Is Raleigh's new website too costly?

August 4, 2010 5:18:28 AM PDT
The City of Raleigh rolled out its new website design Sunday, but it made its official debut Monday. Now, the question of its cost to taxpayers is getting attention.

The site has enhanced mapping features that allow the public to make their own maps and perform searchers by address, intersection or place of interest.

Users also are likely to agree that the new design makes the site easier to navigate and find what you're looking for.

Raleigh Chief Information Officer Gale Roper says a major component of the new portal is what users can't see.

"All of those pages, all those documents, all those pdf files have to be organized in a certain fashion," Roper explained.

She says organization is critical to a good search engine, which also is an upgrade.

"It's not just a cookie cutter kind of thing simply because it is searching against city information that's located in a lot of different places," Roper said.

A good chunk of the cost was spent asking questions of people who would be using the site.

"We had to really understand what the public was looking for in terms of a web portal," she added.

And she says focus groups cost money.

But did all of it have to cost so much money?

Roper, who came from Austin, Texas, where the city is doing the same thing, says $500,000 isn't bad.

"I know some of the bids we received in Austin far exceeded $500,000.

But, why now during the worst recession in a generation?

Roper says it's very simple. These are digital days and people didn't like what Raleigh had to offer online.

"Much of the feedback we were getting was that people were very unhappy with the functionality of the portal -- of the last website," she explained. "There are databases all over the city that all have to be linked up to this portal so that the faceted search allows it to go into a database and pull the information out."

Roper adds that the cost is well under what many other cities are paying for similar websites.

The software comes from Red Hat, which means it fits with the rest of the city's systems. Roper says that will save money down the road because the site does so much.

However, after taking everything at face value, learning that the price tag is sound and the city and taxpayers got a lot for the money -- there's still the question of timing.

The decision to redesign the site and spend the money was made about two years ago. Of course the economy was somewhat better then.

For a look at the new site, log on to www.raleigh-nc.org.

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