Institutional Web Management Workshop 2005: Sky High or Free Fall – All Aboard the Web Rollercoaster

Institutional Web Management Workshop 2005: Sky High or Free Fall – All Aboard the Web Rollercoaster

Should own up to a vested interest here – this session is by David Sweeney – who used to be IT director at my place – and is now a Vice Principal there – so I guess I’d better be nice. It will be interesting to compare David’s talk and our experience on the ground at RHUL!

Starting point – David believes that IT should not just be ‘serving’ the institution, but also influencing and changing the institution – making it better.

Now getting a mention – apparently I trashed most of the talk on the way up on the train yesterday!

David is setting the RHUL Context (and taking an opportunity to trash Manchester – which seems a bit harsh). Anyway – basically Research led stuff. Still think we’ve got a long way to go here – although we have invested in academic research in terms of academic staff, all our support services are about supporting teaching (in the main), not about supporting research. Look at the website and consider the profile of research.

So – the web:
IT First / Marketing Last – this is the history of the web. We need to move on from this. Agreed – but we still struggle with this. I’m not sure we really have the right structures in place to acheive this. Interestingly the speaker from the LSE yesterday is moving from the IT section to PR/Marketing section – is this the way things are going to go? For the ‘central’ web presence – our online ‘publications’ like the ‘online prospectus’ this has to sit in the same place as the print publications.

Do we understand why web-sites really work? We are working with an audience with hugely varying skills, and very different styles of ‘information engagement’. Also – coming back to a conversation with the LSE speaker yesterday – LSE believe that they shouldn’t try to satisfy more than 3 customer groups with a single web site – this definitely rang bells, as I feel that RHUL main page (and many HE institutions front pages – especially the ‘research led’ ones) doesn’t have enough focus – because we don’t know who we are trying to communicate with.

Are we (IT people) distracted by the latest and greatest technology, and not spending enough time actually consolidating what we are delivering? I agree with this – but we need both aspects. Look at the Warwick blogs stuff – really trendy, techy stuff which has worked.

On the otherhand we need those who are delivering our professional publications to be working on stable and reliable platforms, and controlling and driving what is happening. This, once again, comes back to the ownership – marketing/PR/communications has to own this stuff – IT is just a service isn’t it? Both sides need to realise this and the institutional management needs to realise this – otherwise our web presence will not deliver what the institution needs.

However, I think we are talking about a specific area of our web presence. Marketing/Comms/PR need to control the institutional publication – but not necessarily everything else on the web. At the very least we need to prioritise where we start. At the same time we definitely need more of the marketing skills and awareness across the organisation. And the same with web skills.

Is there something specific about these areas which makes it difficult? Everyone thinks they can do communication, and a lot of people think they can do web stuff (publishing for everyone) – perhaps any situation where the professional skills are not correctly valued we get a similar problem? Do we need a reassessment of the actual skills here? What are the difficult bits? What is the ‘anyone can do this’ stuff?

David is covering a lot of stuff on the RHUL Brand – why we have changed our key messages, and how they way our publications look is part of that message.

The final part of the puzzle – communicating the brand – the key messages – of the institution to the members of that institution. I said to David yesterday that I still didn’t feel I knew the key messages of the institution – or that I didn’t believe them yet (back to ‘research led’ – are we really? what is the evidence?) – and I’m really involved in this stuff. I think that perhaps different areas of the institution might have different views still.

Finally – a challenge from David – ‘how can I, in my job, make my institution better?’

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