Innovative move saves thousands in website costs

Traditional procurement of a website for councils could range between £25,000 -£100,000. Tewkesbury Borough Council purchased theirs for £150.00. Government Technology explores how

Tewkesbury Borough Council launched in 2013, but the way that websites are used has changed rapidly and considerably since then. Over those three years, the council’s website has become difficult to navigate, it is ‘clunky’ and it is unresponsive to mobiles and tablets. It appears - on the face of it at least - that the local authority is living up to the stereotype of being old-fashioned and behind the times. This could not be further from the truth.

As part of the Tewkesbury Borough Council Plan 2016-2020, council members approved an exciting new digital strategy that would introduce a modern, new and fresh way of working to the local authority.

The council’s ICT operations manager, Matthew Reeve, explains: “Our councillors wanted to demonstrate a strong commitment to delivering excellent online services and identified the website as the number one project to improve our customer and stakeholders’ experience.

“There were two options open to us: one, continue with our existing provider and upgrade our package; or two, go out to the market and start again. After some consideration, we agreed with councillors that it would be simpler and more cost effective to begin afresh.

“Because the old website was based on proprietary software, making significant changes and upgrades would come with substantial price tag. Going out to the market and shopping around meant more options for us in terms of cost as well as design and functionality.”

The brief
So, the search began for a reasonably-priced, dynamic website that would not only be quick, easy and accessible for customers to use but also, importantly, very quick and easy for officers to keep updated.

Reeve continues: “We were on the lookout for a website that would complement our existing self-service portal - a separate website where customers can pay for services and report issues. All we would need from the new website was the simple functionality to signpost visitors to the correct locations so they could easily complete the reason for their visit.

“Because of this, we were not looking for any complex functionality. We were simply looking for something clear, concise and accessible. And because the self-service portal and the main website would be separate, there would be no need to store any of our customers’ personal data on the new website, which gave us greater flexibility when choosing who would help create it.”

The council’s old website was expensive. The rolling annual contract to maintain the website cost £6,100 per year and the annual cost of hosting the website through an internet service provider (ISP) was £7,000. A total of £13,100 per year - a significant amount for a small local authority with a rapidly declining budget.

The council’s project team discovered that, in the last few years, a number of online services had evolved that allow users to develop websites rapidly. They deliver high quality, online solutions for a very low cost. By using a ‘software as a service’ (SaaS) approach, these websites can be almost instantly deployed then customised with branding and content.

The decision
The project team explored the SaaS option and found it was worth progressing.

Reeve explains: “We found that the cost of deploying a SaaS website is a fraction of what the council would have spent on a more ‘traditional’ form of website procurement. With a SaaS provider, a single payment covered all licensing and hosting costs as part of the service. We also found that the council could take advantage of having a globally supported service that has been developed to look great and to be simple to update and administer.”

After investigating many online providers, the team decided that the service provided by SquareSpace would be the best fit.

Reeve explains: “They offered a great range of templates and functions with excellent support and were endorsed by a large range of existing global business customers.”

Using SquareSpace would cost the council just $18 a month (about £13.70) if it was bought on an annual basis. This included full, unlimited use of their platform, hosting and bandwidth. This meant an unprecedented saving of around £12,900 a year.

But there are some limitations. Users are limited to using one of SquareSpace’s templates, the website performs best with under 400 pages (the council had 900 on its old site) and the web administrator permissions are ‘all or nothing’.

However, the project team took this as an opportunity to promote change within the council and used the restrictions as a way of working more efficiently.

Reeve continues: “The page limit is something we have found useful to prevent the new website spawning out of control. Our old site had around 900 pages, but when we finish the project, we are expecting to have around 200 pages. The limit on web administrator permissions is also something that we can work with as we are a small council - around 200 members of staff - and only need around six to eight people to maintain and manage the content, giving them full access to the website to ensure the site can always be updated.

“The templates provided by SquareSpace are a very high quality, fully supported and perform well on any technology. Once we found a template we liked it was quickly customised to our branding and then we were able to begin loading content.”

As part of the development of the website, the project team has worked with staff, councillors and with the public (using its online citizens’ panel for feedback) and has, boldly, published access to the beta site to invite more public feedback before the launch at the end of November.

Reeve continued: “So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive and extremely constructive. In fact, many of the suggestions have already been implemented and we will continue to incorporate as much feedback as possible into the final design.

“We’re all looking forward to launching the new website next month and working with a system that saves us time and money and delivers a vastly improved user experience for our customers.”

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