The ‘unacceptable’ cost of a website

While not at the scale of the notorious Birmingham City Council web project from ’09 the revelation via FOI website What Do They Know today that the Bristol City Council website cost £700k plus includes a £90k annual support contract has kicked up a bit of a kerfuffle in my Twitter stream.

The project to rebuild the Bristol City Council site was always a slightly odd affair. On the one hand the project was initially done in an open and transparent manner with open events, consultations with local SMEs and a firm commitment to use open source technology.

Then more quietly it was announced that actually for contractual reasons the already in place ‘systems integrator’ CapGemini would actually be delivering the project. The commitment to open source did remain (Drupal was the selected CMS) and I do seem to remember some local SMEs were involved in the UX and front-end work maybe?

The supplied list of work packages and functional requirements don’t appear to offer any major clues to the cost – in fact a couple of the regular sneaky costs are clearly marked as ‘out of scope’ and even ‘content migration’ is not factored in as that was undertaken manually by in-house staff (I wonder if the considerable time cost of this has been taken into account?)

I know these projects are difficult and am certainly not in the ‘could have done it for 20k’ crowd. I have spent the best part of 2012 working my way through a public sector CMS project of comparable scale (though not complexity) and think the site itself is pretty good. It seems stable (I imagine it had some traffic spikes during the Mayoral stuff and the recent bad weather) and is pretty focused on user needs compared to alot of local government sites I’ve seen. The problem is that the cost and way of doing business falls firmly into what Chris Chant called ‘unacceptable’.

As someone who does this sort of thing for a living and is also a pretty passionate Bristolian    it was bound to peak my interest. I am now interested what our new Mayor will have to say on the topic – as someone who seemed to receive a large amount of support from the local digital community during his campaign it seems appropriate that it is at least acknowledged.