Integrating third party software still a major problem for web teams says Socitm

PRESS RELEASE: Integrating third party software that manages things people want to do on council websites, like renew library books or pay a parking fines, continues to cause problems with usability says Socitm.

To discuss the issue and share ways of improving things, Socitm has developed a new, dedicated one-day event that will run for the first time in London on 27 November.

Use of third party software: addressing a major problem for council web teams will feature contributions from two suppliers, IDOX and Capita, that have engaged with Socitm’s Better connected team in response to evidence of widespread problems arising from Socitm’s annual survey of council websites.

The issue is at the heart of the current discussions among local government IT and digital professionals about the potential benefits of greater sharing of commissioning and development of software to create better customer experiences online at lower cost to the taxpayer.

A recent ‘mystery shopping’ exercise commissioned by Socitm covering some common tasks undertaken by visitors to social care pages of council websites has underlined the problem.

The user experience was tested on three different tasks: apply for blue badge (for disabled parking); find equipment for the elderly; and find respite care for carers. Each tester completed two of these tasks, recording observations on video and rating the overall experience.

The blue badge test was rated very good by 72% of all testers irrespective of the site tested. On the other hand, the equipment for the elderly task was only rated by 12% of all testers as very good and the respite care test only rated by 8% as very good.

The poor results for the second and third tasks tested in this research are in line with other Socitm performance monitoring and testing of online services. In many cases, the poor results are due to the fact that third party software has been badly integrated. This can be due to issues with the software itself, problems arising because of the way it has been specified in procurements, or the way software has been implemented by in-house teams.

The programme on 27 November will cover all of these issues, but will start with a case study from Northamptonshire CC that earlier this year ran a ‘third party summit’ with its systems suppliers to share their future plans and engage in discussion about how best to achieve desired outcomes.

A further case study, from Rochdale BC, will show how constructive dialogue between local authority client and software supplier over usability can lead to improvements and deliver what has turned out to be a flagship project.

The inputs from IDOX and Capita into this event have developed from an initiative dating back to 2012 when Socitm approached suppliers of a number of line of business systems to share the usability problems identified through Better connected. Two major suppliers that accepted the invitation have been invited to the event to share what they learned from the process. They will present on planning and library management systems respectively, alongside Better connected reviewers Helen Williams and Aideen Flynn.

In two other sessions, the East Riding of Yorkshire will demonstrate that it practical and essential to include the digital team in procurement processes in order to ensure that software to be used by public on council websites is fit for purpose, while Herefordshite County Council will present their vision of a that future is flexible and modular, in which suppliers offer powerful web services and APIs so that digital teams can readily consume and republish data from their systems.

Programme and booking details are at https://www.socitm.net/events/use-third-party-software