407 West State Street, Trenton, NJ 08618  (609)695-3481
 NJLM logo 

William G. Dressel Jr, Executive Director - Michael J. Darcey, CAE, Asst Executive Director
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You and Your Web site: Part 1
How to Manage Your Web site

There's a lot to look at on New Jersey's municipal web sites Going in to 2006, at least 58% (or 329) municipalities had "official" web sites, with and additional 13% (74) having a presence on a community or other type of "unofficial" web site With over 70% of municipalities having a site, it is not surprising to find great diversity in how municipalities manage their sites and the information and features presented to the public. This article looks at the ways municipalities can choose to manage their web sites.

How to Manage Your Web site

While many municipalities had their original site develop more or less spontaneously ("Let's put up a web site!"), the importance of the web as a management and public communications tool have local officials reconsidering how they manage this resource.

There are primarily five different ways to manage a web site:

  • Commercial Content Management System
  • Vendor Managed Systems - government focus
  • Local vendor developed and managed systems
  • Self-hosted and volunteer systems
  • Community/Business oriented sites

In considering these options, several general thoughts apply in most cases (of course, everyone's circumstances are different - this is a general guide). First, "you get what you pay for" - in that there is a direct correlation between what you invest in your site, be it staff or volunteer time, or payments to a contractor, in the design, content, and features on your site. Be prepared to set a resource budget (money and time) and make the investment.

The second guide is that someone needs to decide what kind of site you'll have: relatively static, news-based, interactive with community, or a combination of approaches. And along with that, set an approach to make decisions: an advisory committee, a single individual, or whatever works for the organization.

Once those decisions are made, and regardless of the approach, the third guide is to assign a staff member to manage and coordinate the site. A single staff member needs to be in charge of coordinating staff input, changes, new content, editorial consistency, and any relationship with a vendor.

Fourth, own your domain name and content yourself; don't let a third party or a volunteer have ownership of your content or web address. There have been many horror stories of web sites gone awry when volunteers got mad, or an employee or elected official left, and the municipality realized they didn't own their own web site It may have then become unusable at best, or turned in to a porn site at worst. Fifth, regardless of whatever type of services you buy from a vendor, review the contract - know what you are getting and paying for - and have your attorney review it as well.

Finally, consider designing the site using web accessibility standards. Good web design means your web site will let people with visual impairments and other disabilities access the site using specialized web programs - but the site needs to accommodate those programs. Web standards are the way to get there. For more information on what accessibility means, go to www.w3.org/wai/intro/accessibility.php.

The Five Ways to Manage Web Sites

The following is a brief description of the five ways to manage web sites When investigating pricing, in all cases, be sure to get rates for any custom or hourly work.

Commercial Content Management System

  • Vendors offer standard templates to control look and design or will design to your needs
  • Several vendors focus on serving local governments
  • Content management systems can permit local staff to update the site independently of vendor involvement
  • Highly flexible content capability
  • Can have higher start-up costs, but offset by lower ongoing costs

Vendor Managed Systems - Government Focused

  • Custom designed or designed from templates
  • Developer makes changes - but timeliness can be a factor
  • Can meet specific needs better than any other option
  • More personal attention from developer
  • Higher cost can be offset with greater attention to detail - trades off routine staff to make changes

Local Vendor Developed and Managed Systems

  • Local businesses in the web site management business
  • Not necessarily government focused
  • May be very responsive to local officials
  • Can be costly to make updates; may not be time sensitive

Self-Hosted & Volunteer Systems

  • Need to dedicate sufficient staff time to do it well
  • Can build community support
  • May not keep up on latest technology or
  • Can be limited on design capability
  • Inherent concern about controlling volunteer management and hosting
  • Risk of loss of editorial and design control, or even the site itself
  • The risks mean it should be avoided where possible

Commercial, Community Oriented Sites

  • Part of and managed by an outside commercial or community web site organization
  • Can be good community relations builder
  • Government may not be primary focus - ad sales become important and could be controversial
  • Be sure to keep your site separate and reachable separately
  • Similar issues to local vendor managed

About Hosting and Domain Names

Regardless of who manages the site, it has to be connected to the Internet. Most web site managers will contract with a commercial hosting service to handle this function due to the highly technical aspects of hosting, security, backup, and reliability. The municipal web site coordinator should be sure to understand who is hosting it, where the system the hosted, how to move it and run it elsewhere (in the event your provider goes out of business), and ensure that the municipality is the owner of the domain name.

