Media Coverage

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County Government Meets the 21st Century

February 21, 2018

By JIM PANAGAS

County government isn’t something that most Americans spend a lot of time thinking about. But one enterprising county on the west coast wants to change all that. The County of San Luis Obispo, tucked in between San Francisco and Los Angeles counties, wanted to find a more efficient way to keep citizens informed about available public services, increase the level of engagement with its citizens, and run a much more open government. So it recently completed a year-long project to roll out an all-new website to better serve its citizens.

The project was expansive in scope, replacing a site built 10 years ago. It involved more than 100 county employees working across 23 different departments. It had to convey the benefits of 750 available public services and provide on-demand access to more than 5000 files and documents. Ultimately, the project would be made up of 2700 individual web pages.

“The key to success for this website was collaboration,” explained Whitney Szentesi, social media and communications analyst for the County of San Luis Obispo. “From very early on, we had to be certain that we were working with all of the stakeholders, getting feedback from the public, from all of our departments, and from elected officials, making sure that they were comfortable with everything that was going on.” 

Showcasing the County's Public Services
First up was finding a way to communicate information about hundreds of public services, without overwhelming people. “There are all these public services that people just don’t know about,” noted Tyler Penney, web services administrator for the county, “so a big part of this project was education, letting people know everything that the county does for them ­­– and that’s a lot.”

He continued, “From helping people with social services, to giving people help financially. We have our District Attorney’s office, and the Sheriff. We have our own health agency. We have a department of weights and measures that makes sure that all of the scales throughout the county are correct. It’s an incredible array of services, and it’s our duty to let county residents know about them.”

Quantity of Content and Quality of Design
This project was about not only quantity of content, but also quality of design. In other words, how do you build a website that’s orderly and easy to navigate when you’ve got so much material to share? One thing the team did is look at what other counties and municipalities were doing. “There were quite a few different websites, both larger governments and smaller governments, that we took into account,” said Penney. “There were a couple of sites in particular that were so simple to use, like the UK’s website. It had an influence on us because it really took minimalism to a new level.”

Providing Multiple Ways to Access Information
Rathan rely on a single way for website visitors to find information, the team decided on providing multiple avenues of access. Said Szentesi, “We organized all of our services into topics and categories that we knew people would be searching for. The team recognized the importance of giving people multiple ways to find information.” The new site, in fact, allows people to search for information based on:

• Identifying who you are within the county i.e. resident, business owner, property owner, parent, visitor, or other 
• Searching an alphabetical list of county departments, or 
• Scrolling through a list of tasks you can accomplish on the site. 

To further build out the look and feel of the new website, the county turned to local design firm iiiDesign.

"Our role,” explained Edward Marshall, creative director, “was to develop a set of basic skins for the site, and give the county the flexibility to build on them as necessary in order to maintain a consistent look and feel.”

Selecting the Right CMS Platform
Whenever an organization is launching a website, it’s an opportunity to review the underlying technology platform or CMS system. You want to make sure that the one you select is not only sophisticated enough for the project, but also features an open environment so that you can integrate other tools and corporate systems such as CRM. The County of San Luis Obispo was no exception. It did its due diligence and even drew on analyst reports to make sure that the platform was viable.

“We needed to make sure that all of our third party digital tools were integrated into the new site,” shared Szentesi. “So when we were looking for a content management system, we needed to make sure that it had that kind of capability. And the one that we found did.”

“There are a lot of products out there,” added Penney, “and organizations like ours have to rely on a third party to be able to assess these things and point us in the right direction. We needed something that was Microsoft.NET based.” 

High Degree of Public Involvement

The county went to great lengths to include the public every step of the way. For example, they encouraged citizens to submit photographs taken within the county, and many of them were built into the site design, giving full credit to the individual photographers. They also involved the citizenry in both user testing and surveys.

“We needed to know with certainty that our website was easy to use for every single age group,” said Szentesi, noting that county residents expected to visit the site ranged from young people in their teens and 20s to senior citizens, some of them in their 90s. The way that people of different ages interact with computers, tablets, and phones can vary dramatically.

“We also did some usability testing,” explained Penney. “We also sent surveys to constituents, asking what they liked about the site, or what they didn’t like about it. So we were able to quickly turn around and make adjustments.” Based on feedback, the county, for example, added a Google Translate button to the site, enabling visitors to read content in a number of different languages.

