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Better Practice Checklist - Decommissioning Government Websites

As of 1 July 2015, 'Gatekeeper' is now the responsibility of the Digital Transformation Office

March 2011

Introduction

When government agencies assess the effectiveness of the information and services they provide online, they may find that some websites have become outdated, irrelevant or are no longer required. This may then lead to agencies reaching a business decision to ‘decommission’ or ‘retire’ the website.

A key role of the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) is to identify and promote ‘Better Practice’. This checklist has been created to help agencies identify issues to consider when decommissioning websites. Section 44 of the Financial Management and Accountability (FMA) Act 1997 requires the Chief Executive of each department and agency to promote the efficient, effective and ethical use of resources for which they are responsible. The items in the checklist, however, are not mandatory and focus on non-technical issues.

Whilst aimed at staff responsible for decommissioning a website, the checklist may be of use to managers and business areas affected by the decommissioning of a website. The checklist is not intended to be comprehensive. Rather, it highlights key issues for agencies to consider in the development of a project plan.

The checklist is iterative and draws on the expertise and experience of practitioners. The checklist will be reviewed and updated regularly.

Acknowledgments

This checklist was developed with the assistance of Australian Government agencies. In particular, we would like to thank the following:

  • Attorney-General’s Department
  • Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
  • Department of Family and Community Services
  • Department of Health and Ageing
  • Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research
  • Department of Transport and Regional Services
  • Australian Government Office for Women
  • National Archives of Australia; National Library of Australia
  • Queensland Department of Local Government, Planning, Sport and Recreation

Why decommission a website?

The lifecycle of agency websites includes a regular process of evaluation. This involves assessing the effectiveness of an agency’s online services and measuring performance and success to understand the:

  • relevance to the needs of users
  • alignment to agency/government strategy
  • security risks and issues
  • currency and accuracy of content
  • scope and use of available technical infrastructure

Refer also to Audit Report 26 - Measuring the Efficiency and Effectiveness of E-government (Australian National Audit Office), February 2005.

Following the process of evaluation a business decision may be taken by an agency to consolidate a number of websites or close particular websites, leading to a decommissioning process. The reasons to decommission a website may be influenced by a range of factors.

These may include the following.

  • Integration of service delivery. Information and services may be integrated with information and services provided by other areas of the agency or by another area in government.
  • Program completion. Some websites may be established to support a particular activity,and are not required when the activity is completed.
  • User or business needs not met. An analysis of site usage, user feedback and website evaluation may find that user and business needs are no longer being met. For further information about user feedback, see Better Practice Checklist - Testing Websites with Users. For further information on evaluation of business needs see Better Practice Checklist - Website Usage Monitoring and Evaluation.
  • Infrastructure and operational costs. Where separate websites are supported by different infrastructures and operational units, it might be more cost effective to consolidate and close one or more websites.
  • Lack of support. If the website is no longer adequately supported, it may be appropriate to close it and move the useful content to another website that is supported.
  • Machinery of Government changes. Administrative changes may involve the transfer of functions between agencies or the closure of some agencies.

The website decommissioning process needs to be managed appropriately to minimise risks, meet business objectives and to ensure that full and accurate records are created and managed to support the Australian Government and the interests of the Australian community.

This Checklist highlights some of the issues and obligations that should be considered by project managers.

Summary of Checkpoints

Before you start

Check box Determine the business case for decommissioning the website
Check box Develop a decommissioning project plan and establish approval
Check box Determine a budget
Check box Allocate key responsibilities
Check box Establish governance mechanisms
Check box Develop a stakeholder engagement strategy
Check box Conduct audience research to understand the contextual relationship of topics patterns of use

Managing content

Check box Conduct a content audit
Check box Identify the key links to the website
check box Identify and manage content no longer required online
checkbox.gif Migrate content to be retained online and implement redirections

Managing systems

checkbox.gif Conduct a technology audit
checkbox.gif Conduct a review of current processes
checkbox.gif Conduct a risk analysis
checkbox.gif Manage changes to any contracts or licences
checkbox.gif Prepare a disposal plan for hardware and software

Other issues

checkbox.gif Manage the domain name

Checkpoints

Before you start

Check box Determine the business case for decommissioning the website

Just as a business case should support the creation of a website, a business case should also support the decision to decommission a website. The business case may help to plan any resulting process to decommission the website. Business cases may include:

  • objectives and history of the existing website
  • key performance indicators such as costs, customer satisfaction and usage of the existing website
  • administrative imperatives such as Machinery of Government changes
  • an estimate of the cost of the decommissioning including staff, technology, and communication of the changes to clients and stakeholders
  • alternatives to decommissioning including benefits, costs and risks
  • impacts on users, other agencies, as well as the agency responsible for the website

Check box Develop a decommissioning project plan, and establish approval

A decommissioning project plan documents the key activities that will be undertaken. The plan will help to coordinate activities, manage risk, ensure that critical issues are addressed and provide transparency to stakeholders.

