A few people have asked me this question since I started this role and I often give different answers depending on who I’m talking to. The truth is I’m not sure I know myself. So when I was asked to write a blog post about it I was slightly alarmed. Then I decided it was the perfect opportunity to try and make sense of it.
The webmaster role in Parliament used to be covered by several people as part of the Web and Intranet Service (or WIS, as it was known). This was before PDS was created. The role then was a broad one, providing support for all sorts of services which are now looked after by other dedicated teams within PDS.
When people who work in Parliament contact webmaster, I think this old set up is still in the back of their minds as they think there’s a whole team behind webmaster duties. Nope, it’s just me.
What webmaster does these days
General website enquiries
I look after the webmaster email inbox. The inbox is there for general website enquiries like reporting a broken link on parliament.uk or the intranet.
This is all good in theory but a lot of my time is actually spent looking into queries that unfortunately I can’t resolve directly. I get all sorts of enquiries as the webmaster address is on the a lot of pages on the website. Things like how to find Parliamentary debates and feedback on the new beta website. I forward these enquiries to the relevant teams, once I’ve worked out who’s best to respond.
When I started there weren't any documents describing what each team was responsible for. This made it somewhat difficult and I spent a lot of time banging on the wrong doors. I've since created a directory of contacts and what they do, which means I can deal with general enquiries quickly and more efficiently.
Content management system
Parliamentary staff will email webmaster if they have questions or problems with the content management system (CMS) for the website and intranet. Parliament has over 100 content editors and they all use the CMS in different ways.
Some have been editing the website for years and are very confident. Others have only just started. It’s important to be able to adapt to the needs and experience of whoever I am talking to, and to explain how the system works in plain English.
Working on the CMS involves investigating issues, providing access for editors, removing old pages, deleting old accounts, updating and improving metadata, and creating user guides.
At the moment teams across Parliament use GovDelivery (now Granicus), a third-party emailing platform, to create newsletters or send email updates to subscribers. Staff with experience of this service moved on to other teams long before I joined so I took this on when I started.
I’ve had to teach myself how to use the system which is an ongoing process. I provide support by managing accounts, suspending email alerts, and helping to build templates for newsletters.
Parliament is now using Achieve Forms and I started helping with that a few months ago. I create accounts, build forms from scratch and help edit existing ones.
The lavatory light isn't working
Queries don’t always come to me directly via email. Users across the estate can raise a ticket with the IT support desk. The analysts there are then responsible for assigning those tickets to the right team.
Incidents and requests involving the CMS will naturally arrive in my queue. But I often open the ticket system to find curious incidents. Some of the time it involves an application I’ve never heard of before, such as ‘Archibus’ or ‘E-tabling’.
I’ve seen the ‘help spreadsheet’ that the support desk analysts use. It has 447 entries so it’s no wonder that calls sometimes get assigned to the wrong team. I’m not sure how fixing a broken light bulb falls within webmaster's remit though!
Ways of working
Working as webmaster has put me in contact with different teams and I’m starting to get a sense of what people do across PDS. I work in the digital development directorate but I often spend time working with live services. It’s interesting to see that the work culture is completely different depending on which floor you work on.
I hope this blog post has helped explain the role of webmaster and will allow me to provide you with better support.
You can contact the webmaster at firstname.lastname@example.org.