Big challenges, big organisations

On the last show of season 10 we explore the challenges of running large organisational websites in both the commercial and public sectors.

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Paul Boag:
On the last show of season 9 we explore the challenges of running large organizational websites in both the commercial and public sectors.

Paul Boag:
Hello and welcome to the Boagworld web show thingy that we do every week. My name is Paul and joining me, as always, is Marcus. Hello, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington:Hello, Paul.

Paul Boag:
Today’s show is brought to you by Headscape and the industry jargon word, dither. That’s dither.

Marcus Lillington:Dither.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, dither.

Marcus Lillington:I do a lot of dithering.

Paul Boag:
I know.

Marcus Lillington:Why did I go into the kitchen? That’s a very common dither.

Paul Boag:
Yes, it is. Or why did I open this app? I often do that as well. It’s the virtual equivalent of dithering. No, I am talking about in gifs, and other image formats, where you have a limited color palette and you know it dithers in order to create the approximation of the colors.

Marcus Lillington:Yes.

Paul Boag:
So that today’s jargon word, dither.

Marcus Lillington:Yeah.

Paul Boag:
Absolutely pointless. You do not need that word in your life. There you go. So how are you, Marcus?

Marcus Lillington:I am very well. Thank you. I was just contemplating that this isn’t really a weekly podcast, is it? Because next week and the week after and the week after and the week after, we won’t be doing one.

Paul Boag:
Well, no, because we’re at the last episode of Season 9, aren’t we?

Marcus Lillington:Yes.

Paul Boag:
Which is very exciting because we get a holiday.

Marcus Lillington:You get an actual real holiday.

Paul Boag:
I get an actual real holiday, yes.

Marcus Lillington:So when are you off?

Paul Boag:
I am off on Sunday. Well, I actually fly on Monday but we’ve decided to take it easy and go and stay at Gatwick the night before so we don’t have to get up at ridiculous o’clock.

Marcus Lillington:I quite like getting up at ridiculous o’clock when it’s holiday time.

Paul Boag:
Oh, do you?

Marcus Lillington:Yes, because it’s all part of the excitement.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, but it’s just such a long day. So I am lazy.

Marcus Lillington:Yeah.

Paul Boag:
So we can go and stay in the hotel overnight the night before.

Marcus Lillington:Yeah.

Paul Boag:
Yay.

Marcus Lillington:That high spot that is Gatwick Airport.

Paul Boag:
Yes. And then I have got just under a week in Vegas where I am going to be at Future Insights USA. You have to say it like that, don’t you, apparently. And so I am going to speak there which will be really cool on my incredible book, Digital Adaptation, available now in pretty much no book shops.

Marcus Lillington:So are you actually admitting that that’s holiday?

Paul Boag:
Yes, I am because I am taking it as holiday.

Marcus Lillington:But you have to do a bit of work in there, Paul.

Paul Boag:
Yes. But the work is to pay for me and my wife’s flight out there.

Marcus Lillington:Right, that’s fair enough.

Paul Boag:
So that’s kind of – it’s not Headscape time because you are not getting any money out of it. I am keeping the money all to myself.

Marcus Lillington:We might in a kind of roundabout way.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, if we win some work, absolutely. We don’t want any more winning anymore work at the moment, do we? I thought – Chris was moaning, so much going on, so many leads. I mean there is no pleasing that man.

Marcus Lillington:Yeah, but there is a difference between so many leads and winning them.

Paul Boag:
That is true. There is a big difference.

Marcus Lillington:Yes.

Paul Boag:
So I am quite excited actually. Lots of meetings.

Marcus Lillington:Yes. We can now – I don’t – we can now say that we are working with Rosalind Franklin University in Chicago because we have a contract with them.

Paul Boag:
Yay. Which is our first higher education in the U.S.

Marcus Lillington:Yes, that’s cool. And we’re working with AWID, a women’s rights organization, and these things are kicking off.

Paul Boag:
Can I just ask a question about that?

Marcus Lillington:Yeah.

Paul Boag:
Why did they hire us?

Marcus Lillington:Because…

Paul Boag:
Because we are the most blokey agency known to… We don’t really, other than Liz and Liz does count, but we don’t really have any female employees.

Marcus Lillington:But that’s not a deliberate act, is it?

Paul Boag:
No.

Marcus Lillington:Even though we pretend to be blokey, we’re actually all softie lefties at heart.

Paul Boag:
Oh absolutely, yeah. We’re not blokey in any kind of real sense of the word.

Marcus Lillington:We don’t know hunting and fishing stuff. Do we so?

Paul Boag:
Yeah, well even… I was going to say even the sporty ones out of us like play cricket. I mean that’s not exactly a manly sport, is it? I suppose that Ian – Ian surfs, doesn’t he? That’s kind of manly.

Marcus Lillington:Yeah, and he just triathlons and that’s really manly.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, that is.

Marcus Lillington:But there you go. But we…

Paul Boag:
But we did – hang on a minute. We did…

Marcus Lillington:We were employed for our skills and our knowledge, Paul.

Paul Boag:
You mean people don’t hire us just based on our sparkling personalities?

Marcus Lillington:Well, maybe not just that.

Paul Boag:
And of course, we did do – you say we are not manly but what did we do a couple of Christmases ago? We went shooting.

Marcus Lillington:Clay pigeons with guns that had big silencers on them and made them really weedy.

Paul Boag:
Yes. So it wasn’t too painful on our ears.

Marcus Lillington:And I am sure I just – I know quite a lot of blokey blokes and none of them work for Headscape.

Paul Boag:
No. Well what about Ed? Ed must be – Ed is fairly blokey bloke, isn’t he? Big guy…

Marcus Lillington:I suppose ex-rugby player but I suppose from a sort of – but he is a designer so…

Paul Boag:
He is. He is a bit lovey really.

Marcus Lillington:He worries about how straight things are and blokey blokes don’t…

Paul Boag:
Do real men not do that?

Marcus Lillington:No of course not.

Paul Boag:
They don’t worry if things line up?

Marcus Lillington:Yeah.

Paul Boag:
So basically we’ve now have just written off every designer as not being a blokey bloke.

Marcus Lillington:Yeah.

Paul Boag:
So I am having a real – I am having a real crisis at the moment, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington:Really.

Paul Boag:
Well the trouble is that the announcement has been made for Yosemite, the next version of the Mac operating system, and iOS 8. And they are sitting in our Apple developer account waiting for me to download them.

Marcus Lillington:And you are about to go to America. Yeah, download them, Paul.

Paul Boag:
And you know that they are going to be unstable and it will be a massive mistake but…

Marcus Lillington:Just ignore it until it comes out properly for everyone.

Paul Boag:
No, I can’t, I just can’t ignore software. I can’t ignore new goodies that are sitting waiting for me.

Marcus Lillington:But it’s not really goodies, is it? It’s just stuff that goes on in the background.

Paul Boag:
No, it’s great.

Marcus Lillington:I mean iOS 7, I suppose, was quite a big upgrade and…

Paul Boag:
You don’t even know what iOS 8 or Yosemite does. Do you?

Marcus Lillington:They make my computer work properly. Let’s face it, they do exactly the same thing that iOS 7 and whatever the current silly name is…

Paul Boag:
No, they’re so much better, you just don’t understand, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington:You know I am right.

Paul Boag:
It’s like Christmas.

Marcus Lillington:It’s not.

Paul Boag:
It’s better than Christmas.

Marcus Lillington:A new Mac, now that’s different.

Paul Boag:
No, you see, no, because it’s this – I am sorry, I disagree with you over this because – that’s a surprise, isn’t it?

Marcus Lillington:Software isn’t shiny. There you go. Enough said. Full stop.

Paul Boag:
No, software – I’m sorry, software is so much more important than hardware.

Marcus Lillington:Might be more important but it’s not shiny.

Paul Boag:
It is shiny. The new Mac operating system is beautifully shiny.

Marcus Lillington:Really?

Paul Boag:
It is. They’ve simplified all the interface.

Marcus Lillington:You don’t know because you haven’t downloaded it yet.

Paul Boag:
What?

Marcus Lillington:You don’t know because you haven’t downloaded it yet.

Paul Boag:
And like I haven’t watched every video that’s been posted on the Internet about it?