Question the service provider. Find out about:

  • Quality of service - get quality guarantee of site availability into at least 99.999% plus (i.e. a guarantee of 99% uptime is equal to over three and a half days of downtime a year).
  • Talk to other clients - get input on responsiveness and uptime

When it comes to your domain name, consider purchasing a multi-year license, or acquire lifetime assignment of the domain name. There have been too many times when a name expired and was not renewed because the e-mail address of the person who registered it changed, and web squatters bought the name and linked it to a porn or other objectionable site. Also consider buying domains of similar sounding or spelling sites, including .com, .us, .gov sites, and even .net, or .org sites to avoid potential squatter abuse.

Procuring Web Site and State Contracting Laws

Whenever a commercial service is used for web site management and hosting is used, municipal officials have to take into account laws regulating procurement of services. This includes compliance with the Local Public Contracts and Pay-to-Pay laws. Under current law, the primary concerns are the extent of competition used in procuring the service, which also affects the length of the contract.

After conducting research, if the cost of services over the life of the contract is estimated to exceed the municipality's bid threshold under the LPCL, the following options can be considered in the procurement process.

  • Bid the service according to the normal bid process
  • Procure without formal bidding as a professional (artistic) service for one year contract, or as an Extraordinary Unspecifiable Service for a 2 year contract. An EUS can have an option to extend it for an additional two years, a professional service is limited to one year.
  • Use the formal competitive contracting process for up to five years with DLGS approval. Given the nature of these services, upon the submission of a proper request, the Division will routinely approve web site design and management services (not standalone hosting) for competitive contracting.

If the estimated cost of the services over the life of the contract is less than the bid threshold, the municipality must solicit more than one proposal and then contract with the vendor they find to be most advantageous, price and other factors considered. In this case a two year contract, with the option to extend for up to two more years is allowed (extensions are not considered in the decision to use a formal process or obtain quotes).

In the case where the value of the contract for the service is expected to exceed $17,500, the municipality must apply the Pay-to-Play provisions of N.J.S.A. 19:44A-20.4 et seq. or a local Pay-to-Play ordinance.

In Brief: Managing Your Web site

  • Decide what you want your site to be
  • Review options
  • Look at other sites - find out how they are managed
  • Consider and evaluate price alternatives
  • Assign responsibility to research, develop and manage it
  • Plan sufficient time - it will likely take twice as long than you think it should



You and Your Web Sites: Part 2
Managing Web Content and Innovations

This article discusses the basic features found on web sites and the innovations that are leading the charge to provide services and information over the web and starting to show up on municipal sites. Additional information and web links on all the issues reviewed in this article can be found in PowerPoint presentations that are posted at the Division of Local Government Services' E-Government-for-Government web site at www.nj.gov/dca/lgs/egg.

Basic features found on most web sites include: listings (with photos and sometimes bios) of elected officials and some senior administrative officials, and sometimes, e-mail links to them; listings and links to more information about departments, boards, committees, and commissions; governing body meeting agendas and minutes; a news section of upcoming government and community events, often displayed in a (sometimes downloadable) calendar format; an e-mail and telephone directory of staff and officials, downloadable forms, such as permit forms, licenses, and various applications; and in many cases, photos of local events.

More sophisticated municipalities take additional steps assisting the public by providing: search engines to help people find information on their site, privacy statements (describing if "cookies" or other tracking information is used), registration for mailing lists; access to the Municipal Code (usually a link to the web site of the company maintaining the codebook), emergency information (listings of shelters and support organizations), and information about public bids and requests for proposals.

Moving into the area of innovations, a good number of municipalities are seeing how an investment in expanding their web site into providing services can make a difference in serving the public. These organizations are providing access to geographic information systems (GIS); permitting online payment of taxes and utility bills, running online registration and payment for recreation programs (usually done through a third party provider), create online polls and questionnaires permitting the public to express their views on local issues; and information about public auctions of property no longer needed by the government.