The plan should be developed with input from various areas of the agency including business, information and records management, information technology and communications groups. The business case for decommissioning the site will help inform the development of the plan and, through endorsement, provide internal clarity on the task.

Agencies will use different project planning methodologies, but decommissioning project plans may include:

  • objectives and key success criteria
  • timelines
  • dependencies and milestones
  • stakeholder engagement strategies
  • key activities such as technology/infrastructure issues, contracts, content audits, content migration, management of content as records, and legal/statutory requirements
  • formal technology plan to provide short-term and long-term plan for consolidating the website technical infrastructure
  • resources including staff and infrastructure
  • risk assessment and mitigation strategies

Check box Determine a budget

A decision to close a website will often mean that funds and resources will still be required – at least for a period of time. Apart from the cost of the project management, closure of a website may require funds for a range of activities including:

  • auditing content
  • migrating content
  • managing content no longer required online
  • finalising existing contracts where appropriate
  • redeploying or retraining staff as required
  • communications activities including stakeholder and client engagement

Check box Allocate key responsibilities

As the decommissioning of a website is likely to involve business, information and records management, information technology and communications groups, identify staff in each of these areas who will be responsible for the decommissioning process.

Check box Establish governance mechanisms

Agencies might find it useful to establish executive project committees to oversee the decommissioning project. These committees might comprise representatives from a range of areas in the agency or multiple agencies if the website has been developed or managed cooperatively with other agencies or jurisdictions. Independent quality assurance may also be sought.

Check box Develop a stakeholder engagement strategy

Decommissioning a website is likely to impact upon a number of different groups. Consulting and keeping these groups informed should help to minimise any negative impacts of the decommissioning and maximise the positive impacts.

When developing a stakeholder engagement strategy, agencies might consider:

  • the specific groups that may be impacted now (for example, citizens) and in the future (for example, researchers and libraries) and how these groups will be impacted
  • the main information and messages that should be targeted to these groups
  • the best ways of providing information and advice on new arrangements to these groups
  • establishing consultative forums comprising representatives of stakeholder groups

Check box Conduct audience research to understand the contextual relationship of topics patterns of use

Before you consolidate site content, you need to have a sound understanding of your audience and their needs. You can study this through:

  • analysis of site feedback and metrics
  • interviews and focus groups
  • one-on-one testing of the current websites

This will enable you to understand how important each audience is to your agency, and what their core requirements are.

Managing content

Check box Conduct a content audit

Agencies may find it useful to conduct an audit of the content on the website in the early stages of the project. The audit should identify the owner of the content, the relevance of the content, when it was last updated and the accuracy of the content. For further information on conducting a content audit see Better Practice Checklist 11, Information Architecture for Websites.

A content audit is useful for determining content that should be migrated to another website, and for identifying content that has been or should be, captured into a recordkeeping system.

Content that remains relevant to some users may need to be relocated to another website, split over several websites or transferred to a recordkeeping system. Content of enduring value should be identified and flagged for transfer to the National Archives or the National Library, where it can be preserved and made accessible for the long term. The value of website content should be identified and flagged as early as possible, so that decisions and authorisations from other business areas or other agencies can be obtained.

Check box Identify the key links to the website

There may be a number of key websites (both internal and external) that link to the website being closed. It is important to inform the content managers of these sites that the website is to be closed. This will give them the opportunity to update their links. To identify these websites, agencies may wish to use site analysis tools or use a search engine that identifies links to websites in its search function.

Where websites are linked to by a large number of other websites, it is useful to provide a redirect facility that automatically redirects users to the new site. The duration of the redirection should be considered in line with issues associated with managing the domain name (see below).

It is useful to provide a message to visitors to the website along the lines of “If you are not redirected automatically in x seconds, please use the above hyperlink”.

check box Identify and manage content no longer required online

Websites are an essential part of how government communicates with the community. Websites and website content may have continuing value although no longer required for business purposes, and consideration must be given to identify, retain and preserve this information.

Content that is no longer required on the website should be managed in accordance with the agency’s information and records management policies and mechanisms, including disposal authorities issued by the National Archives. In some cases the whole website may need to be archived. Guidance on the archiving of websites is available from the National Archives of Australia — Archiving web resources: A policy for keeping web-based activity in the Commonwealth Government

Also refer to Better Practice Checklist - Archiving Web Resources.

