The next big thing in municipal websites
- By Ben Sebree
- May 02, 2019
In 1993 website design trends were all about imagery, because before then websites could support only text. In 1994, web-safe colors exploded from 16 to 256. In 1999, readers wanted fewer words per page. In 2002, Flash animation debuted. In 2006, it was trendy to develop long, scrolling, design-heavy pages. In 2010, responsive and flat design battled for prominence. By 2013, over half of Americans were banking online, and in 2014 the internet turned 25-years old.
What does all of this digital nostalgia mean? It demonstrates that as technology evolves and improves, website design trends evolve too. As expectations among website users grow, site designers continually push the boundaries of design and technology to find the best way to deliver content and increase engagement.
Some may say that the public sector lags the private sector in digital adoption, but the latest data shows that private- and public-sector trends are moving into alignment. In fact, as a result of the newest tech developments that enabled the internet of things, modern cities and counties are looking to step in line with the private sector. That’s why in 2019, the next big thing in municipal websites revolves around content-as-a-service (CaaS) communication models, fueled by headless content management system (HCMS) technology.
CaaS and the HCMS
CaaS is the new standard for how entities that rely upon a multichannel communication strategy -- such as local governments -- can reach their audiences in the age of the IoT. CaaS refers to any form of digital content that is created and developed independently from its digital output layer. Simply put, CaaS dictates that content creators should craft one message, in one system, that can be viewed on any device or form factor from smartphones to desktop computers, to wearables to digital road signage.
The execution of CaaS communication models is made possible through the use of an HCMS, a content management system in which the data repository is separated from the web delivery layer. It focuses not on the delivery of content through pages, but on giving content creators tools and workflows that deliver content across multiple channels and devices, thus fulfilling the promise of CaaS. By separating the repository where data lives from the system that displays the data, designers can build content once and distribute it through multiple channels, displaying it on any device.
Why CaaS is the next big local government website trend
Consider today's typical content distribution workflow. Suppose today is Election Day, and local officials want to remind citizens to get out and vote. To execute a multichannel communication strategy, they would probably need to write and publish the message separately for their website content management system, mobile app CMS, push notification system, email software, individual social media channels, in-office kiosk system and digital road signage system. With shrinking municipal budgets and staffs, such processes can be unsustainable.
With a CaaS communication model, however, the Election Day reminder can be written and published one time and accessed by citizens via any of the communication platforms mentioned, in addition to wearables, smart televisions, voice-controlled personal assistants and future evolutions of IoT technology.
With an HCMS customized to fit the specific communication needs of local governments, other benefits will accrue:
Increased site speeds. Typically, HCMS systems are cloud hosted, which means faster site speeds and a better end-user experience, no matter what type of device is being used to access civic information.
Convenient third-party integrations. Most municipalities are reliant upon several disparate software systems -- from an email service to financial software. An HCMS is designed to more efficiently feed data to, and accept data from, existing software stacks through application programming interfaces (APIs).
Cost-savings. With a single content repository that allows for multichannel messaging, municipalities will save money with one data management system, rather than paying to maintain separate technology for creating and sharing content on each relevant channel. Not only are siloed systems that perform single functions limiting, inflexible and time-consuming to manage, they represent inefficient investments of taxpayer dollars. Local governments can eliminate their website publishing software, social platform managing tool, mobile app CMS and a variety of other stand-alone systems with a single HCMS. The cost-saving benefits of such an approach are compoundable, as ongoing maintenance and enhancements are only needed for one system managed by a sole provider.
Future-proofed content. An HCMS enables the use of infinitely reusable content, which is an investment in a future-proofed communication strategy. With an HCMS designed to deliver content to any form factor, communications staff need not worry about redesigning digital content every time Apple or Android releases a new smartphone or tablet in a new form factor, size or dimension. It also means that content is future-proofed to accommodate the next content delivery channel. By storing data in a repository that is separate from the front-end templates used to display it, content managers never need to worry about reformatting messages or republishing digital content when new smartphone form factors are released or the city administration replaces its kiosk or road signage hardware.
More impactful analytics. Public-sector communication managers know all too well about the struggle to calculate the return on investment of a multichannel marketing plan executed using different software systems with varying capabilities of reporting and unique metrics. With an HCMS that stores data in a single location, engagement from any channel can be measured consistently using a single reporting platform. With this single database model, communication managers finally benefit from reliable engagement data that can use used to refine plans. It offers analytics that measure moments of engagement -- not user actions. Unprecedented aggregate and user-level behavior data are possible from HCMS solutions, which enable more data-informed decisions to improve citizen engagement and build more relevant digital service solutions.
Streamlined mobile app updates. Mobile apps allow citizens to interact with their local governments’ digital service offerings on their schedule. While these tools are ideal for fostering such engagements, they can be burdensome to manage. Any entity that has ever maintained a mobile app has felt the time-consuming frustration of needing to resubmit it to Android and Apple app stores when modifiable changes are made. By using an HCMS as the data repository that feeds content to the mobile app, time and resource-constrained local governments can offer citizens continually updating dynamic in-app content without the need to re-submit the app to various marketplaces for review and publishing.
Existing software stack integration. When IT staff evaluate new software, a critical consideration is its ability to feed data to, or receive data from, existing software systems. HCMS solutions are built using an integration-centric mindset; they are optimized to enable API connections to share data and create automated workflows among existing software systems. With an HCMS, content managers can add a calendar event to their Outlook calendar, and it automatically publishes the same event to the website’s community calendar and the mobile app and then sends a push notification alert to event list subscribers -- without any extra steps in the process.
Easier cross-training. If communications staff are the only employees who know can update the website, public-safety staff the only ones who can send emergency notifications, parks and rec staff the only ones who can update the events calendar and the IT staff are the only ones who know how to update the mobile app, how do local governments expect to be efficient? How will they adapt as staff levels continue to shrink and job responsibilities continue to flex? Using a single HCMS that all staff with content management responsibilities are trained to use allows for cross-training and greater output efficiency.
Personalized messaging. An HCMS solution built with machine-learning capabilities allows local governments to give citizens the personal, meaningful interactions with their local government that they want and need, bringing a personalized services-first experience to the digital age. Beyond merely adding a citizen’s first name to an email, an HMCS with machine-learning capabilities can customize page displays, search results and content recommendations, all on an individual user level.
Greater security through the cloud. HCMS solutions are cloud-hosted, which means stronger protections from evolving cyber threats. It also means faster site speeds thanks to decentralized hosting sources, regardless of device or content output type.
As local governments’ budgets shrink and the public sector continues to lose talent to private companies, local governments are challenged to do more with less. Fortunately, CaaS communication methods and HCMS technology are simultaneously emerging as a time-saving solution to the resource constraints threatening citizen communications. Leveraging CaaS and an HCMS can serve as a foundation for a future-proofed engagement strategy, so local officials will be prepared for the next step in the evolution of digital engagement.