One of the most challenging services that are being tried experimentally by a few are guest books, message boards, forums, and "blogs." These services can provide a new level of public participation by providing an opportunity for local officials or community members to post their thoughts and opinions on line, with the opportunity for the public to comment on them. These are challenging services as they can open the door for vociferous public debate, and can, depending on the situation, degrade into name calling. Caution must be used when deploying these resources and it should be made clear to the public how these activities are to be used.

What's next? At far end of web site innovation, we find various municipalities integrating their web site and communication activities with their local cable TV public access channel, providing live or recorded video of public meetings, and using "RSS" technology to permit new postings of information to be received directly by those using RSS or blog technology.

A final area of innovation is becoming more and more important, and should be considered by all webmasters: the use of web standards to facilitate access by visually and physically disabled individuals, and foreign language translation tools. Designing web sites using disability standards does not take away anything from use by those without disabilities, but results in broader access to information by individuals with visual or physical limitations.

Also, government cannot forget that more and more of the population are not native English speakers, and providing links to a service (usually free) that will translate the web page to another language gives people greater access to government information

Web site Innovation Management Challenges

Municipalities manage their web sites in many ways: from citizen volunteers to part-time or full-time staff, private servicers, to consultants. Regardless of who manages the site, there are some basic management techniques that apply to managing innovation on web sites

The first rule in managing innovation is: take care of the basics. Don't try to add everything at once. The second rule is, have a plan! Create a Web site Innovation Map that identifies what you want to do. The plan should:

  • Identify specific functions to add
  • Establish realistic time frames
  • Create a web site enhancement budget
  • Identify resources (internal and vendor)

Regardless of how and who adds services, keep in mind several rules:

  • RULE 1: Check references of the technology or vendor you use (and one reference is not enough!). Ask about cost, satisfaction before and after implementation, how long it took, and describe the working relationship.
    (The higher the cost and more complex the implementation the more important reference checks become)
  • RULE 2: Message Boards and Forums should not be open-ended. They should have identified time frames. Spell out the rules for language, etiquette, and requirement that comments are on topic. Make it comments that do not follow the rules may be deleted.
  • RULE 3: Guest books and blog responses should not allow advertising. Spell out the rules for language and on topic up front.

When dealing with any tool that allows public comments, be sure to allow staff time to manage the site to ensure they are meeting the established standards and to eliminate spam and other inappropriate entries.

Networking for Technology Coordinators

Up until recently, there were few opportunities for municipal web site managers and technology coordinators generally to communicate with others doing the same things. Those involved in providing or managing technology have a need to share information with their peers - and in doing so, can learn from the successes and mistakes of others and save time and money while doing it.

New Jersey now has an organization dedicated to managers of government technology: NJ GMIS, the recently formed New Jersey Chapter of Government Management Information Sciences. The municipal government section of NJ GMIS supports municipal technology managers, whoever they are, and at whatever level of expertise they bring to the job.

Our members-only list serve provides a way to immediately contact fellow NJ technology managers with questions about technology policy, services, hardware, and software. And the NJ GMIS list serve goes beyond municipal government, it also reaches members of the county, public school, and state government sections, bringing a single municipal technology manager far greater New Jersey resources then they can get locally.

As a chapter of GMIS International, the support lines extend beyond New Jersey. A network of hundreds of local and state government technology experts from all over the country are available to answer questions and provide support with the send of an e-mail. Plus there is a national conference, monthly magazine, access to RFP's, and more.

Joining GMIS is easy and the annual fee isn't that much (it's based on your technology budget). And new members, who join between February and June, get their annual membership extended until July of 2007.