Continuos Innovation

Another area where Penney saw an opportunity was by taking a more contemporary approach to meeting notices. “We hold a lot of public meetings around the county – there are a lot of decisions being made that require public input,” Penney said.  “So we are creating a new way for county residents to see upcoming meetings and be notified at the top of the screen when a new meeting is about to start. That functionality will be coming to the site soon.”

It’s a never-ending process, noted Penney.

“We’re constantly on the lookout for ways to have the site do more, deliver more clarity, and provide us with a more open government.”

What the Stats Show: More Engagement, More Mobile Users

The impact from the new website is already being felt. 

“We have seen a marked increase in the amount of time that people are spending going through various sections of the site,” explained Penney. “Before, someone might have just found the information they were looking for and left. Now they are also spending time reading our news articles and some of the other special page types that communicate what’s going on in the county.” 

He continued “The number of website visitors year over year hasn’t really increased, but what we do see is more engagement and a much lower bounce rate across the board. We also see a lot more users coming in through their mobile devices. That’s why it was very important for us to make this a responsive website.”

"It's a People Project"
“A lot of people would say that a website is a technology project, but it’s not,” concluded Szentesi. “It’s a people project. It’s all about providing service. It’s about how are you going to help the people you are serving, your customers, whoever they are. And making sure that the site works for them and for you.”

She continued, “It’s really interesting when you launch a new website as a public agency, especially if you hadn’t changed yours in 10 years. People become accustomed to the way that it looks and the way that it is, but we have completely revamped that and gone in a totally different direction. And so far people have reacted very well to it.”

About the Author: Jim Panagas is the Director of PR & Analyst Relations for Kentico Software, a leading provider of CMS technology. A seasoned marketing and communications professional, he has been working in the technology industry for 25 years. His current assignment is educating the market about digital experience platforms including Kentico EMS and Kentico Cloud.

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Discussing the WCM Landscape with Industry Veterans

February 16, 2018

[Following are excerpts. Read the full article by clicking on the link above.]

By Venus Tamturk

Although a Web Content Management System (WCM) may not sound like your everyday go-to platform, it actually somehow is. As WCM platforms are the gravitational center of digital ecosystems and experiences, all the digital content we consume or create on the web is powered by these platforms. As basic as their functionality sounds, their impact on our digital experiences is tremendous. Since today’s tech-savvy consumers’ expectations are ever increasing, the competition for catering to their needs and capturing their attention has never been more fierce. With this reality in mind, content management technology providers have been aggressively and rapidly amplifying their platforms in order to create excellence in businesses and end-users’ digital experiences.

Now that we are already nearly two months into 2018, I reached out to a handful of significant thought leaders in the space to understand the subtle and significant trends that shaped the WCM landscape during the past year, find out what has changed in the WCM vendors’ agenda since last year as well as trends and challenges that content creators will face throughout 2018.

Understanding where the WCM space is heading requires a concise look at what has shaped the technology landscape during the past year. With that in mind, I asked the interviewees about the trends that we have seen the most over the year. 

The Omnichannel Revolution

To get the story behind the story, I inquired with Kentico’s CEO Petr Palas about what is driving the wide adoption of microservices and a headless approach, and he splendidly explained: “First of all, we should consider discontinuing use of the WCM acronym since the industry has changed. Content is no longer just about the web. It’s about much more. Last year we saw a dramatic growth of emerging channels – chatbots, digital assistants, AR, VR, IoT, etc. This is the very beginning of the omnichannel revolution that is coming to the whole CMS industry. This requires a major shift in how we think about content creation and delivery. On the technology side, we can already see the shift towards headless, microservices and cloud but that is just the leading edge of a much bigger change coming to our industry.”

I loved the phrase he used; “the omnichannel revolution” and agree that the shift from a traditional, monolithic architecture to cloud-first, based on containers and microservices has simply been driven by today’s uber-connected consumers’ expectations of having a consistent and relevant experience across all digital touchpoints.

