Content Driven

A new content-management system is helping Denver manage its mountainous Web site.

by / June 11, 2001
When Denver wanted to improve its InfoDenver Web site a few years ago, city officials looked at the Seattle, New York City and Colorado Springs sites to get an idea of what could be done.

According to Byron West, director of Denvers Office of Television and Internet Services, Denver officials found little guidance. Seattles site lacked quality content. In New York City, Web site content had to go to a centralized place and would be published when there was time. In Colorado Springs, there was plenty of content but it didnt look good.

"We discovered that a lot of the problems other cities were having had to do with the issue of content and how content was managed," West said. "So we knew that we had to be thinking about content management. We also knew that we had to put the ability to post content into the hands of the folks that are in charge of the content."

The result was the 1999 launch of DenverGov <>, which is supported by a database-driven, content-publishing system accessible by all city agency experts who contribute content via their Web browsers. No HTML is required of the agencies that fill out fields on formatted templates to get their content easily posted and updated, West noted.

"This is not so much a content-management system as much as it is a distribution-management system, which manages content with a distributed approach," West said. "By taking a distributed approach, we wouldnt have the problem that other cities were having."

Project Management Key

"It was probably less difficult to start from scratch than it was to customize whats out there," said West.

"[The content-management system] allowed us to standardize the quality of the content from page to page so that its not wildly different and so you dont get a collection of seemingly unrelated Web sites," said Steve Hansen, the citys marketing representative. "Its also made it easy for us to train people, which was a concern."

When the project started, users had to know HTML. In addition, nothing was distributed, fewer people were willing to participate and there was no coordination. "There was no enterprise approach to the Web at all," West said.

Its very different now.

"Project management is the key to making this work," West added.

In fact, todays users have learned the system well enough to intelligently ask for a few dozen enhancements, and West said most of those have been implemented.

"I think its [made] the people in the various agencies throughout the city organization much more aware of how hard it is to deliver service in a whole new way," Hansen said.

The number of participants contributing to the Web site has increased just as dramatically as users knowledge. Today, DenverGov has about 40,000 pages on its site, up from 16,000 when content management was just becoming an issue. The city has 265 people who contribute to the content, a task that could sound daunting but isnt under the new content-management system.

City officials, who say they previously received mostly negative e-mail regarding the content of InfoDenver and the early phases of DenverGov, say that isnt the case anymore.

"We do hear from constituents quite a bit and theyll mention how easy it is to navigate the site," Hansen said.

Interested Parties

Denver employees believe that this approach could be used in a jurisdiction of any size -- the bigger, the better, according to West.

"The only issue is the network. In order to use this distributed approach, there has to be a network in place. And most cities have that," she said. "In other words, the individual contributors have to have a way to get to the system, so it does rely on a stable and substantial network within the infrastructure. But I think the bigger the city, the more bang for the buck."

Other jurisdictions have taken notice. Orlando, which has a population of about 190,000, and Las Vegas, which is similar in size to Denver with about 500,000 residents, have expressed interest in the content-management software.

What these other cities would receive is a system that gives employees "an opportunity to think in new ways about delivering services seamlessly, across many traditional boundaries," Hansen noted, adding that customer satisfaction with the site has increased by 400 percent in 18 months.

While Denver officials continue to make the site better, they hope they havent yet reached their peak. In the meantime, however, West and Hansen no longer feel that they have that daunting rocky mountain to climb.