Logo Rob Buckley – Freelance Journalist and Editor

All around the world

All around the world

  • Article 7 of 26
  • M-iD, June 2004
Creating a global web site with international appeal places huge demands on both managers and technology.

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To save costs and ensure a consistent brand, the British Council decided to use one technical design and content standard and to remove those sites that did not meet their primary purpose.

After conducting market research and polling 40,000 site visitors, staff and customers, the Council concluded that rather than try to offer all possible information and services about Britain, it should limit itself to presenting web site visitors with information about education and the best English-language courses available.

"Anybody looking to deploy on a global basis has to understand why they're going online and then get everyone to sign up to that," says Barnes. "The advantage of doing so much research is that nobody can contradict it." So although many internal parties argued that their interests should be featured online, Barnes was able to point to the market research data to convince them.

The Council then commissioned an online design developed to work across all cultures. The designs had to be flexible enough to take into account right-left languages such as Farsi and the 35 languages used on all the sites.

Similarly, the content management system used to host and run the sites had to have been localised into all the languages used by content authors around the world: the new media company hired to implement the designs recommended an Obtree C3 system (since upgraded to the C4 system, now called Ixos Web Content Management and owned by Open Text). Barnes believes it was a good choice; he does, however, recommend hiring an Obtree administrator with experience of the system in order to get the most out of it and ensure scalability.

After a phase to design and pilot the new system, the first few sites were deployed in November 2001, replacing the existing sites. The roll-out is still in progress, with 40 of the original sites still to be brought under the global umbrella. Content authoring and translation is still performed by local offices, although the content management system allows the UK office to determine exactly what they can change.

"It helps with the buy-in if you let people modify and alter content locally," explains Barnes. "With our original web presence in 1996, local offices had to send updates to the main office and wait for the changes to be approved and made. Now the local offices all view centralisation with suspicion - and rightly so."

The roll-out has already paid for itself and Barnes is looking forward to being able to start the next phase of site development, when greater interactivity and an Autonomy search engine will be added. But with the system now proved in tens of countries, Barnes is confident that such a global change will be far easier to manage than ever before.

Cost analysis

Costs and returns over five years

  • Expenditure Software procurement: £195,000
  • Market research: £210,000
  • Hardware procurement: £210,000
  • Design and piloting: £820,000
  • Training: £780,000
  • Systems administration: £500,000


Hosting costs: cut from £8.9 million to £2.3 million by having a single hosting provider in the UK. Further savings expected as more of the sites are moved to the central location.

Return on investment: Already reached break-even; by 2005, the British Council will have saved £3 million.

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