NJ GMIS is also planning statewide and regional networking meetings. To join, go to www.gmis.org and take a look at what the association offers and join online. For specific information on the New Jersey Chapter, check out the web site at www.njgmis.org, e-mail njgmis@njgmis.org or contact President Michael Esolda (Township of Woodbridge) at Michael.Esolda@twp.woodbridge.nj.us, Vice-President Marc Pf NJLM - You and Your Web site: How to Manage Your Website

407 West State Street, Trenton, NJ 08618  (609)695-3481
 NJLM logo 

William G. Dressel Jr, Executive Director - Michael J. Darcey, CAE, Asst Executive Director
Change Font Size
Larger
| Smaller
You and Your Web site: Part 1
How to Manage Your Web site

There's a lot to look at on New Jersey's municipal web sites Going in to 2006, at least 58% (or 329) municipalities had "official" web sites, with and additional 13% (74) having a presence on a community or other type of "unofficial" web site With over 70% of municipalities having a site, it is not surprising to find great diversity in how municipalities manage their sites and the information and features presented to the public. This article looks at the ways municipalities can choose to manage their web sites.

How to Manage Your Web site

While many municipalities had their original site develop more or less spontaneously ("Let's put up a web site!"), the importance of the web as a management and public communications tool have local officials reconsidering how they manage this resource.

There are primarily five different ways to manage a web site:

  • Commercial Content Management System
  • Vendor Managed Systems - government focus
  • Local vendor developed and managed systems
  • Self-hosted and volunteer systems
  • Community/Business oriented sites

In considering these options, several general thoughts apply in most cases (of course, everyone's circumstances are different - this is a general guide). First, "you get what you pay for" - in that there is a direct correlation between what you invest in your site, be it staff or volunteer time, or payments to a contractor, in the design, content, and features on your site. Be prepared to set a resource budget (money and time) and make the investment.

The second guide is that someone needs to decide what kind of site you'll have: relatively static, news-based, interactive with community, or a combination of approaches. And along with that, set an approach to make decisions: an advisory committee, a single individual, or whatever works for the organization.

Once those decisions are made, and regardless of the approach, the third guide is to assign a staff member to manage and coordinate the site. A single staff member needs to be in charge of coordinating staff input, changes, new content, editorial consistency, and any relationship with a vendor.

Fourth, own your domain name and content yourself; don't let a third party or a volunteer have ownership of your content or web address. There have been many horror stories of web sites gone awry when volunteers got mad, or an employee or elected official left, and the municipality realized they didn't own their own web site It may have then become unusable at best, or turned in to a porn site at worst. Fifth, regardless of whatever type of services you buy from a vendor, review the contract - know what you are getting and paying for - and have your attorney review it as well.

Finally, consider designing the site using web accessibility standards. Good web design means your web site will let people with visual impairments and other disabilities access the site using specialized web programs - but the site needs to accommodate those programs. Web standards are the way to get there. For more information on what accessibility means, go to www.w3.org/wai/intro/accessibility.php.

The Five Ways to Manage Web Sites

The following is a brief description of the five ways to manage web sites When investigating pricing, in all cases, be sure to get rates for any custom or hourly work.

Commercial Content Management System

  • Vendors offer standard templates to control look and design or will design to your needs
  • Several vendors focus on serving local governments
  • Content management systems can permit local staff to update the site independently of vendor involvement
  • Highly flexible content capability
  • Can have higher start-up costs, but offset by lower ongoing costs

Vendor Managed Systems - Government Focused

  • Custom designed or designed from templates
  • Developer makes changes - but timeliness can be a factor
  • Can meet specific needs better than any other option
  • More personal attention from developer
  • Higher cost can be offset with greater attention to detail - trades off routine staff to make changes

Local Vendor Developed and Managed Systems

  • Local businesses in the web site management business
  • Not necessarily government focused
  • May be very responsive to local officials
  • Can be costly to make updates; may not be time sensitive

Self-Hosted & Volunteer Systems

  • Need to dedicate sufficient staff time to do it well
  • Can build community support
  • May not keep up on latest technology or
  • Can be limited on design capability
  • Inherent concern about controlling volunteer management and hosting
  • Risk of loss of editorial and design control, or even the site itself
  • The risks mean it should be avoided where possible

Commercial, Community Oriented Sites

  • Part of and managed by an outside commercial or community web site organization
  • Can be good community relations builder
  • Government may not be primary focus - ad sales become important and could be controversial
  • Be sure to keep your site separate and reachable separately
  • Similar issues to local vendor managed

About Hosting and Domain Names

Regardless of who manages the site, it has to be connected to the Internet. Most web site managers will contract with a commercial hosting service to handle this function due to the highly technical aspects of hosting, security, backup, and reliability. The municipal web site coordinator should be sure to understand who is hosting it, where the system the hosted, how to move it and run it elsewhere (in the event your provider goes out of business), and ensure that the municipality is the owner of the domain name.

