DTI update - good money after bad?

Loyal readers will remember that in May last year I started to post about the DTI's new yet inaccessible website, developed at a cost of £200,000 of taxpayers' money. If this is news to you please start with the summary I posted in August when the story ran in Private Eye, and at my co-conspirator Bruce Lawson's website, where he has a special category just for the DTI.

In February the DTI posted an accessibility update to their website, detailing a three-step improvement plan, to be completed in early summer 2007.

Being a curious bloke (so I've been told) I was keen to learn more about this plan, and in particular how much more of our money it was going to take to clean up the mess produced by the previous contractors. So I sent the DTI this FOI enquiry on 22nd March:

Hello.

I'd be grateful if you could provide details of the work described on this page related to the accessibility of the DTI website:

http://www.dti.gov.uk/administration/help/Accessibility/page8487.html

Specifically:

  1. The cost of emplying Nomensa to audit the website.
  2. The cost of step one of the remedial work to be undertaken, described as "Make the necessary accessibility improvements to the core DTI website. This will consist of both technical and content work streams. They will address the underlying design, code and content issues that have been identified as requiring attention to meet the appropriate standards."
  3. The name of the contracted company undertaking the work in step one.
  4. The budgeted cost of completing the entire process described on the page referred to above.

Please contact me if you require any clarification of this request.

Kind regards,

Dan Champion

The DTI responded on 23rd April:

FOI REQUEST 07/0139 - DTI WEBSITE

I am writing in response to your email of 22 March 2007 in which you requested information relating to the DTI website.

  1. The total budget for the website accessibility audit was £10,000. This cost covered:
    • An accessibility audit of the DTI website templates;
    • Guidance on creating and maintaining accessible pdf documents;
    • Presentation of the results at DTI;
    • Copies of the reports;
    • A workshop on issues raised by the audit
    • Central Office of Information procurement and project management costs.
  2. On the website Step One is described as "consist[ing] of both technical and content work streams". The technical workstream has two elements:
    • Building the website templates. Cost: £59,837
    • Upgrading the Content Management System software. This work, unrelated to the accessibility issue, was due and it was prudent to combine it with the template work. Cost: £45,666
    The content workstream is being developed; cost is not yet confirmed.
  3. The company contracted to undertake the technical workstream in Step One is Fujitsu.
  4. The budgeted costs for the technical workstream is £59,837, with a further £45,666 for the CMS software upgrade. The content workstream for Step One is being developed; cost is not yet confirmed. Steps Two and Three of the accessibility project will follow the content workstream.

To summarise:

I have two perspectives on this. On the one hand, this is positive action, and with Nomensa's help the DTI will most likely emerge with an accessible, usable website. Hoorah. On the other hand, it is a marvellous example of how not to procure, develop and deliver an accessible website. The cost of the remedial work looks likely to approach if not exceed the cost of the original development. A perfect illustration of why you build accessibility in from the very start. No doubt more to come about the DTI in the near future.

Comments

Madness considering that the future of the DTI could be under review when Brown becomes PM.

Posted by: Andy Field at April 26, 2007 5:41 PM

Nice work, Dan!

Posted by: bruce at April 27, 2007 9:03 AM

The current government has an very unhealthy habit of reemploying the SAME IT companies that failed to produce a satisfactory product in the first place. To then later throw some more money at the SAME companies to rectify the problems they caused.

Posted by: Robert Wellock at April 27, 2007 11:50 AM

Dan, thanks for being on the ball on this issue.

Three months ago, I'd say I was a little surprised that a further investment of £45,666 was required on the CMS. I wonder why the CMS requires improvement - what features weren't working or missing?

The other main question is what is considered the success criteria of the technical and content work streams - is there a follow-up audit by Nomensa to confirm the changes made are good enough to alleviate the accessibility barriers, or is there some other internal measure?

What happens after the investment of £60,000 results in a still inaccessible site? Is the tax payer yet again footing that failure?

(Where did the £60,000 for Fujitsu come from - was it our taxes? If so, I certainly hope there's a full refund if Fujitsu fail to deliver an accessible site at this second attempt)

I won't hold my breath. Bringing in Nomensa is a good start, but surely the DTI should have hired competent web developers rather than rehiring the failures of the last outing.

Posted by: Isofarro at April 27, 2007 1:55 PM

Words fail me.

Posted by: Gill at April 27, 2007 3:56 PM

good on the DTI for providing us all with such a clear case study. I look forward to reading the report and learning from their mistakes!

Paul Canning

Posted by: paul canning at April 27, 2007 5:20 PM

I remember this debacle, Dan. I'm glad you're cracking the whip and keeping with these guys. Do a good enough job and I'll have to have you visit this side of the Pond to help me do some #%!*$& kicking over here.

---

Dear DTI:

I will bid for the job. We'll take 25% off the top to begin. :-)

Cheers.
Mike

Posted by: Mike Cherim at April 28, 2007 6:49 AM

Good stuff Dan, and quite shocking too.

Does anyone know if there's been any sort of internal DTI investigation into what went wrong with the original site/procurement? If so, could it be obtained under the FoIA? Would it also be possible to get a copy of the accessibilty report?

Posted by: Robert Whittaker at May 2, 2007 9:11 AM

As a New Zealander I'm curious. Why are the UK e-government guidelines in an archive (e-government.cabinetoffice.gov.uk) annotated: "This information is being maintained for archive/historical purposes only. It will not be updated." Are those guidelines current? If not, where are your current guidelines? Do you have standards? Darned if I can find any.

Posted by: Rachel McAlpine at May 13, 2007 1:31 AM

@Rachel: e-Government was previusly handled by the Office of the e-Envoy, so I think the sentence "Publications issued by the Office of the e–Envoy (1999჻�) have now been archived and are available on request by emailing the e–Government Unit." is a reference to that.

The current guidelines are maintained (and I use the word advisedly) by the e-Government Unit at the Cabinet Office, but haven't been updated since 2003. We've been promised a new version for some time, but nothing has been forthcoming.

I do hear on the grapevine though that an external agency has been engaged to help produce a new version, and if my sources prove to be correct it's an encouraging appointment. Time will tell if the guidelines themselves, however good, have any material effect on the quality of government sites. The 2003 guidelines are pretty good: it's not the guidelines that are the problem but the enforcement / policing of the output of departments and other agencies.

Posted by: Dan at May 13, 2007 8:05 AM

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