New city of Fort Smith website could launch in May 2022

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 684 views 

City leaders hope to have a new, easier to navigate website for the city of Fort Smith by late spring 2022. The Fort Smith Board of Directors approved hiring Granicus to provide a communications platform and website for the city. The approval moves $31,390 from the general fund as an initial payment for the service.

City staff presented information to the board at the July 13 study session on a new Granicus “Trailblazer” website and “GovDelivery” communications platform. Following that presentation, staff worked out an agreement with Granicus for a five-year contract with Granicus for the Trailblazer website and the GovDelivery communications platform for a total cost of $78,475. The city will pay Granicus $15,695 in 2022 after the first milestone delivery, the draft homepage design concepts; $15,695 after the second milestone delivery, implementation of the main website into the VCMS on a Granicus-hosted development server; and $15,695 after completion of staff training or 21 days after total completion.

Renewal pricing for the website through Granicus will be $35,418.75 in year two; $37,898.09 in year three; $40,550.93 in year four; and $43,389.49 in year five, information provided to the board states.

The new website will allow each department within the city to easily create its own content, said Shari Cooper, the city’s public relations and communications manager.

“Each department will be able to update (their site) as they want in real time. They will be able to send out notifications,” Cooper said. “Our current website is a little more challenging because the content management system is a bit more programming oriented. … They won’t have to know code or anything more than developing a memo.”

Board members, though happy with the idea of a new website, expressed concern that the completed product should be consistent in appearance and standards across all areas and departments.

“The website is borderline unacceptable as it is. It’s great that departments (will) have access to place content, but you do want to make sure there is a standard to the content,” said City Director and Vice Mayor Jarred Rego.

City Administrator Carl Geffken said administration would request funds in the 2022 budget to fund a consultant who would help develop standards, in writing, that would ensure a “level of consistency.” Director Lavon Morton requested administration also implement a review process that would ensure anything in the public view would be consistent and correct.

Cooper said the first priority of the new website will be to create a comprehensive website that can offer important and useful information about Fort Smith and its services. She said Granicus is one of the world’s leaders in government websites and their designs are effective because they specialize in government platform development.

“They are especially well-versed and experienced in visitor behavior on those websites. Their expertise enables them to help us create an optimal design based on that unique user experience,” Cooper said.

Cooper said residents and businesses will benefit from the new site because they can register for specific city communications such as new job postings, board meetings, construction projects or press releases.

“Also, folks will be able to subscribe to specific webpage updates through RSS-feed subscriptions as well,” she said. “Information will be custom tailored to the interest of the resident, business, or visitor. Our local partners will also have a connection to our website, and we will be doing our best to promote the community along with our municipal organization.”

Cooper said once the city successfully launches the new website, administrators will constantly reference analytics and adjust as necessary to increase performance.

“After that, we will be exploring the integration of online service modules that can help someone reserve a community facility or obtain a specific license from the city (through the website),” she said.

Once the city initiates the contract with Granicus, they will begin the “discovery” phase, Cooper said. During that phase, administrators will identify the best design for the sitemap navigation. The next phase will be the aesthetic design phase (graphic design) alpha site and survey.

A lengthy set of steps will follow with the final stages to begin around mid-April 2022 with a soft launch. The launch of the website and final content updates are expected in mid-May, according to an implementation timeline.