The DTI Responds

Last month I posted about the disquiet I felt about the DTI's new website (external link). Subsequently I emailed an enquiry to the department, requesting 6 pieces of information about the development of the website. My main concerns were that the site was inaccessible, ignored almost wholesale the government's own guidelines on the development of websites, and subsequently was an example of the mis-use of public funds.

Exactly 20 working days later on Friday June 16th (boy do they know their rights under the FOI legislation) I received a reply. It makes for interesting reading, but for me raises more questions than it answers.

The Q&A

For the record here are the 6 things I asked for and the responses I received, verbatim (with my added links):

The total budget and actual spend for development of the new website.
There was a budget of approximately £200000 for the development of the new website. The spend on website development is estimated at £175000 which includes costs from Fresh01 (external link) and the Department's main IT supplier, Fujitsu (external link).
Whether the website was developed by a team at the DTI or by a private company. If the latter please provide the name of the company.
The website was designed under contract by Fresh 01 (external link). The design was then implemented by the Department's main IT supplier, Fujitsu (external link), into a Content Management System (external link).
A copy of the requirements document for the production of the new website.
A copy of the requirements document is attached. This formed part of the 'Invitation to Tender for rebuild of the website, brief for customer research, design & information architecture, and usability testing phases'. [Download the document - dti.pdf (118kb, PDF format); dti.doc (87kb, MS Word format)]
A copy of any tender documentation related to the production of the new website.
Unfortunately the DTI considered their answer to the previous question to also answer this, despite the mention of a more comprehensive 'Invitation to Tender' document. I'll attempt to secure a copy of this in my next information request.
The basis for this statement on the DTI website: "This website meets the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) AA-level standard."
The statement relating to accessibility was an error. It was removed from the website on 19 May 2006 when we reviewed the site in the light of questions raised.
Details of what quality assurance procedures were followed to ensure the new website met the requirements of the department and satisfied the relevant legal requirements for websites.
Two main rounds of User Assurance Testing were carried out on each template of the Content Management System, using test scripts. There was no formal User Assurance Testing for accessibility.

Accessibility

Let's take a look at the accessibility issues. The requirements document, echoing the government's own standards, specifies that:

10. Companies should note that the final website must comply with the Government Website Guidelines: http://www.e-envoy.gov.uk/oee/oee.nsf/sections/webguidelines-handbook-top/$file/handbookindex.htm and Level AA of the Web Accessibility Initiative (http://www.w3.org/WAI)."

It also states that one of the key objectives of the DTI website rebuild is:

To be a leading example of usable, accessible web design"

Finally, in Annex I, the objectives of the Usability Testing Phase are stated in these terms:

We need to ensure that we provide high quality, usable templates for incorporation into the Percussion CMS. To do this we need a robust programme of usability testing carried out during the design and build phase. This is important in ensuring that the site meets accessibility guidelines for the disabled and other groups, but it is also intended to improve the experience for all users. We need to ensure that users can find what they need to quickly and easily on the site.

We will expect the successful tenderer for this phase of the project to work closely with Percussion and also the company responsible for developing the templates. The results of usability tests will feed into the process of new page templates as they are developed.

Testing should carried out with representative groups of the DTI site's users and potential users. The final website must comply with the Government Website Guidelines and Level AA of the Web Accessibility Initiative.

All laudable stuff, but sadly the reality doesn't match the rhetoric. Why did the DTI:

This seems to be a classic case of a gap between the standards of accessibility a commissioner is stipulating in a requirements document, and their ability to verify that those standards have been met by suppliers. What concerns me is that no-one in the DTI or in any other central government department (the eGU anyone?) seems to have take it upon themselves to fulfil that quality assurance role, and as I've said many times before it's a major failing of many government web projects currently.

Who's to blame?

It's hard to see who comes out of this with any credit at all:

What happens now?

It's fascinating to me how a government department can spend £200,000 in 2006 on such a poor website. There's no shortage of guidance, advice and support for those seeking to produce and commission quality websites today, so why did the DTI and its suppliers fail to take pretty much any of it on-board? What steps will the DTI be taking now they know the website doesn't meet the objectives and requirements they stipulated? I'll be trying to learn more over the coming weeks - I've been directed to make furhter enquiries about the website to the DTI's Response Centre (dti.enquiries@dti.gsi.gov.uk) and of course I'll post what I do learn here.