Key issues agencies may wish to consider include:

  • agencies are accountable to Parliament and the people of Australia and may also be legally liable for information provided and services delivered via their websites. As such, they have primary responsibility for ensuring that full and accurate records are captured into recordkeeping systems and maintained for as long as they are required
  • agencies can be asked to respond to legitimate requests, for example, under Freedom of Information (FOI) for information on what the website contained in the past. Agencies should ensure that they make and keep reliable and authentic evidence of the content of their websites so that it is possible to establish the exact content of the sites at any particular point in time
  • agencies should liaise with the National Archives when determining the retention periods for their web content, and whether content should be temporarily retained within the agency, destroyed or transferred to the custody of the National Archives
  • agencies may also wish to contact the National Library of Australia’s PANDORA Archive to have website assessed for inclusion in the Archive of online publications

checkbox.gif Migrate content to be retained online and implement redirections

Content that has been identified to be retained online should be migrated to another website. Key issues agencies may wish to consider prior to migration include:

  • reviewing content to ensure that it is up to date and accurate
  • ensuring that the content resides in a recordkeeping system
  • capturing the details of the migration itself into a recordkeeping system
  • determining how and when the content will be migrated so that it has the least impact on users
  • managing the different content management systems used by the old and new websites
  • identifying potential risks such as loss of or damage to content in the transfer process, key content being unavailable for a period of time, uploading outdated content and user satisfaction with timing of new arrangements
  • identifying how these risks can be mitigated by the use of test, staging and live environments
  • developing a strategy to redirect users to new content locations for a period of time
  • monitoring of statistics for the old and new locations to determine timing of removal of redirections

Managing systems

checkbox.gif Conduct a technology audit

This should include an audit of existing technology and infrastructure (e.g. online hosting arrangements, web content management systems, servers) and will help identify opportunities for consolidation and efficiency (e.g. duplication of resources such as software licences).

checkbox.gif Conduct a review of current processes

A review of current processes to develop, maintain and manage the website will help identify areas which are not properly resourced or have inadequate management controls. This will lead to the establishment of consistent processes agency-wide.

checkbox.gif Conduct a risk analysis T

he results of the technology audit and process review enable an assessment of the risks involved in running each website. For example, some websites may be hosted on insecure servers and be vulnerable to hackers, while other websites may have no technical back up. The risks of each website are also measured in relation to overall importance to the agency: a ‘mission critical’ agency website should require greater levels of security and management than a website focused on minor administrative functions with a small audience.

The risk analysis helps prioritise websites and activities for consolidation, so that the overall risk to the agency is managed.

Note: risk analysis and management is an ongoing activity.

checkbox.gif Manage changes to any contracts or licences

Closure of websites may involve changes to contracts or licences that were established to support the website.

Consider conducting an audit of contracts and vendors that support the site that is being decommissioned, and review the scope of contract agreements and licences.

Contract or Legal units in agencies should be consulted for advice regarding these changes.

checkbox.gif Prepare a disposal plan for hardware and software

There may be hardware and software that is no longer required that can be redeployed in the agency or otherwise disposed of. Agencies are likely to have asset management plans which cover this issue, and agency financial management areas may be able to provide further advice.

When disposing of hardware, agencies may wish to ensure that its configuration is documented to facilitate its reuse elsewhere.

Other issues

checkbox.gif Manage the domain name

Agencies need to decide whether the domain name (the first part of the URL, for example, www.finance.gov.au) will be maintained and redirected or whether it should be de-registered. The decision to retain or de-register the domain name may be impacted by factors including:

  • the profile of the domain name i.e. how well it is known
  • the prominence of the domain in search engine results for popular relevant search terms
  • if the URL has been published in either printed or online (PDF) publications

Before proceeding with any changes, consider other services that may be reliant on the domain name, including email, file transfer protocol (FTP) and sub-domain names.

If the domain name is to be maintained and traffic to it redirected, agencies should contact their Internet Service Provider (ISP) to arrange this.

If the domain name is to be de-registered, the domain name registrant must delete it from the Registration site for government domains in Australia accessible at www.domainname.gov.au. The domainname registrant is the individual within the agency nominated as responsible for the domain name at the time of registration.

Further information about Australian Government domain name policies and procedures is available at www.domainname.gov.au

Further information

Other Resources

Keeping Government Publications Online: A Guide for Commonwealth Agencies (NOIE) catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/2125858

Archiving web resources: A policy for keeping web-based activity in the Commonwealth Government http://www.naa.gov.au/go.aspx?to=57

Digital Recordkeeping: Guidelines for Creating, Managing and Preserving Digital Records www.naa.gov.au/images/digital-recordkeeping-guidelines_tcm2-920.pdf

About the Better practice checklists

Comments about this checklist and suggestions for additional checkpoints can be directed to:

Better Practice
Australian Government Information Management Office
Email: better.practice@finance.gov.au