A Few Thoughts on Birmingham City Council's Website

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Health warning

Before I go any further, it’s worth pointing out that my views are my own, and not the views of my employer - just so you know like.

Well, it’s finally happened - massively over budget, and over three years late, Birmingham City Council’s website has finally launched.

And what a disappointment it is, admittedly it’s an improvement from the old site, which looked like it had crawled out of the mid-90s, but already looks a bit dated - there’s no RSS feeds (apart from feeds for searches - automatically generated by the Google search appliance) and there’s a myriad of other problems.

Birmingham is the second largest local authority in the UK, has a thriving digital community, and the local authority is doing great stuff with Digital Birmingham, so why isn’t this reflected in the city council’s website?

Manchester, a similar sized authority, launched their new website in a fraction of the time it took to launch Birmingham’s, also scooping a BT online excellence award in the process, proving that it doesn’t take an age to launch a website for a large local authority.

Now, I don’t blame the web team for this, they’ve done a very good job given using the tools they’ve been given, but the problem is the system it’s been built on - by all accounts the web team have had very little involvement and most of the grunt work has been done by the council’s outsourced IT ‘partner’ Service Birmingham - operated by everyone’s favourite outsourcer Capita (or Crapita if you read Private Eye).

Not involving the people who know best - the web team - in the first place means not only do you have a system which is massively over budget and more than fashionably late, it also means that you have a site that doesn’t represent Birmingham in a positive light.

Effectively getting an IT outsourcer - who’s expertise is not in the domain of web - is a fatal error - it’s akin to getting a printer to publish a newspaper - they may know about printing, but what do they know about journalism? Obviously there is an overlap, but IT and web are, in main, separate disciplines and this needs to be respected.

Now, my good friend Paul Canning has been banging on about more respect for government webbies for a while, arguing that we need professional status, and this is a textbook example of why this desperately needs to happen, otherwise we’re going to end up with more disasters of this nature.