Comments

Christ, I can't believe how anyone could spend £200,000 on a website!! Ouch! And to think we paid for it! Makes me wonder how they came up with Fresh01 too, considering their website is an example of how not to meet those guidelines.

Posted by: Dave at June 18, 2006 3:10 PM

Excellent work, Dan. We looked (briefly) at Percussion's Rhythmyx CMS on a recent project, but it was rejected for being several times over our budget - I would guess that the bulk of the £200k was spent on CMS licenses rather than design/development costs (that's not to excuse the mistakes made, just an observation).

Posted by: Matthew Pennell at June 18, 2006 3:17 PM

Fancy working together with some follow-up questions to the DTI, Dan? I had an answer to my questions too (we duplicated a few, by coincidence)

http://www.brucelawson.co.uk/index.php/2006/stupid-government-websites/

Posted by: bruce at June 18, 2006 3:54 PM

@Dave: Indeed, Fresh01's own website doesn't fill me with confidence that they could deliver a standards-compliant, accessible site.

@Matthew: You might want to sit down, but that £200k didn't include the CMS. From the requirements document:

"A separate development is that the Department has procured and is implementing a Content Management System (CMS), which will enable content producers to write and update content (for the Intranet as well as Internet) from their desktops. The CMS is the Rythmyx product, supplied by Percussion Software (www.percussion.com)."

So the cost was for design, development and (limited) migration of content. The site apparently consists of 16,000 pages (not too scary) but only a small percentage of those were to be migrated to the CMS as part of this contract.

Posted by: Dan at June 18, 2006 4:01 PM

Bruce, I'll email you, let's stick our heads together.

Posted by: Dan at June 18, 2006 4:03 PM

Madness, it looks as if the DTI has spent 200k on re-importing data into non-accessible templates that hardly differ from the ones used previously. The new site doesn't look too different from the old one. There's certainly been no improvement in layout and navigation. Interesting to see how this pans out.
Wonder if all that money includes hosting as I'd hate to think how much Fujitsu are charging for that.

Posted by: Andy Field at June 18, 2006 4:56 PM

I sent them an FOI request too, but I don't think there's much in the reply to add to what you've posted above. To quote part of it though:

"Our current policy on accessibility is that we are striving to meet the above guidelines. We are still in the process of planning how we might do this, but an action plan or a timeline are not yet in place."

Presumably, the DTI has signed off on the website redesign, so the suppliers have 'got away' with not following their contract, and there'll no redress against them now.

Or alternatively, the suppliers 'forgot' to include any mention of accessibility in their tender, and the DTI just accepted it without realising.

It would be good if this story could make it into the mainstream news. A bit of bad publicity for the supplier and the DTI might go some way to raising awareness in both the IT industry and government...

Posted by: Robert Whittaker at June 18, 2006 6:40 PM

That's interesting. Rythmyx lies behind the Natural History Museum and V&A websites

Posted by: Jim at June 18, 2006 6:42 PM

@Robert: That's what I'm trying to nail down - were there multiple failures in the process the DTI followed? In any case it appears to me that they were misled by a supplier somewhere along the line, since the requirements document is unequivocal on the need for an accessible design.

As for mainstream media coverage, Digg it, blog it, report it, do whatever you can to spread the story. If a high-profile site like the DTI gets the public slating it deserves for producing rubbish like this then it will concentrate minds elsewhere in government. Maybe someone, somewhere will even consider the need for a central clearing house for government sites, acting as a quality controller with compulsory review before designs are signed-off and released.

@Jim: That is interesting, since they are both a great deal better than the DTI site, which suggests that the choice of CMS wasn't a particularly influential factor in the DTI site being so poor.

Posted by: Dan at June 18, 2006 7:51 PM

"Our current policy on accessibility is that we are striving to meet the above guidelines. We are still in the process of planning how we might do this, but an action plan or a timeline are not yet in place."

