All the Pieces Matter…[Developing a Digital Strategy]

OK the wire reference is a bit of a stretch but to be honest I’m surprised I haven’t used it before now 🙂

In many ways my new job is very much a return to my roots running websites. The fact I am back working in the same offices as where I was first officially employed as a Web Manager somewhat reinforces that point!

Alot has changed in the 10 years since I last worked in Swindon but at the same time many of the core challenges seem much the same. In fact given how long I have been doing this kind of job it can feel a little like Groundhog Day sometimes – new challenges spring up and are welcomed (the social web, open data etc) but many of the issues I am tasked with resolving are extremely familiar.

That said expectations from both internal and external audiences grow greater all the time and also technology evolves and (hopefully) so does my knowledge and experience so I am hoping that I’ll be able to find an approach that is fit for the times (and at least a little bit future proof.)

There have been two major influences on my thinking recently – the first was the BBC report on Product Management that I have written about before which continues to have a real impact on me and the other is the idea of a ‘Content Strategy’ that (I think) was popularised by Kristina Halvorso though there are many other people now writing about it and much of the concept has been around for years though perhaps never packaged as concisely.

It is early stages and I am working from a blank slate at the moment which does have some benefits (though let us be honest I could have coped if something already existed).

I have tried to break the work into discreet pieces (thus the use of the quote!) each with an important role to play.

Something I have never really achieved in the past in an overarching ‘Vision’ for a site. I’ve tried to bolt things on after the fact but it has always been something that has got lost in the rush to get things done. I’m determined this time not to let this slip and to have a touchstone that can be used to sense check all decisions about ‘digital’.

BIS have something they refer to as the site proposition which I think is close to what I am trying to achieve here ( though they use the document to cover a wider scope than I intend to. I see this as a two-pager at most.

Obviously a major issue that needs addressing in any digital strategy is the technical platform(s). Ben used a term recently calling for a ‘mixed-economy’ of available technical platforms from major CMSs to small blogs and beyond which I really liked and is exactly the direction I would prefer in a perfect world. There are lots of issues tied up in this area not least the cost of these tools – which these days is a major factor. I also firmly believe that getting the right technical solution(s) in play that can deliver the ‘Vision’ is far more important than just taking the most expedient software solution available.

That said on a practical level I’m going to be looking hard at the BIS shared service here – despite my well documented concerns about the usability of S*tecore – it is a compelling package they are offering and I do believe the shared service model is only going to become more prevalent in this ‘age of austerity’. I’m sure other shared platforms will spring up and there is a lot of road to travel before any decisions are made but a modern, flexible CMS of some kind is going to be a must-have as pressure mounts to be ‘digital by default’.

Probably the biggest issue for any site like the one I’m looking after, and the majority of sites I’ve worked on over the last decade or so, is the content itself. The whole idea of ‘content strategies’ seems to be gathering steam at the moment and I am finding alot of great stuff out there about it ( and spring to mind) and this is giving structure to all manner of thoughts I’ve had over the last couple of years. My thinking in this area, particularly about who can contribute directly to a site, has changed so often I get dizzy so it has been helpful to read what other people have to say on the topic. The reality of much of this work changes from organisation to organisation though. Different places have very different levels of trust, technology comfort levels and content creation skills. Let alone trying to wean those people who can write off writing for particular kinds of print rather than online. As for the still thorny subject of ‘social media’ no two organisations have exactly the same attitude and I find myself having very similar conversations today as I was having five years ago with senior staff about the benefits and risks.

One of the things I’ve read alot which I massively agree with is that it is vital not to let your technology choices influence how you manage your content publishing – the tools need to support the best practice you have identified independently not the other way around.

The third (and final) element I’ve been trying to get my head around is the concept of ‘products’ (returning to the BBC report I mentioned earlier). In many ways this is the stuff I find most fun – but it is also the stuff that seems furthest away currently. At the moment I’m seeing ‘products’ as individual digital outputs that are at least partially independent of the main CMS platform or top-level navigation (I already realise this is wrong – but it is where I am now and I’m sure it will evolve!) In particular I see this as the ‘front-line’ for the move away from print and event dominated communications and to a more digital driven focus. Getting people to think beyond just sticking a PDF up and instead to really think about how to best present content in a digital manner for the right audience has the potential to really change attitudes but it needs buy-in from all sort of people at different levels. Not to mention a flexible enough set of technical tools and design skills to make things happen.

Something I personally feel strongly about with these kinds of projects is that there is a constant programme of user engagement, feedback, testing and analysis that is constantly checking any and all of the assumptions at every step of the way and there is the flexibility to make changes based on this feedback – any digital strategy needs to be a ‘live’ document – things move too fast for any other approach.

Well getting that down has cleared a little space in my head – hopefully this will all still make sense tomorrow!

1 comment

  1. “Getting people to think beyond just sticking a PDF up and instead to really think about how to best present content in a digital manner for the right audience has the potential to really change attitudes but it needs buy-in from all sort of people at different levels.”

    This is a key piece and something we always struggle with getting clients we work with to understand. Especially if they have been used to a particular way if working due to the limitations of the tools they had.

    We took the best-of-breed approach with the Science Learning Centres portal and blended their legacy .NET portal with Plone CMS and have been testing Elgg, Mahara and Moodle to add to the mix. All of it combined with SSO and themed with XDV as one coherent system.

    We took the best-of-breed approach to the Science Learning Centres portal, and it worked pretty well. We blended their legacy .NET portal, with Plone CMS, and tested

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