Marcus Lillington:With lots of very sincere sounding people.

Paul Boag:
No, no, no. Not the official Apple ones. Yes, they do all sound… Yes, they talk in a very specific way that amazes me.

Marcus Lillington:Yeah.

Paul Boag:
But it’s got – look, iOS 8…

Marcus Lillington:God appointed me to work for Apple. That’s why I just think…

Paul Boag:
Yeah, they are the new kind of church, aren’t they really?

Marcus Lillington:They are, yeah.

Paul Boag:
I have given up on this Christianity lark. I’m just going to become a Jobist.

Marcus Lillington:Do you know what? That wouldn’t surprise me if that becomes a thing.

Paul Boag:
No, it wouldn’t me either.

Marcus Lillington:If it isn’t already a thing?

Paul Boag:
Well, I think it kind of is, isn’t it? They called the first iPhone, the Jesus phone, didn’t they?

Marcus Lillington:Did they? I didn’t know.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, which always made me laugh. But now it’s got so many cool – and it just looks beautiful. It’s like lovely big pictures I am looking at on the website.

Marcus Lillington:I can’t believe that I am going to say this but alright, Paul, what’s new on Yosemite?

Paul Boag:
Got it. Yes, I made him say it.

Marcus Lillington:Sigh. Carry on.

Paul Boag:
Well, no, everybody else knows this because everybody else cares about these kinds of things, it’s just you. So it’s Yosemite you were interested in rather than iOS 8.

Marcus Lillington:Yeah, because I am looking at a Mac at the moment, not an iPad.

Paul Boag:
Okay, so for a start it’s got a more iOS 7/8 interface. They’ve really – it’s the biggest change to the visual look and feel.

Marcus Lillington:Right.

Paul Boag:
Much simpler, much flatter, much cleaner, quite nice to look. I like it a lot.

Marcus Lillington:But flat is going out now, isn’t it really?

Paul Boag:
The Mac is going out?

Marcus Lillington:No, flat.

Paul Boag:
Oh, going flat. Yeah, yeah. So that’s what they have done basically.

Marcus Lillington:But actually to be fair, to get rid of the vile skeuomorphic design, that’s a good thing.

Paul Boag:
Exactly. So it’s all looking very clean and very lovely and very translucently and that kind of stuff but that’s no big deal, we don’t care about that. What they are doing is they are making Spotlight much cooler, so Spotlight is now much more powerful, a bit more like Albert—link in the show notes to Albert—which is what I use at the moment. So it’s my main – Albert is my main way of navigating so I launch apps with it, I do…

Marcus Lillington:You can do that with Spotlight.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, yeah, yeah, but it – alright, it happened to be the first thing out of Albert that I talked about but it pulls back lots of cool little snippets of information, you can do cool stuff with that. So the new version of Spotlight has got – like will show you bits from Wikipedia, from maps and other sources in it. And it also appears as a big old box in the middle of the screen rather than a tiny little box up in the corner. So that’s quite nice. But again, not that much big a deal. They’re really improving the notification area. So it’s going to be all these widgets and gizmos that you can put in your notification area to make that actually useful which it isn’t really at the moment, is it?

Marcus Lillington:So it can embarrass you when you are sharing your screen with a client?

Paul Boag:
Well, there is a big Do Not Disturb option which you should have turned on in that particular Skype call that I know you are talking about.

Marcus Lillington:It wasn’t a Skype. I think it was using Adobe Connect. But they all count, don’t they?

Paul Boag:
Yeah. What was it I typed?

Marcus Lillington:I couldn’t possibly say.

Paul Boag:
Why couldn’t you say? Because you don’t know what the client is.

Marcus Lillington:Clients might be able to work it out. So I am not saying.

Paul Boag:
I wasn’t particularly complimentary, let’s put it like that. So you can – yeah, there’s a nice Do Not Disturb, so that’s good. But where it gets really interesting…

Marcus Lillington:It’s not interesting, is it?

Paul Boag:
No, it really is. It integrates really closely now with your phone and your iPad, right? So things like if you’re looking at a web page on your iOS device, at the end of your doc on your Mac, a little Safari icon will pop up at the end and you can click on that and you will be able to view the page you were working on – you were looking at on your iOS device, right? If you’re halfway through typing an email on your iPhone and you go damn this is getting a bit long and awkward, you will find a little mail icon on your Mac and you just click that and the email will come up exactly where you’d got to.

Marcus Lillington:Alright. I’ll give you that that, that’s quite useful.

Paul Boag:
Which is quite useful and it goes beyond that, things like your – you can now answer your phone on your Mac and talk to people via your Mac.

Marcus Lillington:Really?

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:That is good.

Paul Boag:
You will be able to get your SMS messages…

Marcus Lillington:Something proper good.

Paul Boag:
I know. You will be able to get your SMS messages on your Mac as well as your iMessages.

Marcus Lillington:Really?

Paul Boag:
Yep. Obviously, you can pass stuff both ways. It isn’t just from the iOS device to your Mac.

Marcus Lillington:Useful for testing as well then.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, yeah. Brilliant for testing, that’s a really good point. I hadn’t thought of that. Also, it does an instant Hotspot thing now. So no having to connect anymore to your Wi-Fi, your iPhone’s Wi-Fi, basically your Mac will go – okay, I don’t have any normal Wi-Fi, I will automatically connect to your phone if it’s nearby.

Marcus Lillington:Not so sure about how that one.

Paul Boag:
Well, you can turn that off; that is up to you.

Marcus Lillington:Although saying that because I have always thought – because I have watched it, I have used it on the train and I’ve thought blimey I have lost 10% of my battery in about two minutes. But I have used it in a meeting that lasted for two hours and I thought well if it dies, it dies. And then it ended up with like 40% of the phone left. So I was – maybe it sort of uses it a lot to get connected and once it’s connected, it doesn’t…

Paul Boag:
Yeah, so I use that all the time. For me, that’s the really big one.

Marcus Lillington:Yeah, I mean a useful tool but I am just a bit concerned about how much it’s sucking the life out of the phone.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, I don’t think it will be too bad. So I mean that’s just something – I mean there is loads more but no doubt I will get boring.

Marcus Lillington:So when does this come out for normal people?

Paul Boag:
For normal people, it’s the autumn.

Marcus Lillington:Oh, fine yeah. Well, I…

Paul Boag:
Oh, that’s ages away, I will die of old age before then. Anything could happen. I mind not make it back alive from America and I will never know the joy of Yosemite.

Marcus Lillington:But you won’t care because you’re dead.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, but my last thoughts will be I regret my whole life because I never experienced Yosemite in iOS 8. So I really think I ought to install it before I go. It would be silly not to.

Marcus Lillington:It really would be silly not to, yes, do it and then I can amusingly watch your Twitter feed.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, I know you are right. Hey, we ought to at some stage talk about like web stuff.

Marcus Lillington:Yeah, let’s do that. What’s happening today?

Paul Boag:
Right. So this is – because this is our last show, I thought screw it. I want to get as many of these interviews in as we’d recorded.

Marcus Lillington:Yeah, I guess that’s worth saying that apologizing to those people who we did interviews with who didn’t make it…

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:…maybe we could use them in the future for something.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, I will still keep them around and there might be an appropriate time and also of course there was lots of people that submitted projects that we haven’t covered either. So I do feel a bit rubbish about that but we kind of did warn people that we might not get through them all. So it’s our last week this week.

So I thought we would do two interviews instead of just one. So we’ve got Simon Cox from HSBC and Mike McConnell from the University of Aberdeen. And it’s kind of quite nice really because we’ve got two interviews: one from the commercial sector and one from the university sector, both dealing with large complex websites. So that should be quite interesting, I am quite looking forward to that.

Yeah, so sorry for the people that aren’t being interviewed or haven’t had their interview broadcast. We still love you dearly, don’t take it personally because I have to say pretty much my selection of interviews was fairly random. Yeah, I would like to claim there was a lot of thought that went into it but I know you wouldn’t believe me if I said that.

Marcus Lillington:Again, I am concerned about what I am about to say: do we have a format for the next series?

Paul Boag:
Yes, we do. I talked about this on the last show. Were you not paying any attention?

Marcus Lillington:Obviously not.

Paul Boag:
So next series, because it’s Series 10 next.

