Former Mint webmaster offers feds some pointers

Former Mint webmaster offers feds some pointers

Chuck Payne, former chief of the Electronic Products and Services Division for the Mint, bids adieu to the government.

Agencies need to look at the message they want to convey through their Web sites, Chuck Payne says

By Shruti Dat'

GCN Staff

When Chuck Payne, former Electronic Products and Services Division chief at the Mint, left the federal government on Oct. 1 for IBM Corp.'s public-sector and global services division, he took a wealth of Web experience with him.

On his last day as a government worker, Payne challenged federal agencies to develop a strategic business plan to benefit from the Internet, increase pay to attract top information technology workers and match the private sector's customer service record.

'A lot of federal Web sites have bubbled up from the bottom up, as dedicated employees tinkered with sites,' Payne said. 'There was no top-down strategy based on business goals.'

Payne began developing the Environmental Protection Agency Web site in late 1994'what he called the Dark Ages of the Internet'when he served as EPA webmaster. He eventually managed 14 EPA Web sites.

'I've done Web sites for the Environmental Protection Agency, the Mint, as a free-lancer and for fun,' Payne said. 'Once you've done Web sites for a while, everything starts to fall into place.'

Planning is key to successful Web sites, he said. 'One of the things I've learned through the school of hard knocks is that you need to do all your planning up front. You need to have a strategic plan where programmers, developers and business managers are involved.'

Far-sighted boss

When Payne came on board at the Mint in January 1998, he took over a basic informational Web site launched in December 1997.

'We have an enlightened director who decided to use the Web site to meet the Mint's mission,' Payne said of Mint director Philip N. Diehl.

His latest task was building the links for an online coin program selling coins bearing states' images.

Payne and his team of graphic artists added a link to explain each state's history and other marketing material. The online catalog, which was posted in May, has served 90,420 customers and had total sales of about $18 million as of last month. Merchandise ordered on a Friday can be delivered as quickly as the following Monday, Payne said.

'One of the things the federal government does not do very well is to look at what message the Web site is trying to convey, what its goal is and how to measure its success,' he said. 'They just put up information that they are mandated to and don't try to figure out site navigability, information flow and usability.'

A primary cause of faltering Web sites is lack of experience, he said. Often, program managers or public relations personnel are handed the responsibility of developing Web sites, Payne said.

'They don't have the background, so often agencies outsource,' he said. 'But the problem with that is you don't know what to ask for, so you assume vendors know best, which is the wrong way to go.'

Another problem Payne sees is a lack of qualified IT personnel in government. 'We don't pay IT people top-notch salaries. There are a lot of dedicated people willing to work for these salaries, but you can't get top-notch people,' he said.

Payne is joining the private sector to work with a broader range of government, and state and local agencies as a senior consultant at IBM, he said.

Change is good

'With the Internet, everything changes in six months. In the federal government people don't often want change, but with the private sector it is different,' he said.

'I have always believed that if a credit card company can send you a credit card the next day, there is no excuse why the government can't match the private sector in customer service,' he said.

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