Is this where I start reciting: "build accessiblity in, don't bolt it on at the end" until I get all giddy? Geez.

Posted by: Karl at June 19, 2006 1:10 PM

This does seem like the sort of thing which the media could get interested in. Civil rights, high technology and widespread government failures to reach targets all in one story!

Btw, this hyperlink doesn't work for me:
http://www.e-envoy.gov.uk/oee/oee.nsf/sections/webguidelines-handbook-top/$file/handbookindex.htm

Posted by: Ben 'Cerbera' Millard at June 20, 2006 2:25 PM

Ben, that's the link as it appears in the requirements document. At the time the document was written (over 3 years ago) it was the office of the e-envoy which was responsible for the web guidelines. It's now the Cabinet Office, and the handbook can be found here: http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/e-government/resources/handbook/html/htmlindex.asp

Posted by: Dan at June 20, 2006 5:43 PM

This is a Scandal.
The suppliers to the project are surely in breach of contract. As taxpayers are we able to demand that the site is put right and not at the suppliers own expense? I guess I'll write and ask.

Posted by: grant broome at June 22, 2006 12:23 PM

Normally, when I respond to blog posts, I put my work e-mail and a link to my personal (non-professional) blog. Even without doing so, you wouldn't need to be much of a detective to work out who I work for. But please don't. Just take what follows at face value. I want to say what I think without huckstering for my company.

I've looked at the invitation to tender, and I'm convinced that they could do it comfortably for less half the price. And they could do all of the relevant accessibility testing (with visually-impaired users) as well - and get a site that has had 'usability' testing into the bargain (it's not a very usable site either, is it?).

I know this because we've bid for, won, developed, and won awards for comparable sites (the awards were for accessibility). And I know how much we bid for them.

One of their mistakes is to procure the CMS and the design seperately.

The CMS that we use is one that we developed ourselves. We upgrade it constantly to make sure it competes with the latest stuff on the market (we want to remain competitive with new players and we want to retain existing clients). And we charge .... well .... very little per year to manage, host, support, maintain and upgrade that CMS. A good deal less than they are paying anyway.

Civil servants, being what they are, are only interested in not having blame attached to their own decisions. So they always go for off-the-shelf CMS systems even when there are proven alternatives with a good track record. Because it's easy to explain the virtue of an off-the-shelf system to someone who doesn't understand what you are talking about - or care anyway.

And - here's the rub - I know a few companies in this area, and when I've spoken to them about this question, I get phrases like 'I'd rather stick needles in my eyes than bid for this work' when the subject comes up.

Bidding for these contracts is never a 'win-win' situation. You have to do loads of work and waste loads of time on the off-chance that you will win it because of the awful way they procure the services. And this contract shows that being the best company for the job will have little bearing on whether you do win it or not.

There are no personal relationships that you can develop during the project that can generate new business for you. Doing a good job will not result in more work - or indeed any loss of reputation. All you know is that the clients don't care, will give you a crappy brief in the first place, be a pain in the neck to work with and won't thank you for doing a good job. Indeed, they won't know or care if you do a good job because there is a commonplace in the civil service that no-one should stay in a job long enough to set the success criteria that it is judged by - and then be around when they are monitored.

In the work I've done with the public sector, there are one or two exceptions to this - and you can see it in the results. Because businesses like ours actually really want to do a good job for a government client. It's just that we never get the opportunity to do so.

In the end, they always pick big outfits like Fujitsu and never smaller (award-winning) agencies with a satisfied client base.

I'm not complaining, by the way, from a professional point of view. We have plenty of other clients for our services - ones that are good to work for, ones that don't make us make a loss on projects, ones that will stay with us and recommend us if we do a good job. Ones that obviously care about their work

But I AM complaining from the point of view of a taxpayer. Because the fact that they are paying more then double for a job to be done is a minor scandal. The major scandal is that well specified / built / managed websites could transform government in this country. They could improve the quality of public administration, make people feel better about government, and they could save £billions in terms of wasted government spending.

This is directly against the interests of many civil servants, however. And that is the real scandal. It also tells us squarely where the blame should lie for this.

Posted by: Paul at June 23, 2006 1:59 PM

When I said "Doing a good job will not result in more work - or indeed any loss of reputation." I meant to say "any enhancement to your reputation."

