More with less: City cuts back website, increases engagement
A customer-focused information architecture helped Olathe improve customer experience for residents and streamline workflow for staff.
For the government of Olathe, Kansas, a strategic plan spanning 20 years grew out of efforts to revamp the city website. Now two years into “Olathe 2040: Future Ready,” the city went live with a second refresh in November.
The public was struggling to find what they needed, although the information was there, said Scott Meyers, the city’s digital programs manager. “We had basically a library, but it was more of a repository of just stashed information, [and] customers had to know our back end, had to know our workflow, had to know our organizational structure before they could ever transact with us,” he said.
To make it easier, the city consolidated 1,600 pages of content down to 400—an effort Meyers called “a very rigorous scrub” that involved studying traffic to and from the webpages and analyzing visit frequency and how often pages were edited via the city’s content management system. “A lot of times, you can see how items just got neglected because they were put out there for somebody’s idea rather than for the greater good,” he said.
The city had a communications official work with subject-matter experts in each department to determine, from a language and content perspective, how to pare down the offerings and clarify wording. That process helped eliminate about 300 to 400 pages that “were just words on words on words,” he said.
Additionally, the city partnered with Granicus to use its Government Experience Cloud platform, build sitemaps and understand information architecture.
“A lot of governments are focused on how something looks or how something feels rather than how something functions or the outcomes that it drives,” said Luke Norris, vice president of platform and digital transformation at Granicus. “Information architecture gets the right pages organized in the right way to help shape that user experience.”
Customer experience is a key driver of the strategic plan, Meyers said. He likens the approach to a spoke-and-hub, with the website as the hub, or digital services portal, and other technology tacked on.
One of the first services the city put inside the new portal was public records requests. Before, people had to email a form to the city clerk, who passed it to whoever could process it and tracked it on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Now, it’s all digitized. “Our citizens have the ability to communicate back and forth inside the portal, and our city clerk doesn’t have to be involved,” Meyers said. “They oversee it, but if someone’s asking for something … those subject-matter experts are the ones that are engaged.”
That approach also means that when the city is ready to add services such as compatibility with Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, it won’t require extra steps because the technology is already in place.
It’s also an example of the future-ready strategy the city announced in 2020. Rather than focus on specific technologies, it zeros in on resiliency, workforce and general ideas about advanced technologies.
“Olathe is a suburban community located in a technology-oriented part of Kansas, but it is hard for them to attract highly skilled technical folks,” Norris said. “To avoid creating UX debt or technology debt, they have been very introspective in realizing that they need to adopt low-code, no-code platforms that can be more ubiquitously used by a wider cross-section of their government staff.”
Using those technologies will give workers ownership over the customer experience and enable those who are public-facing “to finally be able to deliver great digital experiences, because they aren’t reliant on hard coded technology that only one person can create,” he added.
Looking forward and in concert with the 2040 strategy, Meyers has an eye on increasing personalization—something he said the digital services portal will be foundational for supporting. “Ideally, next steps will be to move our 311 platform into the service portal,” he said, which would “improve our workflow on the back-office side.”
But the city is already seeing benefits from its efforts: The average time it takes most visitors to find what they need is now less than two minutes, and the number of subscribers to government communications is 27 times greater. Plus, traffic to the city’s website has doubled as users realize how much they can now access.
“Some people even thought we added services, because they were able to find things quicker,” Meyers said. “It’s just the advancement of technology and delivering on what [constituents] normally would use in their everyday lives.” Improved customer experience, helps residents “enjoy being part of the city and transact with the city,” he said.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.