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Tewkesbury takes SaaS route in website refresh

21/09/16

Local authority cuts cost to the bone in choosing £150 per year service for new look corporate site

Tewkesbury Borough Council has gone for a radically low cost option in refreshing its corporate website through migrating to a software as a service (SaaS) platform used primarily by small businesses and individuals.

Tewkesbury_screengrabIt is currently moving to the use of Squarespace, the hosting service that integrates content management, a website builder and blogging platform, and claims to have cut costs to a mere £150 per year – compared with a projected £10,000 or more to upgrade its existing website.

Progamme manager Iain Stark told UKAuthority that the council believes it is the first to have taken the approach, and that the low cost has removed the need for a lengthy procurement process.

The platform is enabling the council to configure the pages to its requirements rather than call on specialist skills for heavy customisation.

“We can do it for ourselves, don’t need any heavy IT configuration knowledge and don’t need to maintain a server,” Stark said.

“It’s all completely hosted, and while it’s hosted overseas we don’t do anything transactional on the site or run a payment engine. It’s all informational so the data protection requirements are minimal.”

Transactional links

He said this is possible for the council as it runs its transactional services through other sites from links on the corporate site. These are being maintained, but the migration is providing significant savings on the main site.

“We will take a little hit in the short term because we have to pay for some design, and we are locked into a hosting contract for the next year,” he said. “But even with that we are looking at about £12,000 savings for the next three years and after that they become even more.”

The council has estimated that just maintaining the existing site would cost £13,100 per year, with an extra £10,000 for any upgrade. Under the new plan it has a one-off cost of £10,000 to cover the contract with its existing hosting supplier, but expects a clear return on the investment over the next three years.

The new version is currently in beta format and is being developed with user feedback from residents. It is scheduled to go live on 30 November.

The Squarespace platform limits the council site to 400 pages, well below the existing 900, but Stark said this has provided the spur for a rationalisation exercise in identifying which pages are essential and where there is duplication. About three-quarters of the way through the migration it has created just 112 and is expecting it to total about 200 in providing all the necessary information.

There is also a limit on user permissions, and while fewer than 10 people can edit the site they have the flexibility to change any of the pages. Stark said this makes it easier to manage than the previous arrangement in which just one or two people from a much wider pool were able to edit specific pages.

In-house factor

Configuration and administration of the site will be kept within the IT team, which Stark said is made easier by the council having kept the operation in-house.

“The idea is that we will get our main corporate website up and branded, then start to see what we can rationalise in the branding off of that,” Stark said. “If we can’t rationalise we will try to do what GOV.UK has done and try to brand everything to at least look similar so you don’t get that harsh transition.”

He acknowledged that Tewkesbury being a very small council – it employs just 270 people – makes the approach easier, but suggested that some larger authorities could take a similar path.

“There is an approach you can take where you have multiple sites and a central site that indexes it all.”

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