At the end of the day, I really do not think consumers are becoming loyal to brands, as they are becoming loyal to the experience that a brand provides them. Being not only a personal belonging but also a doorway to a vast world makes mobile devices a unique channel in terms of building a one-to-one relationship. However, the game of capturing attention is even tougher in this arena as we all scroll endlessly through social media newsfeeds or lists of Google search results. Once managed to capture the consumer attention, then brands have a chance to either make a splash or mar their business as they have a pretty narrow window in which to further engage with them. That’s why it is important to have a future-proof technology with an easy usability that can power the content with a clean and aesthetic layout.

Petr Palas of Kentico also added that providing consistent and highly personalized omnichannel experiences will remain the biggest goal of digital businesses: “The biggest trend we will see in the upcoming years is how to provide consistent and highly personalized omnichannel experiences. It’s no longer just about web and mobile – marketers need to get ready for chatbots, digital assistants, AR, VR, IoT and other emerging channels. The problem is most marketers and content creators today work in silos and they’re limited by disconnected tools they use to manage and deliver content. That leads to content friction that causes internal inefficiencies and an inconsistent customer experience across channels. We need a new generation of CMS that is designed as omnichannel from the very beginning – which is what we did with Kentico Cloud.”

Challenges of Content Creators in 2018

Lastly, I discussed the challenges that content creators will face this year. Petr Palas of Kentico said: “On the strategic side, content creators need to start shifting their mindset from how to manage a few traditional channels to how to manage content for the new multichannel world. This is a paradigm shift and the ones who start early will reap the biggest benefits from opening new communication channels with their customers.”  

Palas was not the only leader who sees a shift in the content creation process as Joel Varty pointed out yet another shift: “The world is becoming more and more technology-driven, and yet at the same time we are seeing a shift in demand for simpler and more streamlined experiences. It turns out that simpler is actually harder – it means you have to say no to a whole lot of stuff and yes to only the very best and most relevant. This started with the “mobile first” trend a few years back, and it’s still percolating throughout the industry. How do we streamline and consolidate the best and most relevant content into simpler and more personalized experiences? The folks who can consistently deliver on that promise will have success in 2018.”

My POV

In my view, the last year’s hottest topics were a headless CMS approach and the GDPR impact. This year, the discussions around the understanding of the GDPR requirements will be replaced with the topic of how to comply with the GDPR without having to rule out personalization. Similarly, the hype about headless CMS will settle down as the main focus will shift from what a headless approach means to where it is appropriate to utilize.

The ongoing trends such as delivering personalized omnichannel experiences across devices including conversational systems and virtual reality will continue to sit in the center of content strategies throughout this year.

The demand for best-of-breed solutions that support digital experiences in diverse use cases, such as the IoT, conversational interfaces, or embedded commerce will grow. However, to be able to speak to both best-of-breed seekers and single-vendor solution buyers, WCM vendors will amplify their native capabilities in emerging areas such as e-commerce and contextual marketing features, while providing solutions which can seamlessly integrate with different sets of third-party technologies in order to give their users ultimate flexibility.

Given the unprecedented growth of the open source platforms like Drupal, Magneto, and WordPress in their inclusion to the content creation process, what we see as “newish” this year is platform collaboration and openness. As I previously cited in the story between New York magazine and Slate as an example of rival collaboration in an article entitled “What Can CMS Providers Learn From Media Companies?”, when businesses are confident in their capabilities, a strategic collaboration with competitors often results in a win-win situation. This year, we will see this relationship happening either through open-source platforms or platform integrations.

There is one thing that is certain, 2018 will be a busier and yet more exciting year than ever for all WCM vendors as they will keep innovating, acquiring, and teaming up to make their platforms more modular, smarter, granular and atomic.

VENUS TAMTURK

Venus is the Media Reporter for CMS-Connected, with one of her tasks to write thorough articles by creating the most up-to-date and engaging content using B2B digital marketing. She enjoys increasing brand equity and conversion through the strategic use of social media channels and integrated media marketing plans.

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Digital Assistants: Be Where Your Customers are Today

February 05, 2018

By Wayne Jasek
Director of APAC

As technology advances, people don't just consume digital contebnt; they want to experience it, touch it, and integrate it into their lives. So if your start-up can't offer them an almost intangible experience where your content is present and easily accessible on the devices consumers frequently usae, you might as well close the shop and go home.

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