January 13, 2009 By Andy Opsahl
Neal Puff, CIO of Yuma County, Ariz., is handing control of the county's Web site to Public Information Officer (PIO) Kevin Tunell -- a move Puff considers "radical." Puff said county IT departments typically decide on the overall design and placement of information on their Web sites, which he contends makes little sense.
"How many private-sector organizations would let their IT groups control the designs of their Web sites? Pretty much none -- at least none of the large ones," Puff said.
He said governments tend to assume that because Web sites involve technology, designing them requires technological expertise as well.
Puff and Tunell believe the county PIO occupies an especially good vantage point from which to judge how effectively the county Web site communicates.
"Your public information office has got its finger on the pulse of how to reach the citizens," Tunell said.
"The problem I see is that when you go to our home page, there's so much stuff there," Tunell said. "It's not really in an organized format -- something that's easy for somebody to come to and navigate right off the bat or get to within a click or two what they want to get to."
Tunell thinks Yuma County's problem is that running the Web site has been a one-employee operation. That made it harder for the county's site to have what Tunell considers the critical components of a user-friendly portal: technical code, layout and marketing aesthetics.
Tunell discovered he could likely pay a private company with all three of those skill sets to produce the Web site for no more money than the county paid a single employee to run the site. However, he's declining to specify an amount until the contract is awarded; Tunell is still in meetings with vendors. Puff is playing a consulting role during the process.
The county's webmaster position is vacant at the moment, which means the job's duties can be transferred to a private company without eliminating an existing employee.
The change will free Puff's staff to focus on hardware, networks and other more traditional forms of IT maintenance. Puff said relinquishing his role in the site's operation had no effect on his ego.
"A lot of organizations say they view the Web as a mass media communications medium," Puff said. "If that's really true of us, I don't understand why our Web site wouldn't be managed by the same person managing the rest of our mass media communications."
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