Marcus Lillington:Yes, I do remember, top 10 lists.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, there we go. That’s only because you read it in the show notes.

Marcus Lillington:No. I didn’t – I don’t have the show notes opened.

Paul Boag:
Oh for crying out loud, why do I bother producing these show notes if you don’t even open them?

Marcus Lillington:Well, you could have just told me: two interviews. Done.

Paul Boag:
Your level of commitment, Marcus, continues to worry me. Do you actually – what do you do at Headscape?

Marcus Lillington:Nothing at all.

Paul Boag:
What do you spend your days doing exactly?

Marcus Lillington:Swanning.

Paul Boag:
What?

Marcus Lillington:Swanning

Paul Boag:
Well, you need to change that to your professional job title, I’d like that. That’d be good.

Marcus Lillington:Yes, yes. Director of swannage.

Paul Boag:
Yes. So in Season 10 we are doing top 10 lists so we need your ideas for top 10 lists. So I have got a few in my head but I could do with some more suggestions. So if you have got a suggestion for a top 10 lists, email me at [email protected] Why has it suddenly turned into Bogueworld rather than Boagworld.

Marcus Lillington:Best cricketer ever?

Paul Boag:
What Boag?

Marcus Lillington:Top 10 cricketers. That’s one we can do.

Paul Boag:
Oh, God.

Marcus Lillington:We could do Marcus’s top 10 favorite guitars.

Paul Boag:
I was thinking more of like top 10 most influential figures in the web design community or top 10 web design blogs or top 10 usability tips, that kind of thing.

Marcus Lillington:I know what you were thinking. I was just trying to sort of jazz it up a bit.

Paul Boag:
Top 10 sci-fi movies, top 10 sci-fi books. We’ve one week…

Marcus Lillington:That’s a great one. Top 10 songs. We would never get anyone to actually do that but – because it’s so hard.

Paul Boag:
That’s impossible. Actually so is top 10 books, sci-fi books really.

Marcus Lillington:Yeah.

Paul Boag:
I could probably have a go at it.

Marcus Lillington:Yeah.

Paul Boag:
What would you put in your top 10 sci-fi books?

Marcus Lillington:All 10? That’s quite hard.

Paul Boag:
No, no, no, just give me a couple.

Marcus Lillington:Player of Games by Iain Banks.

Paul Boag:
Agreed.

Marcus Lillington:And Excession, Iain Banks, my favorite of all time.

Paul Boag:
See I didn’t enjoy Excession as much. I need to reread it I think.

Marcus Lillington:Other sci-fi stuff. I quite like—weirdly because he’s written better than this—but Alastair Reynolds’ book which I am really struggling to remember what it was called…House of Suns. I don’t know why, I just really – the picture he painted was one that really appealed to me.

Paul Boag:
Cool.

Marcus Lillington:Oh, it’s hard, isn’t it? What else?

Paul Boag:
I know there are so many, aren’t there?

Marcus Lillington:Yeah. Well, let’s do that. Let’s have a…

Paul Boag:
Perhaps we ought to.

Marcus Lillington:…quick at the end of the show, we could do a proper one, a sensible one and we can have a quick maybe top 5 or…

Paul Boag:
Yeah, that’s quite good idea, I quite like that because we need to make our shows even longer talking of which…

Marcus Lillington:How long has this intro gone on for?

Paul Boag:
Yeah, I was going to say, we’ve been going for 20 minutes in this intro.

Marcus Lillington:We ought to stop seen as we’ve got two 20 minute interviews to get on.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, okay. Time to do an interview. We’re going to start off with Simon Cox from HSBC.

Interview with Simon Cox from HSBC

HSBC.com
HSBC.com

Visit HSBC.com

Paul Boag:
Okay. Joining me today for our interview is Simon Cox. Hello, Simon.

Simon Cox:
Hello.

Paul Boag:
Would you like to tell our dear listeners what it is that you do and who it is you do it for?

Marcus Lillington:Blimey.

Simon Cox:
Yes, of course. I am Simon Cox. I am a Senior Manager for Digital Publishing in our Global Publishing Services division of HSBC.

Paul Boag:
That sounds very posh.

Marcus Lillington:It does. You sound very powerful.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Simon Cox:
You’d be surprised.

Paul Boag:
Are you the kind of person we should be sucking up to?

Simon Cox:
No.

Paul Boag:
Oh.

Marcus Lillington:Oh.

Simon Cox:
But I don’t normally tell people that.

Paul Boag:
So what does that actually involve then?

Simon Cox:
We’ve got an internal division within the group that is global and we run websites and also do other things like paper publishing, presentations and stuff like that. So we kind of – it was set up as an internal agency and we used to have to pitch for everything against external agencies.

Paul Boag:
Okay.

Simon Cox:
And the idea was to make a small profit internally but not too much and – but run ourselves as an agency but that changed a couple of years ago and we’re now just an internal resource so we don’t have to do timesheets anymore which is a godsend.

Paul Boag:
Yes. I used to be in this…

Marcus Lillington:Paul and I, we are always doing timesheets.

Paul Boag:
I am on top of my timesheets constantly. I am timing this right now.

Marcus Lillington:Well I’ve got a timer running but I am not measuring it against anything and neither you.

Paul Boag:
No, I don’t time anything. I get in trouble because I forget to do it when we’re doing proper projects. So yeah, I used to be in a very similar position when I was at IBM. We were like – I think they called them a cost center, so we had to cover our own costs and we would pitch for work internally; so very similar set up I am imagining. So you have lots of like internal clients, in effect, that you work for?

Simon Cox:
Yes, all internal.

Paul Boag:
Okay. So I’m really quite interested. This is quite an interesting – we have not talked to anybody in the kind of position that you are in at the moment. What’s the kind of biggest challenges that you face in that kind of scenario then?

Simon Cox:
Probably the amount of work we need to do compared with the amount of time and resource we have got. That’s probably the biggest challenge of all. But on a daily basis, it’s trying to educate the business how the web works and what we should be doing.

Paul Boag:
Okay. So for example, I mean you say that your time is a constraint in terms of the amount of work that you could potentially be doing but one presumes that if someone doesn’t come to you, they could still go to an outside agency or are they now trying to funnel everything through with you guys.

Simon Cox:
It’s a kind of pick-and-choose piece. So if the business has got the budget to go to an agency, they tend to do that. And if they haven’t, they tend to come to us and expect the same thing.

Paul Boag:
That’s…

Marcus Lillington:That sounds familiar to other clients we have spoken to and I’m thinking Mike back in the old days. Mike McConnell probably who is going to do—or has done—an interview…

Paul Boag:
We don’t know because we don’t know…

Marcus Lillington:because we don’t know what order we’re going to do them in. Yeah, he started off having exactly the same problem.

Paul Boag:
And that’s a bit of a shitty situation, I am guessing, because you get all the less juicy, less exciting projects as a result, do you?

Simon Cox:
Well, that can happen. But what quite often happens is that we get an agency involved in the initial design and build of a website but then we have to run it afterwards which is the not-so-nice part. It’s not so interesting but it’s still a worthwhile job and we can still improve the site. So what we tend to do is we, these days, is we get involved as much as we can in that first piece with the agency and we act as a kind of middle ground between the business and the agency themselves. So we translate what the business is asking for to agency speak and the agency reply back to the business so the business can understand it. And we’ve kind of got a foot in both camps and it works quite well.

Paul Boag:
That’s quite an interesting set up, I quite like the sound of that because it means that you can mediate what’s going on and you can ensure a quality that the agency doesn’t bullshit you about…

Simon Cox:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
…what’s going on but at the same time, you can also maybe knock off some of those rough edges that a stakeholder might have in terms of unrealistic expectations, et cetera.

Simon Cox:
Very much so and the constraints around what we can and can’t do are unbelievable and usually an agency come in and say let’s do this then we’ll go, yeah, we can’t, we can’t on our platform, we can’t for all sorts of reasons. There is all sorts of risks, there is laws that we can’t do certain things as well…

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Simon Cox:
… regulation.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. We’ve got – we do some work with law firms in America and they suffer from similar kinds of problems that they have got certain regulatory constraints upon them as to what they can say.

