Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Managing Citizen-Centric Web Content, NCC AIIM gets a preview of the IAC's White Paper

eGovSIG IAC eGovernment Shared Interest Group, Best Practices Committee

Gene Zapfel of Unisys and Bill Webner of Booz Allen Hamilton, offered a preview of the soon to be released State of the Practice White Paper entitled “Managing Citizen-Centric Web Content.”

The meeting began, as all NCC AIIM meetings do, with the opportunity for job seekers to stand up and describe their expertise and for employers to stand up and announce job openings. Gene Zapfel began his remarks by saying that he had never been to an event where people stood up and said why they were really there (general laughter). Truthfully, this is one of the chief benefits of membership. For job seekers, it is a great opportunity to present themselves, and for employers, it is a unique opportunity to identify the most motivated talent in the industry.

Zapfel described the Industry Advisory Council(IAC) as a group from private industry who tries to help government move forward. It is able to consult with government without the problem of favoring one company over another. The government members of the Shared Interest Group are senior executives who are in a position to transform eGovernment practices. Whatever IAC does is driven by government.

The eGovernment Shared Interest Group has seven committees: Funding & Business Models, Government Performance, Collaboration & Communication, Best Practices, Excellence in Government Award, Program Committee, and Homeland Security, which has now become its own Shared Interest group.

Zapfel concluded his remarks by laying out the eGovernment SIG’s objectives for 2005: produce a study on content management best practices, select a new topic, and liaison with the federal CIO council. With that, he introduced Bill Webner to give the preview of the white paper.

Bill Webner opened by describing himself as an “honorary member of IAC by virtue of this white paper.” He said, “Until two weeks, ago I was under the mistaken impression this was going to be a progress report.”

Webner began his preview of the State of the Practices White Paper with some disclaimers: it is in draft form; the Best Practices committee is in the final week of critical review. The paper is a review of the current proven practices of web managers. It is not a best practices paper, as the committee did not consider themselves in a position to proclaim what the best practices are. It is not “technically centric, nor a product analysis.” The paper highlights trends, and does not go into them in depth. It is the result of interviews with civil servants concerned not with technology, but policies and procedures. The Best Practices committee went to agencies, asked questions, aggregated data, and drew some conclusions.

Saying that the the NCC AIIM meeting represented a preview party of sorts, Webner joked, “What could be better than a look at the executive summary?” He went on to say that the subcommittee was still looking for feedback and encouraged the audience to ask questions and ask each other questions.

Fourteen different organizations participated in creating the white paper. From a contractor’s point of view, it was a great opportunity to learn about the competition. Webner said, “Unfortunately, there are a lot of smart people in competition with me.” But it is good for government, because there are many good ideas.

The interviews were scheduled for one hour, but they all went well over an hour, in Webner’s case almost two hours. The current trends are: strong cross-government collaboration, information sharing, and support. There is an increase in solicitation and use of citizen satisfaction data. Webner emphasized that the study concerned only public web sites and not intranets or back office systems integration.

The study asked, “What more should we be doing to get to the next generation of websites? What should we be doing to take advantage of proven methods?”

The agencies’ offices of public affairs were consistently the facilitators for expanding the use of public web sites, both in content and information sharing. (Technoflak would observe that this is a great example of the sort of leadership professional communicators can offer their organizations and the public at large.)

Government web teams typically use centrally managed taxonomies with sub-taxonomies emerging. Commercial off-the-shelf software is helpful, but there are no consistent standards.

Webner explained that in assessing best practices, value is measured over time; what lasts has value.

He said that the study called for a deeper understanding of agency/mission services and how websites can be used to achieve each agency’s mission. Government and industry need to formalize the content capture, update and experience processes. User interfaces must be more intuitive.

Webner said that five years ago there was tension between program staff and IT departments. The tension eased off after the program/public affairs staff got more authority over technology. But it seems to be a case of be careful what you pray for, as program staff have been overwhelmed by the details of technology. With that, Webner opened the floor for questions.

The first questioner asked Webner to comment on the contrast between the OMB strategy of let’s find everyone doing the same thing and do it together and all the stovepipes emerging from the agencies. How do cross-agency web groups undertake initiatives? What are the implications of those initiatives?”

Webner responded by repeating that the committee was not in a position to define best practices yet. “We did more cross-program work within agencies.” He said cross-agency initiatives have not been properly supported.

Zapfel said, “We looked at where most of the numbers/activity was taking place; it is not in cross-agency initiatives.”

Carolyn Offutt asked asked how the white paper defined web teams and web councils.

Webner responded that web councils were from across the enterprise, typically from those in senior positions; they are self-selecting. Web teams are more operational.

Jason Goetz closed the question period with the observation that this presentation generated the most interaction that he had seen.

Both presentations were mercifully free of acronyms, unheard of in technology presentations and all the more surprising coming from government contractors. More like this please.

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