Apologies.

Posted by: Paul at June 23, 2006 2:27 PM

Hey, fancy knowing a little more about the development? Then check this out (and someone mirror it before Fresh take it down!)

http://fresh01.com/114-DTI/

I can only presume it's a staging area where they uploaded templates. Shame none of them are in any way standards compliant or accessible - they even have the flashing text running, with the text "This is an excellent script". Obv those DTI folk were wowed by their ability to write simple javascript rather than their ability to design accessible websites...

Posted by: peter smith at June 23, 2006 8:18 PM

>Hey, fancy knowing a little more about the development? Then check this out (and someone mirror it before Fresh take it down!)

Did anyone mirror it? It's gone now :-)

Posted by: Tony B at June 27, 2006 4:02 PM

A few years back I was involved in buying two CMS for 2 regional public sector bodies. The spec was the same (more or less) for both.

However the indicitive price we were willing to pay was different (IMHO we should not have given any indication) and, suprise, suprise, the tenders came back near the price we were willing to pay.

Both systems are now live and I believe AA or even AAA (the spec called for AA) and I know they were a LOT cheaper than the DTI site.

Not only that, but there are OpenSource CRM systems which I am sure could be used.

Posted by: Eserim at June 27, 2006 4:23 PM

"Not only that, but there are OpenSource CRM systems which I am sure could be used."

Yup - Typo3 does it for us. It's an excellent enterprise-level FOSS CMS - and getting better all the time.

www.typo3.com (promotional info)
www.typo3.org (downloads and docs)

Posted by: Peter Wardley-Repen at June 27, 2006 6:16 PM

In response to Paul's comments from an industry perspective - I don't normally comment on blogs either but until the smaller companies *collectively* campaign against Whitehall procurement methods then nothing will change. I just don't see that happening. And you're right that this isn't just about commercial interest but as taxpayers/citizens/whatever.

Collectively raise your voice and you stand far more chance of changing the situation.

Posted by: paul canning at July 13, 2006 10:45 AM

There's an article about this in the new Private Eye (cover date 18 August 2006); this blog is mentioned and the URL given.

Posted by: Andy Mabbett at August 16, 2006 8:12 PM

Thanks Andy, that's excellent news, and explains why the traffic has gone through the roof.

Posted by: Dan at August 16, 2006 8:24 PM

Paul Canning - only just seen your comment.

That would be worth thinking about. A face to face meeting would be useful to discuss this. If anyone from the DTI wanted to convene one, even better!

Posted by: Paul Evans at August 21, 2006 11:33 AM

I can't beleive it was really that lot of money. 200000$ is too much for any quality web site especially for that one.

Posted by: Helen Price at August 22, 2006 10:00 AM

Print page scripts.. what decade was this site created... oh, a few months ago... £175,000??

I'm clearly in the wrong job (web development).

How is it that companies who can't code their way out of a DreamWeaver behaviour get jobs like this? Shouldn't there be someone with some clue with regards to modern web development practices and accessibility to check out the company before they're awarded he contract? For a budget of £200,000 I would have hoped so.

Posted by: Matt Turner at October 2, 2006 8:38 PM

Interesting Read - sadly not surprising. On the rare occasions we lose to other solutions (sadly we don't win 100% of the time!) :0) we often find the customers have been very mislead and given false promises (glossy sales pitches). As for the costs that's just disgusting - an outright rip off for the finished (?)product. We have done better public sector and central governement sites at a fraction of that cost.
Seems others can get away with charging a lot more!
What part of 'due diligence' meant they could justify £200,000!? Anyone asked to see the various quotes that were submitted and were unsuccessful?
Brad

Posted by: Brad Smith at October 4, 2006 1:21 AM

UK is in the technology stone age. Rule of thumb is that they are 5 years behind on IT. Incompetence is quite the norm, and I'm sure downright ignorance/deception happens on a regular basis.

Reminds me of a US web project for an eCommerce site in 2000 for selling designer chairs online $200,000 !

Posted by: Henrik at October 5, 2006 4:29 PM

Post a comment

Personal information