Simon Cox:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
You can’t say, for example, you are an expert in something or really bizarre things that you go, oh, okay, fair enough. Weird. So what from that point of view then, I mean what – I am quite interested: what are the kind of big constraints on you that you’re often coming up against, frustrations that you may have from a digital perspective?

Simon Cox:
Well, I’ll give you an example. Video – onsite video. For many years, we used to use flash as the player for video and we would probably pass that piece out to an agency if it was doing some campaign work. They would come back with a code and give us the code and say right stick that in your website. But what they would do was hardcode links to XML files within side – inside the swf file which we couldn’t then change. And our internal CMS and URL paths in the site wouldn’t allow us to pick up the XML file through that. But every time we told them don’t do this because it won’t work, do it this way, and every time they’d ignore it because they’d chuck it out to some flash developer they brought in…

Paul Boag:
Right.

Simon Cox:
…who’d just do it the normal way that everybody else in the world does. And then we would have to spend the next five days trying to sort out what was wrong with it.

Paul Boag:
So that’s more of a technical constraint then?

Simon Cox:
Very much so, yeah.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. Okay. So some of it’s kind of infrastructural – infrastructural, what’s that?

Marcus Lillington:You’ve invented a new word, Paul.

Paul Boag:
It’s a new word and I am sticking with it. So that’s apparently the problem you’ve got, whatever that may mean.

Simon Cox:
That’s from a technical point of view. So from a business point of view, we are obviously regulated by banking regulations around the world and that has serious effects on what we can and can’t do. So for many years, I ran hsbc.com, the corporate site, and even though that’s owned by HSBC, that’s actually owned HBC Holdings Plc which is the holdings company that owns all of HSBC.

Paul Boag:
Right.

Simon Cox:
But it doesn’t have a banking license because it’s a holdings company.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Simon Cox:
It’s not a bank. It’s just a corporate piece. So therefore, on hsbc.com, we could not put any adverts about offers on local mortgages, maybe in the UK, so we couldn’t say that there is a 3% mortgage in the UK this year, et cetera, or that in Brazil it will be cheap savings account, et cetera. Couldn’t do it, it’s illegal.

Paul Boag:
Right.

Marcus Lillington:That’s interesting. I mean there are some parallels with nestle.com. We’ve worked with Nestle for years and years on their corporate site. And it’s not legal. There are legal issues with them about advertising their products that’s what you work – we have been trying to encourage them for years. We need Kit Kat and Nescafe and all this kind of thing to try and add some kind of ongoing interests, if you like, and we think that their – the visitors to nestle.com want that as well. But they are hugely limited in what they are allowed to do based on their own internal rules with regard to promoting these products because of basically competition between the products. So they end up doing nothing. And it’s like this is – corporate websites, you’d think that there would be these kind of shining pillars of this aren’t we great, this is all the things we do but the – even with internal rules stopping that happening. So yeah, I kind of feel your pain a bit on that one.

Paul Boag:
I guess another big one for you, Simon, must be kind of the globalization aspects of it because HSBC is such a worldwide bank that you must have all kinds of issues about the globalization of your content.

Simon Cox:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:We haven’t got a spare hour.

Simon Cox:
One of the little bits coming out of that is we are in, I think, it is now 71 countries and territories.

Paul Boag:
Right.

Simon Cox:
We have to say ‘and territories’ because we are in Taiwan; that’s a little bit sensitive with China.

Paul Boag:
Yes. See, it’s fascinating, isn’t it? These little nuances that you can – that you don’t find out about until you’re really heavily involved with the sector. That’s one of the things I love about my job is you get to work in all these different sectors where you discover all these little things about how they operate. It’s always so interesting. So talking about learning stuff, over your time at HSBC, what do you feel like the kind of most important lesson you’ve learned is? What’s the kind of thing that stands out most in your mind?

Simon Cox:
Well, for me, personally, it is hanging on in there. It really is. I mean I built my first website and got involved with the web in 1995 and it was really – I was going around banging on peoples’ doors and saying this is going to be big and I had lots of people saying go away…

Paul Boag:
Yeah. Okay.

Simon Cox:
You don’t know what you’re talking about. And of course they have all got better jobs than I have now and they all think they know all about the internet but it was really just persevering for years saying this is what we need to do. And we launched a CSS driven site in, I think, about 2002 which is…

Paul Boag:
That’s not bad.

Simon Cox:
…must have been probably about the first—or layout I say, rather than driven—probably the first financial site and certainly the first corporate site in the world to do it. We didn’t make any noise about it because we always get shot down for anything we like to talk about. So, yeah, we did it and it was great. The agency that did it for us, I had to go and spend quite a lot of time with them explaining why we should be doing this and they learnt out of that, we learnt out of that and it’s brilliant. We have had the same thing responsive web design as well; that actually it was easier to sell that to the business than it was the agencies who really didn’t want to do it at all.

Paul Boag:
No.

Simon Cox:
They were like no, no, we don’t know, we don’t know how to do this. And from us, it was like, well, here’s your chance, we’re going to pay you to go and learn.

Marcus Lillington:Hand on a minute. How does one become an HSBC agency?

Paul Boag:
Oh, shut up, Marcus. Oh, don’t…

Simon Cox:
You sell yourself to JWT.

Paul Boag:
I am guessing…

Simon Cox:
… because they’re basically our global agency and under their umbrella; it can be part of that.

Marcus Lillington:We are very aware of these situations, yeah.

Paul Boag:
So there is your problem then. So it’s this enormous agency that isn’t necessarily up with the latest innovations.

Simon Cox:
That’s actually, they are – they’re – because it’s amalgam of lots and lots of different companies, small companies within WPP and JWT, they have got lots of specialists teams…

Paul Boag:
Right.

Simon Cox:
…or companies that do bit and pieces.

Paul Boag:
So how come it took so long – you had problems with the responsive design side of things then?

Simon Cox:
We didn’t.

Paul Boag:
Oh, I thought you said you did. Did I just… Oh, right.

Simon Cox:
There were two elements to it.

Paul Boag:
I’m very confused now.

Simon Cox:
First off, I said we should be doing responsive web design and here’s the reasons why: cost, benefits for…

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Simon Cox:
…all the things we know. The agency said well, we don’t have to do it, we’d rather not and the other company that also – agency that are working with us who were going to do the build said, well, actually, there’s a better way of doing it in the CMS and the CMS that we are now using was able to deliver different sites according to device.

Paul Boag:
Oh, okay. Right, I’m with you.

Simon Cox:
And we said, well, no, you’re not going to keep up with the devices that are coming out.

Marcus Lillington:Correct.

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Simon Cox:
And I think at that point we already had about 1200 devices looking at the hsbc.com. I said well, you can’t build 1200 websites.

Marcus Lillington:Correct.

Paul Boag:
Yes, I see. So how are you getting on with the responsive side of things then?

Simon Cox:
Differing sort of…

Paul Boag:
Yeah. I like Simon, he is being really honest about things, isn’t he?

Simon Cox:
Well, hsbc.com is more adaptive than responsive and that’s…

Paul Boag:
Okay.

Simon Cox:
…that was our really – first shout of it. We have got a couple of other sites that are now in that way. I mean we’ve got a lot of websites to start with.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:Yeah.

Simon Cox:
About 280, I think.

Paul Boag:
That’s not bad. Well done.

Marcus Lillington:280?

Simon Cox:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
Well considering we were talking to the University of Edinburgh which will be considerably smaller than HSBC.

Simon Cox:
True.

Marcus Lillington:True.

Paul Boag:
They have more websites. So…

Simon Cox:
We would like to reduce ours as much as possible.

Paul Boag:
Yes, I totally agree. I think they could do with doing the same to be frank. So…

Simon Cox:
At least from a responsive web design point of view, that is on the agenda now and everything we are doing, we’re looking at it from that angle. It just makes pure sense.

Marcus Lillington:And you got buy-in from your agencies now?

Simon Cox:
Oh, yeah.

Marcus Lillington:Cool.

Simon Cox:
Yeah, we get it. They get it. It’s not a problem.

Paul Boag:
Okay. So I mean the next question I guess is almost an irrelevance for you in your situation. The next question I have was when you look for outside help, outside agencies to work with, what do you look for? But I guess the truth is you’ve got agencies that you have to use because they are already – you’ve already got…

Simon Cox:
They’ve gone through us.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, on your roster. But let’s switch that question just slightly and say, talk to us about – as somebody that’s a client, as somebody that engages with an agency, what is it – what makes the relationship work or not, if that makes sense, from your point of view? What do you look for in that relationship with an agency?

