides the right answer from a real person, right away?
Look, no one likes to plan for the worst, but the worst will happen to those that don't. Having access to unlimited customer support, including phone and email emergency support, 24/7, gives you peace of mind and one less thing you have to worry about.
5. Is Your Vendor Stable?
We aren’t asking if the salesman has good balance; we are asking if the company is on sound financial footing.
Guard yourself against falling victim to a business that closes its doors overnight, leaving you holding the keys to an unmanageable website.
Evaluate options based on finanicial stability and long-term outlook to avoid a “here today, gone tomorrow" disaster.
6. Will Our Website Be “Pretty” Enough?
Choosing a flashy design over function is tempting, but often comes with disastrous outcomes. Websites are a tool. And tools are designed first and foremost to work.
This is not to say that design isn't important. Actually, it's incredibly important. In today's digital society, your community's website design is often the front porch to the world, telling a story about the image you wish to portray, and the nature of the community itself.
But beautiful design and feature-rich tools don't have to be independent of each other.
Select a vendor that will work with you to not only design an attractive, unique website, but marry that visual aspect with extraordinary eGovernment functionality.
7. Do I Have To Worry About Accessibility Guidelines?
Your website should be a tool that anyone can use, including those with visual impairments.
Your new site must be developed with accessibility in mind. A government-knowledgeable vendor makes it easy to follow regulatory guidelines so all your citizens can access community information.
8. What About Compliance With Data and Information Laws?
Noncompliance with freedom of information regulations and data storage and privacy laws is unacceptable in government–sector web design and can lead to lawsuits.
Data - how its stored, where its stored, how long its stored and how its retrieved - should be of utmost importance when building your website.
9. What Happens Once You Sign on the Dotted Line?
How a company treats you AFTER the sale is more important than how they treat you DURING the sale. After all, we all hope the marriage lasts longer than the engagement, right?
So ask yourself, what are the benefits of being your selected vendor's customer? Even after the website is up and running, what's in it for you?
Software upgrades - are they free, included and automatically rolled out to your site?
Is support always on, always live, and always free?
And continuing education opportunities on the ever-changing world of technology, do they even exist?
10. Where Can I Learn More?
OK, so we're cheating a little bit by making this the 10th and final question, but the first nine were really good, right?
Honestly, there are many companies out there that can build you a good website. CivicPlus, on the strength of our government content management system (GCMS), takes your local government website and turns it into a powerful and innovative community engagement platform that provides your citizens the interactive features and services they desire.
To find out how CivicPlus can answer all of these questions, just pick up the phone or grab your mouse. You can reach us by phone at 888-228-2233 or hit us up on the web at www.civicplus.com.