Question the service provider. Find out about:

  • Quality of service - get quality guarantee of site availability into at least 99.999% plus (i.e. a guarantee of 99% uptime is equal to over three and a half days of downtime a year).
  • Talk to other clients - get input on responsiveness and uptime

When it comes to your domain name, consider purchasing a multi-year license, or acquire lifetime assignment of the domain name. There have been too many times when a name expired and was not renewed because the e-mail address of the person who registered it changed, and web squatters bought the name and linked it to a porn or other objectionable site. Also consider buying domains of similar sounding or spelling sites, including .com, .us, .gov sites, and even .net, or .org sites to avoid potential squatter abuse.

Procuring Web Site and State Contracting Laws

Whenever a commercial service is used for web site management and hosting is used, municipal officials have to take into account laws regulating procurement of services. This includes compliance with the Local Public Contracts and Pay-to-Pay laws. Under current law, the primary concerns are the extent of competition used in procuring the service, which also affects the length of the contract.

After conducting research, if the cost of services over the life of the contract is estimated to exceed the municipality's bid threshold under the LPCL, the following options can be considered in the procurement process.

  • Bid the service according to the normal bid process
  • Procure without formal bidding as a professional (artistic) service for one year contract, or as an Extraordinary Unspecifiable Service for a 2 year contract. An EUS can have an option to extend it for an additional two years, a professional service is limited to one year.
  • Use the formal competitive contracting process for up to five years with DLGS approval. Given the nature of these services, upon the submission of a proper request, the Division will routinely approve web site design and management services (not standalone hosting) for competitive contracting.

If the estimated cost of the services over the life of the contract is less than the bid threshold, the municipality must solicit more than one proposal and then contract with the vendor they find to be most advantageous, price and other factors considered. In this case a two year contract, with the option to extend for up to two more years is allowed (extensions are not considered in the decision to use a formal process or obtain quotes).

In the case where the value of the contract for the service is expected to exceed $17,500, the municipality must apply the Pay-to-Play provisions of N.J.S.A. 19:44A-20.4 et seq. or a local Pay-to-Play ordinance.

In Brief: Managing Your Web site

  • Decide what you want your site to be
  • Review options
  • Look at other sites - find out how they are managed
  • Consider and evaluate price alternatives
  • Assign responsibility to research, develop and manage it
  • Plan sufficient time - it will likely take twice as long than you think it should



You and Your Web Sites: Part 2
Managing Web Content and Innovations

This article discusses the basic features found on web sites and the innovations that are leading the charge to provide services and information over the web and starting to show up on municipal sites. Additional information and web links on all the issues reviewed in this article can be found in PowerPoint presentations that are posted at the Division of Local Government Services' E-Government-for-Government web site at www.nj.gov/dca/lgs/egg.

Basic features found on most web sites include: listings (with photos and sometimes bios) of elected officials and some senior administrative officials, and sometimes, e-mail links to them; listings and links to more information about departments, boards, committees, and commissions; governing body meeting agendas and minutes; a news section of upcoming government and community events, often displayed in a (sometimes downloadable) calendar format; an e-mail and telephone directory of staff and officials, downloadable forms, such as permit forms, licenses, and various applications; and in many cases, photos of local events.

More sophisticated municipalities take additional steps assisting the public by providing: search engines to help people find information on their site, privacy statements (describing if "cookies" or other tracking information is used), registration for mailing lists; access to the Municipal Code (usually a link to the web site of the company maintaining the codebook), emergency information (listings of shelters and support organizations), and information about public bids and requests for proposals.

Moving into the area of innovations, a good number of municipalities are seeing how an investment in expanding their web site into providing services can make a difference in serving the public. These organizations are providing access to geographic information systems (GIS); permitting online payment of taxes and utility bills, running online registration and payment for recreation programs (usually done through a third party provider), create online polls and questionnaires permitting the public to express their views on local issues; and information about public auctions of property no longer needed by the government.