Simon Cox:
Well, that’s quite easy. We need an agency that wants to be part of our team. So earlier I talked about our team sitting in between agency and the business but it’s really a triangle. So it all becomes one team so that you have agency people, you have GPS people, that’s my team, and the business and we sit down and we just work it together and that works really, really well. So they’ve got to be team players. We don’t want people coming and lording it and saying, yeah, we know about this stuff, you are a bank, you won’t know about it. That doesn’t wash with us at all.

Paul Boag:
I like that. That makes a lot of sense to me. But it’s increasingly the way that we work with clients and I know a lot of other agencies work with clients, you are embedded in it. All this muck and mystery of we go away and produce the magic really doesn’t work, does it with the web?

Simon Cox:
No.

Paul Boag:
So, yes, it’s a really interesting, this kind of working relationship between clients and agencies and getting that right is really difficult to do. So the last question I have got for you before we wrap this up really is about the future from your point of view. Now you’ve already talked about that you’re putting a lot of emphasis on responsive design and getting things to be responsive, are there any other big things coming up from your perspective that you need to be paying attention to and that has got your focus at the moment?

Simon Cox:
Yeah. So the team I am currently running, having moved aware from running hsbc.com, I run this global team of analytics experts, SEO experts and accessibility experts. Well, say experts, we know more than anybody else in the bank about it but most. We are trying to get our sites – the quality of our sites up by a lot because it will help getting traffic through to them, it’s just good for everybody certainly from the accessibility side but for all reasons. So driving this quality piece is the thing that’s really pushing – been pushing me the last couple of years and will be for the next, I imagine, a couple of years. Because we’ve got tools that can show us how – the quality of our sites and how good they are, et cetera.

Paul Boag:
Okay.

Simon Cox:
And gives us a score and we can map all that out but then we go in and look at it and say, well, how can we improve these sites? And so we sit down and talk with the business who, really to be honest, they will look at it and say well, why are we going to spend this money when we can’t see any visual benefits of it. But then that’s where the MIPs comes in, the analytics piece, we come and say look, if we do this and this and this, we will drive traffic up, you will get more customers and hopefully your bottom-line will go up.

From their point of view, they are very happy to just – because they get a budget and say right, go and improve the site this year, blah, blah, blah, and they normally go and say right, we’ll re-design it. And we come in and we say well, actually you don’t really need to design that much of it. We’ll just do some other stuff to actually get that bottom-line up and get more traffic in.

Paul Boag:
Yes. About evolution rather than revolution.

Simon Cox:
Very much so. I think we’re at that stage – I mean, the RWP piece has been the latest revolution but that in itself is quite small compared with things like web standards which we pushed in 10 years ago now. And we are definitely into an evolution piece now rather than revolution for the next – well, until something else comes along.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. Things have stabilized a little bit more, haven’t they, than – there is not quite the same chaotic nature.

Marcus Lillington:I wanted to say that earlier and then stopped myself because we don’t know. It could turn upside down in the next year.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, you are right.

Marcus Lillington:I like to think that it’s all settled down a bit and the sector is growing up and all this kind of…

Paul Boag:
Perhaps we have just reached that where we hope like hell it has because we can’t keep up anymore.

Marcus Lillington:It could be that, yeah.

Simon Cox:
I think banking itself changing. There is all sorts of different ways now to move money around and Bit Coins a big player in this; it is going to potentially change all sorts of things. But that’s maybe the first of many other types of upsetting what is a fairly traditional industry.

Paul Boag:
That’s an interesting point you make there, isn’t it? Because it’s shows the broader context of digital that’s – so often we think of digital just as this tool, it’s a new channel to communicate with our customers. But actually it’s transforming society and the world in which we live. So something like Bit Coin, for example. That’s not – that’s fundamentally reshaping how currency and finance works. And we’re going to see more and more of that kind of stuff.

So it’s not always we’ve got to have a much broader view than just thinking of digital as another tool that we add to our existing arsenal because it’s actually a lot more than that. It will be like saying the printing press was just a tool. Well, yeah, it was but it also brought literacy to the world and it did all of these other things to it. So sometimes a simple tool can actually have a much more profound effect than perhaps we first think. So…

Simon Cox:
To that effect, the team that work for me, I have got members in Guangzhou in China.

Paul Boag:
Right.

Simon Cox:
Hong Kong, Manila, Colombo and Cairo. They all report in to me. I am the only one in the UK. I have got this team of 12 people out there and we talk everyday on video conferencing on our PCs.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Simon Cox:
And it’s like they are in the next office.

Paul Boag:
I know. It’s like a different – can you imagine talking like that 10, 15 years ago when we started out? Well, it’s longer than that now, isn’t it? I like to pretend it’s only 10 years ago.

Marcus Lillington
It’s longer than that, Paul.

Paul Boag:
That would have just been inconceivable to have a team spread over the world. Incredible.

Marcus Lillington:Where we had an interview, very similar to this one, with a guy who is on the Southern side of Australia earlier on today.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:And it’s just mind-boggling that somebody 10,000 miles away…

Paul Boag:
We have reached that state because you know what we’re sounding like; we’re sounding like old people.

Marcus Lillington:We’re running away now.

Paul Boag:
It was amazing. Yeah. I am 86 you know. I remember before there were cars on the road. Oh, for crying out loud. Anyway, thank you for…

Marcus Lillington:Do you think people will be pre-internet and not pre-internet because I am – obviously we are all pre-internet but that…

Simon Cox:
You can tell how old somebody is by the jokes they tell, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington:Like dad jokes. Yes, indeed. Yeah, much appreciated.

Paul Boag:
Exactly. Marcus is very old. Well, thank you so much, Simon. That was great especially because you were rude about Marcus that makes it all the more special.

Marcus Lillington:It’s so rare that way round, isn’t it?

Paul Boag:
And it’s great, this is – you are the first guy that we’ve had from like the big corporate side of things. So it’s really interesting to hear that kind of global perspective on stuff and the challenge that brings, not to mention all the strange regulatory challenges that you have as well which is fascinating.

So thank you very much, Simon.

Simon Cox:
My absolute pleasure.

Paul Boag:
And good luck with the many sites and hopefully we will speak to you again soon.

Marcus Lillington:Yeah, cheers, Simon. Bye-bye.

Simon Cox:
Anytime. Cheers. Take care. Bye-bye.

Paul Boag:
So that was Simon’s interview. Simon was very honest, wasn’t he?

Marcus Lillington:He was.

Paul Boag:
He was like either honest or depressed, I couldn’t work out which.

Marcus Lillington:Yeah but he was quite impressive as well, all the stuff that they were doing but sort of didn’t want to shout about it like the first CSS site back in or CSS kind of layout driven in 2002.

Paul Boag:
I know.

Marcus Lillington:That was way early, that was way early than we did it.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. And I sounded so cool in the interview, didn’t I? I just said, oh yes, that’s quite impressive when actually – when I thought about it, when I was listening back to it afterwards I was like yeah, we didn’t even know what CSS was in 2002, I don’t think.

Marcus Lillington:Well, we did. But we didn’t use it for layout like we do all – it was always within other stuff.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, yes, it was, that’s true. I won’t undo us too much.

Marcus Lillington:I can remember trying to understand what CSS was back in the town pages’ days.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, I do as well.

Marcus Lillington:I still don’t know really but…

Paul Boag:
That’s so worrying because I know it’s kind of true. But now I thought it was great. I really like the idea, the way they have kind of placed their agency – their internal agency for want of a better word, is being mediating between the client and the agency. I thought that was quite a nice thing.

But I don’t know. I think they have lost something going from being an internal agency to an internal resource because I think people take the mick when you are an internal resource and you come and they can just use you whenever they want.

Marcus Lillington:That is true but the other flip side of that coin as he said was we don’t have to worry about timesheets anymore. Take all of that kind of worrying about how much you’ve billed and have we reached targets and all that kind of stuff away and just become this thing that does jobs.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:That does take a lot of pressure away but, yes, people will just go do this for me now.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, it kind of shifts the relationship a bit weirdly. Anyway, right. So that was Simon Cox from HSBC.

