There’s a lot more to making the public sector’s digital footprint effective and engaging for stakeholders than refreshing a website and issuing social media policy ‑ especially when it comes to publishing and communications. Often the greatest success springs from harnessing the best design and visual elements and values of print and giving them a rich and interactive new life on screens of all sizes as well as social media. Government News scans the landscape for what’s really turning heads and pages online.
When (then) Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull officially launched his department’s Digital Transformation Office through a public ‘Q&A’ style panel discussion in March, the single theme that came home the hardest was that government getting online is now a necessity not a choice. And that the mandate is coming from the top.
With a hard target of 80 per cent of federal customer facing interactions, especially transactions, to be made available online by 2017 as set policy goal, there’s no disputing that Australia’s public sector – from small councils to state super-clusters – are set for their biggest service delivery shake-up in more than a decade.
But peel back the ‘get digital’ rhetoric and the imperative boils down to a more basic challenge for many agencies and organisations which necessarily need to communicate crucial information to the public and stakeholders in a format that doesn’t leave users and customers out in the analogue cold.
Apps are great, but when they fail, they do so spectacularly. And while the best websites have a major focus on seamless user experience built in at their core, the price of getting to that point is often well beyond the reach of budget constrained government buyers who are simply unable to compete for the calibre of digital talent being fought over by cashed up banks.
For government, a really successful digital strategy takes people and their products along for the ride; conversely the loss of familiar formats can often result in audience loss, confusion and frustration.
Technology pundits might push the ‘paperless’ mantra, yet history clearly shows paper publishing has been a singular standout and the most stable user interface for literally centuries. Most of those design values still translate to interactive electronic presentation today and with good reason.
Think Apple, iOS and touchscreens and the definitive gesture is flipping through and turning a page, an action that speaks volumes to ease and simplicity. What fewer people realise is that that same underlying mechanism can be extracted and achieved using longstanding print and online publishing tools, namely Adobe’s PDF format.
Given a choice between baking-in rich interactivity into existing mainstream technology like PDFs through powerful and affordable new tools or a deep plunge into expensive web and application development, it’s not hard to see why the simpler and more affordable option can often be the better one.
That’s even more the case when existing historical and archival assets like reports, publications and journals also need to come along for the digital ride and not break the bank, especially when libraries and back issues represent a highly valuable resource for capturing and preserving corporate knowledge.
There’s also plenty of scope and capability to capture data, usage patterns and metrics for analysis.
Realising digital value
Getting the most out an investment in digital transition means carefully managing and minimising disruption. Effective transition is usually gradual rather than sudden and thrives on getting people to ‘opt-in’ rather being forced to face disconnection.
In this respect, familiar formats like PDFs can and do work across multiple channels, especially if they’re turbocharged with dedicated services like Realview which specialises in making digital publishing across all devices accessible, flexible and affordable for what is arguably one of government’s most underserviced markets.
A key part of the flexibility of Realview’s PDF based service is the capability to build, enhance and add digital features into publications as they evolve to determine what works – and what doesn’t – without chalking-up big development costs otherwise incumbent on HTML based projects.
This efficiency stems from being able to leverage existing investment in electronic document production and making it ready for truly digital consumption by providing a smart presentation layer that not only seamlessly ports PDF content to a device ‘native’ context but enables a myriad of rich interactive functions that range from touchscreen gestures to video and interactive comments and dynamic links to other online functions like calls to action, sign-ups and survey responses.
That’s a very marked change from largely static and passive electronic publishing that essentially renders what went to print in pixels.
It also enables a big leap forward for public facing organisations like councils that necessarily need to consult with the community on issues ranging from development planning to childcare and aged care services, often in multiple languages.
Imagine being able to pick up a paper pamphlet, scan a quickcode on a smartphone and go to the same document and enter your details to apply for a service or some other transaction.
Online transactions might be all the rage in terms of digital service delivery but more often than not there still has to be an effective channel that traverses established and new technologies to hook people up.
Platform for success
It’s fair to say PDFs are and will remain the dominant document format in government, corporate and commercial publishing and document management, not least because of archiving and regulatory requirements. It’s also fair to say that the average user would rather dial-up or download an easy to use document rather than add yet another app to their crowded ‘small screen’.
Many digital memes have come and gone over the last two decades however Adobe’s open standard PDF has endured as a staple not least because of its interoperability and platform agnosticism – not to mention ease of use.
In March Adobe announced that it was making its largest reinvestment yet into PDF’s underlying Acrobat technology and its capabilities, a move clearly aimed at consolidating the PDF format’s enduring leadership. This push is for the government and corporate sectors because it provides an anchor point in an otherwise turbulent sea of competing proprietary platform and document standards.
In terms of high value-add players like Realview, which offer an affordable conduit to digital transformation the back of PDFs, Adobe’s latest announcement cements a sound business case for the long term – a rare comfort for a technology company and its clients.
Against this context, it’s worth drilling down into what and how Realview presents a digital experience to its clients and their end users. Given that larger and higher quality documents usually create challenges in terms of unwieldy file sizes, its more effective and engaging to capture and display documents and journals via a managed service like Realview than having users trying to download massive files.
A useful analogy for Realview is that the service has accomplished for print and electronic document publishing what YouTube and Vimeo have done for online video. Content hits the screen when and where you want it rather than waiting for big files to load and buffer.
A further benefit is that by having document content delivered through a well-resourced dedicated service, rich content like video can be easily embedded into documents on an organisation’s own terms to greatly enhance interactivity while still keeping people ‘on the page’. Metrics and analytics are also a key part of the deal which means that what content is being consumed can be tracked easily putting it on par with other web-based offerings.
Given that bandwidth will always be a real world constraint in terms of usability, especially for mobile devices, this means that customers are spared the pain of downloading Jurassic size files without compromising presentation and functionality.
Australia has been a leader in digital adoption and produced world leading companies that have enabled this. What’s less known is that Realview is one of them and has become a global leader whose overseas successes sometimes obscure its local potential. That could be about to change.
Teachers Scan for digital success
Published by the NSW Department of Education, Scan is a leading refereed journal that focuses on the interaction between information in a digital age and effective student learning and offers engaging professional support for all educators. A subscription-based digital publishing model has allowed the publishers to reach out to and connect with educators across Australia and the globe to further positive learning outcomes in an interactive format.
Banyule City Council: city planning goes digital
Being seen to consult and engage the community can often be as important as the process itself, especially when it comes to council planning. Banyule City Council not only took its key consultation document digital but built in new features like the tracking and reporting of user interactions to enhance transparency and governance.
Australian Federal Police: Platypus Journal
Australia’s national law enforcement body has successfully harnessed digital publishing to widen the reach and engagement of its highly regarded professional journal, Platypus. The move has maintained essential print quality look and feel, enhanced interactive features and helped manage cost constraints in a tight fiscal environment.
Community engagement: consult.docs
Community and stakeholder consultation is a heightened priority for government amid policy reforms and new projects. The increasing imperative to not just deliver, but be seen to deliver transparency and engagement across stakeholders and interested and affected parties. There is now a genuine community expectation that the public sector can and should use digital channels to gauge, record and review attitudes, positions and views of communities of interest. consult.docs offers an effective channel to create and deliver the key tools needed for a digitally enabled consultative process. The service and product delivers not only rich content capabilities options to illustrate and explain issues and concepts but can dynamically prompt, accept and record comments and input which can later be analysed.
This story first appeared in Government News in April/May 2015.