Building eGovernment Websites


Technical Aspects

What Do I Need to Do To Make The Site Available To The Public?

1. Hosting

In the very early stages of the development of your site, you will also need to investigate possible alternatives for hosting it, i.e. setting up one or more computers (or servers ) on which the files that compose your website are stored and made available to the public via the internet (see: How Does A Website Work?).

Setting up and administering servers is a complex technical operation that requires advanced IT skills, and is best done by professionals.

When considering hosting solutions, you have two alternatives: you can either hire an external company to store the files on their own servers, therefore effectively "renting" hard disk space and powerful internet connections from them (note: this service may also be offered by the government's central IT agency, so it would be worth a check first); or you can decide to buy (or rent) a server yourself, and run it within your organisation. If you go for the latter, you may still want to hire an external company or organisation to set up this technology on your premises and maintain it in the future, as the cost of running your own server autonomously can be quite onerous, especially in terms of the skills required for the task.

If the website you intend to implement is relatively simple and you only possess limited resources, it may be preferable to go for the first option, and outsource hosting altogether. The disadvantage of doing this is that you would have less control on how the server performs, and you would depend on the economical wellbeing of the company you choose: if the company goes bust without notice, for instance, you may see your site going offline very rapidly, and it may take some time for you to set up an alternative hosting solution with another company. Outsourcing hosting altogether also means that you would entrust the safekeeping of your data to a third party: this may pose some issues if this data is of confidential nature, or is linked to national security or other delicate areas of government (e.g. defence, or finance). In this case, you should make sure that the company you use can be trusted, and that clear and legally binding written agreements are established between you and the company as far as the security of the data is concerned, and the type of access to it guaranteed to the company's employees for maintenance purposes.

If your website is large and complex and/or if it contains confidential, sensitive information you need to keep as safe and secure as possible, you may want to opt for in-house hosting solutions. These have the advantage of giving you complete control over the server technology you use, enabling you to modify it according to your needs, also at short notice. But it can be quite expensive, especially in terms of human resources, so you should make sure you do have the necessary budget to run the servers effectively in the long run, and the necessary technical support at any time of day and year, so that your site is always, or nearly always, online.

You could also investigate sharing in-house server technology with other agencies or offices in your government, in order to reduce costs by sharing them between different organisations. And note that other agencies may already possess the technology necessary or, as mentioned, the government's central IT agency may have a scheme designed to provide hosting to agencies and offices, also (or especially) if they are based in regional locations. The advantages and disadvantages of opting for such solutions are an amalgamation of the points illustrated above.

However you choose to host your site, you should make sure that the technology you use is good enough to perform the tasks required of it: a server must be able to respond to the multiple requests for pages from the visitors to your site in a fast and efficient manner, and it must provide solid systems to back up data in case of data loss or other problems connected to data storage. The connection of the server to the internet should also be powerful enough not to cause long loading times for the pages and files that compose your site.

2. Domain Name Registration

Your website will need a unique web address , or domain name , also known as URL (Universal Resource Locator). This is usually in the format http://www.sitename.domain (such as ).

Domain names are normally registered with independent internet authorities, through specialised and accredited companies, known as registrars . The process is relatively simple in this circumstance: you need to contact one of the registrars, or a company that acts as the intermediary between website owners and a registrar, and ask them to reserve the domain name for you (see for more information).

That said, it is likely that as a governmental agency, your organisation will have exclusive and usually free access to specific types of domain name that are reserved for governments in your country (which may contain the letters "gov" followed by your country's top level domain , e.g. ".in" for Indian sites, or ".ng" for Nigerian sites). Before you contact a private registrar, you should therefore check what the arrangements are for your country, by contacting your country code manager (see for a list of these by country). In developing countries, it is often the case that the authority managing domain names is actually a governmental agency itself, or the national public telecom operator (PTO) - so do check with the Ministry of Communications, or its equivalent in your country, who will very probably be in the position to assist you in this process.

The domain name you choose should reflect the identity of your organisation, but it should also be as short, easy and intuitive as possible, so that it looks or sounds familiar to users and is also easy to include in printed publications, letterheads, or e-mail signatures.

3. Loading and Testing the Site

Once you have finalised the design of your site (see: How Do I Design My eGovernment Website?) and populated it with contents (see: How Do I Populate My eGovernment Website With Contents?), you will need to transfer all the files that constitute it to your server, so that it is accessible via the internet.

It is likely that during the design phase of your site, you and/or your web team will have already transferred some pages to your server to check if they work, and what they look like from remote machines. Now, you will need to transfer the entire site to the server.

Once you have loaded the site, you will need to test it . You and your web team should take some time to actually visit the site in its entirety to see if it works, i.e. if all links are functional, if images display fine, and if there are any technical problems with it.

It helps to ask colleagues in your organisation to check the site as well, as they may find details that need to be changed, or any other errors and mistakes. In particular, it would be useful to involve the people who have contributed contents to it (the owners of the contents), as they will be the people who are most familiar with that content. This is because after working intensively and for a long period on a website (or on any other project, in fact!), it's easy to lose sight of the details, and you may end up overlooking some important functionalities of your site: a fresh, untrained look at the site will work wonders in this phase, and will help you avoiding launching an inaccurate or malfunctioning website.

At this stage, it is also a good idea to involve senior management in the testing as well, especially if they have personally sponsored your project, in order to get a qualified and authoritative "fit to print".

Once you are sure the site is complete and that everything is where it's supposed to be, you may also want to test its performance under "stress", i.e. simulate a situation in which the site receives a large number of requests over a short period, to make sure that the servers you use are capable of dealing with them without collapsing or causing long loading times. This is practically impossible to do manually, and will require specialised software that automatically generates a high number of requests for specific pages, and monitors the server's performance. As this is something that you will need to do very rarely, you may be better off hiring a company to carry out these performance tests for you, rather than acquiring the software.

Once you are finished testing the site, you are ready to proceed with its official launch.


Page Author: Andrea Bardelli Danieli. Last updated on 19 October, 2008.
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