We are now going to talk – so we’re going for the commercial sector. We are now going to move across to the public sector, although I don’t know, universities are a funny one. They kind of call themselves public sector.

Marcus Lillington:They are public-private because they get obviously they are funded from both student and government.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, increasingly they are becoming commercial though really, aren’t they?

Marcus Lillington:Yes, more and more so, yes.

Paul Boag:
Anyway, so this is Mike McConnell from the University of Aberdeen who is one of Marcus’s favorite clients. Isn’t he?

Marcus Lillington:He is. I’ll tell the story after his interview.

Paul Boag:
Because – mainly because it involves lots of drinking when he goes to see Mike.

Marcus Lillington:Well, just the first time was the one that really did. It was quite funny.

Paul Boag:
So, let’s listen to what Mike’s got to say. It’s a really good interview, again, lots to learn, so keep your ears peeled or something. No, I don’t know. Anyway, here you go.

Marcus Lillington:Ears peeled? I think you’re mixing your metaphors.

Paul Boag:
I am as normal. Here’s Mike.

Interview with Mike McConnell from University of Aberdeen

University of Aberdeen
University of Aberdeen

Visit the University of Aberdeen

Paul Boag:
Okay. So joining us today is Mike McConnell. Hello, Mike, how are you?

Mike McConnell:
Hello, Paul. Hello, Marcus.

Paul Boag:
So, Mike, best place to start is if you could just spend a moment telling our dear listeners a little bit about yourself, about where you work and what it is that you do?

Mike McConnell:
Well, I work at the University of Aberdeen and I have got a very strange job title. It’s Business Applications Manager or BAM for short. As part of that, I manage remotely the university web team although they are actually managed by another individual who confusingly is also called Mike. And the web team number about seven developers currently, we maintain a very large university website through a content management system which some of your listeners may be familiar with. It’s the open text product.

And we also manage our own in-house CMS for various other types of website that we run. Some of the other things we do are manage websites for external companies, we have spin-out companies for the university, for example, also research projects that wouldn’t naturally sit under the Aberdeen domain. And we also run various web applications, so for example, our university prospectus is an application, our news and events run from an application, our staff profiles run from an application, and we manage kind of large amount of third-party domains as well. So quite a lot of stuff.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, that’s busy. I wasn’t aware of quite how much was on your plate, Mike.

Mike McConnell:
Yeah, and that’s just one side of what I do. I also manage all the MIS for the university. So that is an unholy marriage to begin with but one that’s actually proved to be very valuable because of course the front-facing web now relies very heavily on back-end data sets and increasingly we’re trying to exploit all the corporate data sets and the front-end website. So it’s good stuff.

Paul Boag:
So what would you say the kind of biggest challenge that you guys face is?

Mike McConnell:
Well, if you sent me these questions beforehand and I though biggest challenge, that’s only one, we have got about seven, so…

Paul Boag:
Okay. Seven is fine.

Mike McConnell:
At a sort of macro level, the biggest challenge we currently face and one that will be very familiar to you, Paul, is making the case for digital. At the minute we’re in a kind of halfway house between the old way of doing things and the way we should be doing things digitally. I think in the past, the university has been very, very active to things that have happened primarily on the web. I think we’ve gone through the pain of that and now we’ve got through various web projects. We’ve run into a sort of strategic operational environment where we’re actually trying to plan ahead for things.

So for example, mobile and responsive design is something we’re going to be doing. And we’ve just recently established a body called a Digital Strategy Group which will be looking at all the challenges the digital age is going to bring to the table and we’ve got like participation in that from very significant senior members of staff but also engagement from all the areas that we would like to have involved such as marketing and recruitment, all those areas. So we’re starting to very strategically in digital.

But I know that ideally we would even be beyond that, we’d be at a sort of transformational stage where the organization had actually been truly transformed from its old working practices into a new much more highly responsive web. And I think we are a long way off from that. I mean it’s something I have noticed you have been dealing with a lot in your blog lately and every week, we think oh has Paul been bugging our offices because all the issues you have been dealing with are issues that we face or are going to have to face.

So at a macro level, that is the biggest challenge we face. But we are kind of heading in the right direction. I think we have got all the right stakeholders in the room. The first meeting of that group is yet to happen. It’s going to happen in April. And we are going to take it from there. And what I think we’re going to do is kind of identify through that group key projects the business should be taking on across the board for digital and then we’re going to try and resource those and deliver on them. So that’s all really quite exciting. It’s a challenge but it’s a welcomed challenge.

On a sort of more micro level, the kind of challenges we face are content as ever. We’re a long way with the website. We have now got pretty much everything we’ve been deeming to be the corporate website in the CMS but we still only have, I think, I can count on one hand how many people we have writing content for the website formally as part of their job. We just don’t have a content strategy. The website shows it. So no matter how beautiful websites we produce, ultimately they are full of fairly rubbish content for the most part.

We have actually made the case to the university that they need professional content people and been very fortunate to appoint two very capable digital communication officers in the past 12 months, both of whom have made a huge difference to the institution. But even there, you know, it’s only two individuals and we’re talking about a university where there is over 3,500 staff and16,000 students. So we need a lot more content thinking and that is, again, is at its infancy and something that I hope the digital strategy group will be able to help make happen.

Usability and user experience are always a challenge. Still we don’t do enough testing for that. We don’t think about the user enough and that’s not just the website. I mean today, any given user of a university website is going to have to interact with numerous applications and deal with different interfaces, forms and so on and we would like to see standardization across the board for those in consistent look and feel, consistent user experience, consistent validation for forms, all that kind of stuff and we’re only beginning to scratch the surface of that.

And I am sure you’ve seen examples of digital campuses from around the world. We would very much like to be in that sort of zone. We are far from it at the minute but we are thinking about it.

Another development we’ve had recently is we’ve tried to split web work between pure development and what we call the operational side of web. So we’ve actually set up basically what amounts to an IT service task for the web front-end so anyone in the institution who has a reason to do anything with the web and has a problem with the web, they email the service task and we have an operational team who just deal with kind of the low to medium level requests for the website, for form bills, for small to medium size websites that are standard CMS rule-outs. And that’s kind of a decision we’ve made to try and protect the more senior and more able developers so they can get on with doing more complex applications developments. So that’s a big difference that we have only just really begun to put into place but it’s great because it has taken a lot of the pressure off the developers and also allows some people to develop careers in the operational side.

We also are struggling to keep up with expectation around mobile. So we have now the building blocks in place to do a fully responsive website where but haven’t actually got there yet because we haven’t done all the thinking that’s required behind that. And I think we are very behind the game on that. As a stop-gap, we’ve produced a very feature rich mobile app for the university which you can get in the standard stores. It’s just called iAberdeen if any of your listeners want to download it and criticize it, I have been – love to hear the feedback.

So there’s a huge expectation around mobile which I think we’ve yet to meet but as I say this digital strategy might help us get there and also I am hoping that that strategy will help break down some of the institutional silos that exists. So that was a long sentence.

Paul Boag:
It was long but it’s all the right kind of thing. You talk as if you’ve got a long way to go which you obviously have. But you guys are looking at all the right kind of thing. You’re looking at digital transformation, a focus on service and user experience, putting content at the heart of what you do, dividing – I like the dividing the operational day-to-day kind of stuff from the more strategic longer term development stuff. It’s all the right kind of pieces but like you say in an organization of your size it takes time to turn the ship, so to speak.

Mike McConnell:
Absolutely, yeah. I mean that’s kind of leading into the next question you asked which is, if I can take over your interview for you.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, carry on. You do it.

Marcus Lillington:I’m downloading iAberdeen, so I can’t anything do anything else at the moment.

Mike McConnell:
But what’s the most important lesson we’ve learned is the one about the governance. The project we’ve just finished really which took all the legacy websites and put them into the CMS. We called it Web Phase II. The Phase I was the bit that Headscape itself was involved with where we look at our central pages. But Phase II became this sort of huge monolithic project and in order to do that, we had to basically get every stakeholder in the institution together in a room and get them to agree on things and obviously that was massively painful and difficult to begin with.

