As mentioned in my previous C5 ‘retrospective’ blog, C5 Alliance has been working on some challenging projects recently that have proved to be more complex than initially envisaged. Whilst difficult at times, this has given us a great opportunity to learn and adapt to new business challenges. We have now come out the other side having delivered positive results and a level of expertise on how to approach similar projects in the future.
One such project has been to provide new and improved government-based websites for States Assembly and Scrutiny, both of which have now been unveiled to the public.
The States Assembly website (www.statesassembly.gov.je) includes details of its members, history and procedures of the Assembly, provides a record of past sittings and gives information about propositions that have been debated and are due to be debated at future sittings. The Scrutiny Website (www.scrutiny.gov.je) provides all the details of Scrutiny Panel reviews, hearings, submissions, reports and results.
Initial discussions about the existing website took place with stakeholders regarding how the sites could be improved and enhanced, and eventually it was decided that a key element of the overhaul would be to significantly improve how information could be sourced from the websites, with the key objective of modifying and enhancing how information on the site could be extracted by those using the site.
Eight years after the original launch of the States Assembly website, we have now overhauled it completely and improved its functionality in line with the successful www.gov.je. The new website has been fully re-designed to enable users both faster and easier access to the information they are looking for, and as of today, users of the new and improved States Assembly website will now be able to:
- Search for propositions by year range and/or by the person who lodged it
- Search for all questions asked or answered by a particular member or Minister
- Sort members by parish, by seniority or alphabetically
- Find more information about propositions and voting, with an automatic link to the States Minutes and Hansard of the debate.
Updates implemented on The States Assembly website also extend to the Scrutiny website (www.scrutiny.gov.je), which has a similarly improved layout and better search access to all work by the Scrutiny Panels and the Public Accounts Committee including reviews, submissions and Scrutiny Reports.
The improvements are hoped to significantly enhance public understanding of the work Scrutiny does and to encourage more members of the public to suggest topics for review and submit evidence through the website. And, as with the www.statesassembly.gov.je, website overhaul, emphasis has been placed on making the information more accessible, transparent and manageable.
From a technical perspective, enhancing the two websites to provide users with the sort of search facilities and indexing that we were hoping to offer represented quite a challenge. The new sites were required to contain an on-going archive of information (historic records dated back to 1981), and therefore the safe transferral of both old and new information was of paramount importance. It’s common knowledge that the more information a site holds, the more difficult, (and slower), it is to retrieve, therefore what was required was a super-fast, intelligent and dynamic navigation-based search system that would go beyond the confines of the ordinary.
In searching for the latest advanced information and communications technology that would provide the solutions we were looking for, we were excited by the latest Microsoft FAST technology. When combined with Microsoft SharePoint, the integration of both software platforms seemed to tick all the right boxes.
Using the combined power of FAST and the simplicity of SharePoint, we were able to build into the websites a custom, search-driven application that would provide specific results based on user context that would provide visitors to the site with quick and accurate access the information they need.
In fact, the software went well beyond that, delivering a state-of-the-art search-driven user experience, with an engine able to accurately guess even the vaguest of synonyms entered by the user before filtering the results at high speed. The new websites have also been developed so that updates and improvements can be made by staff in-house, rather than having to rely on external consultants. This flexibility represents a cost-cutting measure that will also allow quicker response times to changing user demands.
To date, feedback received for the new and improved States of Jersey sites has been excellent, and particularly rewarding.
Michael de la Haye, Greffier of the States, responsible for overseeing the upgrades to both websites, commented,
“Whether you are a States Member, a journalist, a member of the public or a Department employee, it should now be easier to locate and identify the information you are looking for, in addition to other related materials that may assist in your research.
De la Haye is delighted at how the new filtering systems operate, in particular their simplicity. He also acknowledged the sites’ usefulness for highly detailed searching, how users have broadened their scope in using them and the increase in traffic. Other pluses, according to De la Haye, included the improved content management, and how easy it was for staff to add new content/navigation properties to the sites.
Meanwhile, commenting on the updated Scrutiny website, Senator Sarah Ferguson said,
Scrutiny has been evolving over the last six years and the original website has shown itself to be out-dated. The new website is intended to be more public facing with a focus on reviews being undertaken by Panels, so that members of the public can access these at the top level. Furthermore, users will now be able to see information on the status of reviews which will enable them to better follow the work of the Panels and the Public Accounts Committee.
One of the new members of the States, Deputy John Young, said,
I have been a regular user of the old States Assembly website for many years and I often felt that it was difficult to find what I was looking for. The upgraded search facility of the new States Assembly site is a great improvement, and will make selecting and finding information much easier for both for Members and the public. In my view, this is a very big step forward in e-government.
From C5’s perspective, the revamping of the States Assembly websites has been a hugely challenging and exciting project, to quote Irving Stone, both “agony and ecstasy”. Indeed, there were times when we felt as if we were working on the IT equivalent of the Sistine chapel; making something of a very high standard, which we weren’t sure we would ever finish!
Ultimately, C5 has provided one of the most advanced government-based search solutions in the world, and helped to ensure that Jersey has now one of the most transparent and accountable governments anywhere. The project’s conception has been highly complex, whilst the nature of its constant evolution provided plenty of challenges.
We believe that the end result has been a tangible success and have received a huge amount of positivity from both users of the site and those for whom we have undertaken the project. This aspect has been particularly positive and rewarding and will enable C5 to use the experience to apply what we have learnt to the management and design processes of similar projects in the future.
Despite the recessionary environment, successful projects such as this give C5 hope and expectation for the future, amidst the belief that the company can continue to grow and evolve into 2012 with a stronger and more experienced IT team that can continue to have a positive effect for businesses in the Channel Islands.