The UK government is losing control over its websites and does not provide online services that the public actually needs, a report warned today.
Technology consultancy Detica was responding to a report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which criticised the quality and accessibility of government websites.
Detica believes that the government's failure to listen to the public and plan its web presence properly is leading to a chronic waste of taxpayers' money.
The PAC report revealed that the government still does not know how many websites it has, and is unaware of their running costs or what savings have been made by moving services to the web.
It also showed that 16 per cent of government departments do not know how their sites are being used.
"Government departments have rushed into gaining a presence on the web without considering the purpose of their sites," said Andrew Rolf, head of creative services in Detica's government business unit.
"The situation is not helped by the fact that 12-month funding cycles do nothing to support strategic development programmes or promote consistency between different sites."
Rolf believes that government departments have been too focused on telling their website audiences what to do, rather than listening to them and reacting to feedback.
"It is hardly surprising that the resulting sites neither meet the needs of the public nor improve the operational efficiency of the departments in question," he said.
"Some really basic customer service tricks are being missed. For example, website owners could ask the IT helpdesk what the most frequent requests are and place answers to those questions on the home page."
Detica reckons that in order to overcome these problems government departments need to assign clear ownership of a site to promote accountability and be clear about the purpose of the site.
Furthermore, departments need to identify the target audience, measure and evaluate the benefits of the website and ensure that somebody is responsible for maintaining the site once it is live.
"Lack of governance is the biggest single risk to government websites. Without this, any website project will quickly find all the same problems being made six months after launch," concluded Rolf.
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