But eventually, after we got through the norming and storming we got to the performing and everyone was singing from the same hymn sheet and everyone knew what the objectives were and everyone was on the same page. And that’s been tremendously helpful. But that was only helpful insofar as that when – the old school desktop web. We now need to do the same kind of thing for digital which is much more challenging because it brings in the really senior members of the institution.

So I mean I would say to all your listeners out there who work in jobs like mine, I mean I have come from a traditional web background and now I am having to adapt myself for digital and it’s not – you can’t just sit in your IT web silo or even your marketing silo anymore. You have to go out and be a political animal.

So my colleague, Mike—who runs the web team—and I are just off after this interview to go on and speak to our new Vice Principal for Internationalization who has just been appointed and we need to go and meet him and greet him and say this is what we do, and present like all of the challenges we face. Because obviously as a new individual he is probably coming in and thinking, oh God, look at the state of their website, it’s dreadful, why don’t they do this, why don’t they do that.

I mean – so I think you need to kind of be putting yourself out there and taking those chances and I noticed your last presentation did that, Paul. You were saying it’s you, you are the person responsible. I think if you are sincere about changing things you have to be political and you need to get that governance structure in place as well.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. You’re basically one big advert for my new book, Digital Adaptation. It’s wonderful. I am just sitting back here listening to you talk about all the kinds of things that I cover in the book. So it’s encouraging that…

Mike McConnell:
Perhaps we’ll be in touch. Yeah.

Paul Boag:
I will send you a free book. What more can I ask?

Marcus Lillington:They are parallels with us though, as well at the agency end. I mean we are having to look a lot more broadly at what people are looking for from an agency like us. I mean it used to be just, as you say, desktop websites, but it’s not – it’s certainly not just that anymore. We’re getting involved in helping people with strategies so therefore we have to understand their full kind of digital requirements rather than just web. And it’s something that’s – it’s a steep learning curve. Well, it is for an old boy like me anyway.

Paul Boag:
Ahh.

Mike McConnell:
One thing we find is that the institution – if you get a group like a digital strategy group together, they might form a request of you like well we want a better prospective. But when you start unpicking that, what does it actually mean? And it means definitely the kind of things that headscape traditionally do which is sort of good front-end usable web development. But it actually means you need a back-end thing as well. So it might mean you need your program information there, you need your course information…

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Mike McConnell:
…you might need stuff about the members of staff teaching on the courses and all those rely on the big data sets, which is the other team that I need. So when the institution says build a better prospective, what they don’t realize they are asking for might be someone like an enterprise service bus at the back-end which is a massive piece of equipment…

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Mike McConnell:
…and so that – you are quite right, your agency really needs to start thinking about big data as much as it does about the front-end. And I think to an extent there is now a science and a methodology behind usability in front-end stuff. I mean we all know that it’s what we need to be doing there. It’s not rocket science anymore in the way it once was and it is getting to grips with big data and how we manage that that I think is part of the challenge now.

Paul Boag:
That actually brings us nicely on to the next question which is – I know you guys do a lot of stuff in-house these days, but I mean obviously in the past that you’ve looked to bring in outside support. What is it that you look for when you are looking at outside agency? What attracts you to one agency over another?

Mike McConnell:
Well, the credibility of the agency, I mean I think – there is a lot – you will know yourself, sort of back in the day, there were a lot of so-called web design companies out there who were really probably glorified graphic designers, didn’t know anything about usability. So that’s one part. I mean it was quite easy for us to tell who knows what they’re talking about.

But in that regard, a second thing would be experience in the sector obviously. We have used your company to great success and also a company called Precedent who have very good experience in the higher education arena. So they kind of know the things that make universities tick or rather the monolithic terrible structures of universities and how difficult it is to get anything done and the kind of political animal you need to be if you work in an educational institution. So that kind of sectoral experience is worth a great deal.

I think what we typically look for in any kind of agency we hire in this area is not so much to actually do the development but it’s to come in and persuade the people who don’t understand the issue to understand what it is and actually make the case. So with both you and with Precedent we worked on information architecture exercises and really even I didn’t realize it at the time. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t so much about the information architecture it was about getting all the right people in the room and getting them to understand there was such a thing as information architecture and that they needed to pay attention to.

Paul Boag:
Sure.

Mike McConnell:
So the end product wasn’t actually what we implemented per se, I mean it was a version of it. It’s like taking the case to get the right people in the room and get them to understand what the issue is and we’re just about to do that with the digital stuff, trying to get some workshops together with a company to help our senior staff understand what the issues are.

Paul Boag:
That’s really interesting. I think that’s a big message that I am often communicating is that as web designers our job is as much – it’s educators as it is implementers. We need to spend a lot of time helping people understand what it is actually required rather than just going away and implementing it. And I think that’s a big part of the job.

The final question that I wanted to ask you, I mean you’ve kind of already touched on this when you’ve talked about the challenges that you are facing, but what’s the big next thing for you? What is it that you are focusing on over the next few months?

Mike McConnell:
Well, what I hope to do with this digital strategy group, the inaugural meeting, is have a presentation on the digital campus. And what I mean by that is a kind of cradle to grave one web interface for whether you are an applicant, a current student, an alumnus, whatever you happen to be, you’re going to come through one style and one look and feel of a web interface.

Now, at the minute we have a fairly nice front-end website that goes so far and then eventually a student will go off into some kind of oracle based application where they might have to deal with some other application for doing their accommodation. When they’re alumnus, God help them, they are into net community which is a third-party application which is just completely different again.

And every time they’ll have to go through some form of registration process. If you look at someone like Amazon, you just don’t get that experience anymore. I find it terrifying on Amazon, having had a couple of beers, how quickly and easy it is to order £100 worth of stuff. And that is what – where we want to be with the university website.

So we would be looking on trying to get a uniform look and feel across all our websites and web applications and we’ll have to do that before we actually manage to link all the big data with the back-end. So we’re going to have to do a lot of kind of stitching things together. So I see that as the big challenge.

The one thing that we lack at the minute which I think would be key to our success with how successful the digital campus is global CRM by which I mean customer relationship management software.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Mike McConnell:
So we have about seven CRM systems in use in the institution at the minute for alumni, for prospective students, for current students. We need a sort of cradle to grave CRM system. We are going to kick off a project within this calendar year about that. And that is the killer app for digital campus I think. So once you have that CRM behind the scenes, I think that’s when you really start to fly with customer focus.

Mobile is obviously a big challenge, as I mentioned earlier. We still haven’t got our responsive design website together which is enormously embarrassing to me but we are where we are or we aren’t where are, you know what I mean. We’ve also been looking at things like – I don’t know if you’re familiar with the BBC global experience language.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, absolutely. GEL

Mike McConnell:
If we can get something like that, even to kind of hobble together a version just for the university. I mean we have a numeral team to do application development and what application development now means is web development really because it’s all got a web interface.

At the minute we have maybe four or five teams all developing applications to the web front-end and some of them look like this and some of them look like that. If we had something like the GEL framework, you could just say, well, we don’t need to think about buttons or links or how we lay the page out or how it’s going to work on a television or all that stuff. All that thinking is done for you. So we’d very much like to start looking at that as well.

Paul Boag:
That’s funny that you mentioned that. That’s exactly what we’re doing currently for the University of Edinburgh, is putting together a GEL approach for them. And I think it’s very – it’s really useful to have that kind of patent library in place because it takes away a lot of the decision making, reinventing the wheel that goes on, having a framework like that in place.

Mike McConnell:
I was going to say one last thing which is, I think I nicked it from Facebook, but working agile is something we’re finding more and more productive…

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Mike McConnell:
…so getting something out there and then fixing it after the fact is better than spending years and years trying to get it perfect.

Marcus Lillington:Oh yeah.

Mike McConnell:
So it’s a route of development. You know, constant – I think you said it again, Paul, years ago which is like you should be looking to always refine, refine, refine, rather than wait three years and then completely rebuild.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, absolutely.

Mike McConnell:
Familiar to your listeners.

Paul Boag:
Again, that’s a – we have been doing that with the University of Strathclyde. We seem to be doing a lot of university stuff up your way based in the South of England it makes perfect sense for all of our university clients to be in Scotland.

Mike McConnell:
Will you come up post-independence?

Paul Boag:
I don’t know.

Marcus Lillington:But will we be allowed?

Mike McConnell:
You will be. You’re welcome.