One of the most challenging services that are being tried experimentally by a few are guest books, message boards, forums, and "blogs." These services can provide a new level of public participation by providing an opportunity for local officials or community members to post their thoughts and opinions on line, with the opportunity for the public to comment on them. These are challenging services as they can open the door for vociferous public debate, and can, depending on the situation, degrade into name calling. Caution must be used when deploying these resources and it should be made clear to the public how these activities are to be used.

What's next? At far end of web site innovation, we find various municipalities integrating their web site and communication activities with their local cable TV public access channel, providing live or recorded video of public meetings, and using "RSS" technology to permit new postings of information to be received directly by those using RSS or blog technology.

A final area of innovation is becoming more and more important, and should be considered by all webmasters: the use of web standards to facilitate access by visually and physically disabled individuals, and foreign language translation tools. Designing web sites using disability standards does not take away anything from use by those without disabilities, but results in broader access to information by individuals with visual or physical limitations.

Also, government cannot forget that more and more of the population are not native English speakers, and providing links to a service (usually free) that will translate the web page to another language gives people greater access to government information

Web site Innovation Management Challenges

Municipalities manage their web sites in many ways: from citizen volunteers to part-time or full-time staff, private servicers, to consultants. Regardless of who manages the site, there are some basic management techniques that apply to managing innovation on web sites

The first rule in managing innovation is: take care of the basics. Don't try to add everything at once. The second rule is, have a plan! Create a Web site Innovation Map that identifies what you want to do. The plan should:

  • Identify specific functions to add
  • Establish realistic time frames
  • Create a web site enhancement budget
  • Identify resources (internal and vendor)

Regardless of how and who adds services, keep in mind several rules:

  • RULE 1: Check references of the technology or vendor you use (and one reference is not enough!). Ask about cost, satisfaction before and after implementation, how long it took, and describe the working relationship.
    (The higher the cost and more complex the implementation the more important reference checks become)
  • RULE 2: Message Boards and Forums should not be open-ended. They should have identified time frames. Spell out the rules for language, etiquette, and requirement that comments are on topic. Make it comments that do not follow the rules may be deleted.
  • RULE 3: Guest books and blog responses should not allow advertising. Spell out the rules for language and on topic up front.

When dealing with any tool that allows public comments, be sure to allow staff time to manage the site to ensure they are meeting the established standards and to eliminate spam and other inappropriate entries.

Networking for Technology Coordinators

Up until recently, there were few opportunities for municipal web site managers and technology coordinators generally to communicate with others doing the same things. Those involved in providing or managing technology have a need to share information with their peers - and in doing so, can learn from the successes and mistakes of others and save time and money while doing it.

New Jersey now has an organization dedicated to managers of government technology: NJ GMIS, the recently formed New Jersey Chapter of Government Management Information Sciences. The municipal government section of NJ GMIS supports municipal technology managers, whoever they are, and at whatever level of expertise they bring to the job.

Our members-only list serve provides a way to immediately contact fellow NJ technology managers with questions about technology policy, services, hardware, and software. And the NJ GMIS list serve goes beyond municipal government, it also reaches members of the county, public school, and state government sections, bringing a single municipal technology manager far greater New Jersey resources then they can get locally.

As a chapter of GMIS International, the support lines extend beyond New Jersey. A network of hundreds of local and state government technology experts from all over the country are available to answer questions and provide support with the send of an e-mail. Plus there is a national conference, monthly magazine, access to RFP's, and more.

Joining GMIS is easy and the annual fee isn't that much (it's based on your technology budget). And new members, who join between February and June, get their annual membership extended until July of 2007.

NJ GMIS is also planning statewide and regional networking meetings. To join, go to www.gmis.org and take a look at what the association offers and join online. For specific information on the New Jersey Chapter, check out the web site at www.njgmis.org, e-mail njgmis@njgmis.org or contact President Michael Esolda (Township of Woodbridge) at Michael.Esolda@twp.woodbridge.nj.us, Vice-President Marc Pfeiffer at mpfeiffer@dca.state.nj.us, or Executive Director, Mitch Darer at darer@njit.edu. And if you want to get involved in managing the association or organizing events in your area, please let us know.

 

 

 

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