Marcus Lillington:They’ll kick you out though, won’t they? You are not a proper Scotsman, or are you now?

Mike McConnell:
No, I will get deported back to Northern Ireland, God help me.

Paul Boag:
Good to talk to you, Mike, and yeah, let’s – keep us informed about how things go.

Mike McConnell:
Will do. Cheers, Paul. Cheers, Marcus.

Paul Boag:
Bye.

Marcus Lillington:Bye.

Paul Boag:
So you made everybody wait and listen to the whole of Mike McConnell’s interview and all they were sitting thinking the whole time is what the hell is the story, Marcus? Did you end up naked in the middle of Aberdeen?

Marcus Lillington:No, I didn’t.

Paul Boag:
Okay.

Marcus Lillington:I learn a very good lesson.

Paul Boag:
Never try and keep up with a Scotsman when drinking whiskey?

Marcus Lillington:Well, he is an Irishman but I guess the same applies.

Paul Boag:
Oh yeah, he is, isn’t he?

Marcus Lillington:But although, no, I think I can hold my own on that front although we did just go can we have one more for the road, and then we need to – I will take you back to where your hotel is because you won’t remember. No, I won’t, I said. So we ended up going oh look the bar is still open. So we had another couple there. But the lesson I learned was always fly up the night before a meeting when you have to do an overnighter.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:Don’t fly up – fly back the night after whatever it is you are going to do because if you fly out the night before you will think well, we’ve got the big presentation or whatever it is tomorrow, need to take it a bit easy this evening.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:Whereas if you do the big presentation or whatever and everyone is thinking well that went really well. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Let’s all go out and celebrate – which it wasn’t quite like that – but we kind of went out, had a nice meal and then it was like, well, nothing else, I am flying back – I think I had a 9:30 flight which seemed inordinately late in the morning. And anyway, I just woke up thinking I was going to die, proper die, whiskey and me don’t agree with each other basically. And I can remember being taken to the airport by a very, very loud Scotsman in a traffic jam, thinking I wasn’t going to make the plane and feeling very sick.

Paul Boag:
Oh, dear.

Marcus Lillington:So, yes, that’s how mine and Mike’s relationship kicked off.

Paul Boag:
And yet you still like the guy.

Marcus Lillington:Well, yeah, great.

Paul Boag:
I don’t like him.

Marcus Lillington:Well, yeah, that’s because of his label for you.

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:Which we discussed the other week ago, didn’t we?

Paul Boag:
Yes. Snake oil salesman. So rude.

Marcus Lillington:He thinks you are brilliant.

Paul Boag:
Well of course he does, everybody does.

Marcus Lillington:I don’t.

Paul Boag:
Well, everybody that matters. So yes, I always find listening to Mike – no, I do like Mike. I’ll tell you why, it’s because he basically regurgitated my whole book in that…

Marcus Lillington:He certainly did.

Paul Boag:
…interview. So, Mike, now I’ve forgiven you for the snake oil comment because that was a brilliant interview. Actually, it really was. I think he shared a lot of really good stuff in it. Why is it digital is always so under-resourced? It gets right up my nose. Anyway.

Marcus Lillington:Well, I mean, they are reasonably well-resourced compared to a lot of institutions.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, I know but even so, I…

Marcus Lillington:It still – it is really – it’s trying to push an enormous boulder up a hill.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:And when we were talking about some of the things that Mike was talking about were just about to kind of like, we’re getting momentum on the GEL and patent library type idea. I mean not that we were talking about those specific things when we were working with them back in 2008, 2009 I think it was, but we were talking about the need for basically for them to stop going off in hundreds of different directions. To pull together from a design point of view and it still isn’t there. And I don’t – it’s certainly not Mike’s fault. Mike is an excellent leader and someone who is willing to stand up and try and make things happen and even someone like that it’s taken this long to happen.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:So really depressing really.

Paul Boag:
It is a bit. And I don’t think it’s just the higher education sector, I think it’s just large organizations are often very cumbersome. I mean I cover all this in the book and I’ve gone on about it endlessly on last season as well. So I won’t go over it again. But I think what he said about we need to step up and become political animals, we can’t just sit in our little web enclave, I thought was probably the best – the thing that I took away from his interview that we’ve got to be salespeople and we’ve got to have education skills as well. I thought that was really good.

Marcus Lillington:Yeah.

Paul Boag:
So a really good interview. Okay. So this is probably the longest show we have ever done.

Marcus Lillington:That’s not possible.

Paul Boag:
Well, we did do that 12-hour show, didn’t we?

Marcus Lillington:That’s certainly true, yeah.

Paul Boag:
But we are not doing that again ever. That was such a ridiculous idea although hugely fun.

Marcus Lillington:I was going to say I thought it was quite good.

Paul Boag:
It was fun actually. I did enjoy doing it. Anyway, that’s besides the point. So, yes, joke time, I guess.

Marcus Lillington:Yes.

Paul Boag:
The last joke of season 9…

Marcus Lillington:Last joke of season 9.

Paul Boag:
…so it better be a damn good one.

Marcus Lillington:It’s not. It’s – but it as usual made me laugh a little bit. What did the fisherman say to the magician?

Paul Boag:
What did the fisherman say to the magician?

Marcus Lillington:Pick a chord, any chord.

Paul Boag:
That is possibly, possibly the worst joke you’ve told. I don’t know. It’s such a difficult competition.

Marcus Lillington:What bone will a dog never eat?

Paul Boag:
Go on.

Marcus Lillington:A trombone.

Paul Boag:
It’s just cracker jokes. That’s all you’re doing now.

Marcus Lillington:These are cracker jokes.

Paul Boag:
You’re not even attempting to come up with jokes of any quality anymore, are you?

Marcus Lillington:I probably mentioned this in previous episodes but someone, some scientists somewhere did a survey on or investigated – can’t thing of the right word – looked into cracker jokes.

Paul Boag:
You’ve got this off of QI.

Marcus Lillington:Possibly.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, because I have just watched that QI episode…

Marcus Lillington:Oh right. Well, yeah, there you go.

Paul Boag:
…about why cracker jokes have to be bad.

Marcus Lillington:Because it makes everyone feel like, oh, yeah, ha ha and if there were a big cleverer then some people might be left out of the joke, so they have to be bad.

Paul Boag:
They have to be bad. And also his other point was is that a joke can divide a room.

Marcus Lillington:Yeah.

Paul Boag:
Because half of the people will go oh that was funny and the other half either didn’t get it or thought it wasn’t funny.

Marcus Lillington:Yeah.

Paul Boag:
While a bad joke unites everybody in its badness.

Marcus Lillington:That’s it. So there you go, I am uniting everyone.

Paul Boag:
Yes, yes, you are, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington:I’ve got another equivalently bad one.

Paul Boag:
Go on then, one more.

Marcus Lillington:What’s the difference between bird flu and swine flu?

Paul Boag:
Go on.

Marcus Lillington:If you have bird flu, you need tweetment. If you have swine flu, oinkment.

Paul Boag:
Now that’s quite good. I quite like that one. Not enough to laugh obviously.

Marcus Lillington:Yes, it’s still a cracker joke. Anyway, no more bad jokes.

Paul Boag:
Yay. Until next season.

Marcus Lillington:Yes. Please send me more bad jokes, people.

Paul Boag:
No, send him good jokes.

Marcus Lillington:Whatever, just jokes.

Paul Boag:
Just jokes. So we’re going to be back on the 25th of July, which amuses me that I say that. I say that with a lot of confidence, don’t I? And then I look at my calendar and think….But in theory we’re going to be back on the 25th of July with our new season, Season 10, or that actually Season 11 if you count the classic episodes. But we don’t. It’s like Dr. Who.

Marcus Lillington:It’s like all 240 of them.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. And we’re going to do Season 10 on our top 10 things in each show. So send us that list. Otherwise, enjoy your break. Listen to ShopTalk, a very good podcast to keep going in the meantime, or Unfinished Business by Andy Clarke. I will link in the show notes to both of those. Or Happy Monday as well, that’s another good one you want to check out. In fact, there are so many web design podcast these days I don’t know why you bother listening to us. So there you go, have a good couple of weeks and we will see you soon. Bye.

Marcus Lillington:Bye.

Headscape

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