DCMS: Cyber Exchange revitalised through discovery and alpha

Imagine you are tasked with running a website to support the UK cyber industry but you want it to have more impact. Maybe it needs more features so it appeals to more people? Maybe it needs different content? Or more social integration?

But the risk of getting it wrong is high and no-one wants to waste public money. So maybe the safest option is to quietly close it down and invest the money elsewhere.

But perhaps it’s valuable to some of the users and closing the service down would alienate the very people you set out to support. The problem is that you just don’t know the potential of the service.

Unlocking the potential

This was exactly the situation faced by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Cyber Exchange when they commissioned us to lead a discovery phase for the service.

The Cyber Exchange was originally developed in 2016 as part of the Cyber Growth Partnership. It’s run by techUK, a trade association for the technology industry and funded by DCMS, the Government department responsible for building a shared society and digital connectivity.

“The Exchange was created to increase government’s ability to track how many cyber companies were operating in the UK,” explained Dan Patefield, Head of Programme, Cyber and National Security, at techUK.

“We wanted to create a site that would highlight where the UK’s cyber companies were operating, and to see if there were any regional clusters and what are their capabilities were. It was seen as a good platform to track the UK’s progress in the cyber space.”

The service evolved to act as a platform for companies to market themselves and collaborate. The team added functionality for users to post news and events and access resources designed to help raise their profile.

Yet, despite hundreds of companies registering on the site, repeat traffic was lower than expected.

“When we dug into the analytics we saw that people weren’t visiting or spending as much time there as we expected,” said Rebecca Bryant, Policy Advisor in the Cyber Security Sector Growth team at DCMS.

“This suggested that the service needed to be improved. The site had not been significantly updated or redesigned since its launch in 2016, so we knew it was time to make some changes.”

Investing in a Discovery Phase to save money

To find a way forward, DCMS appointed us via the Digital Marketplace to run a Discovery.This is a research-led process designed to help service delivery teams understand the problem that needs to be solved by exploring user needs, policy intent and the landscape around the service.

Rebecca said: “We wanted to invest in some strong research that illustrated exactly what the issues were. This is a very specific skillset, and not something we could do in-house, so we put the work out to tender. We selected Mace & Menter because of their specialism in conducting user-focused research and experience in this space.”

Our team of user researchers and service designers used a mix of qualitative and quantitative research techniques to understand the audience, as well as workshops and service prototyping to explore concepts and emerging ideas.

Through the work we uncovered a huge appetite among UK cyber businesses to interact with each other, industry bodies and the Government. Cyber Exchange just wasn’t facilitating this interaction in the right way.

We also uncovered little need for new features and functionality around jobs boards and cyber education. In fact, it became clear that cutting features and functionality would be more valuable: the service needed to decide what it was good at and hone in on it.

Although the Cyber Exchange team had received feedback prior to the discovery, the people they heard from tended to be their warmest and most engaged users who liked and used the service. By commissioning independent research, Cyber Exchange were able to talk to people outside their bubble, including registered users who had never been back as well as people who had never heard of the service.

This project was a great example of using research to inform a strategy that saves money. Sometimes, our research eliminates planned scopes of work because we can clearly show that it is not the best action to take. Public sector spending is constantly under scrutiny, and this way of working helps people figure out where to invest for the biggest bang for buck.

Rebecca added: “Not only did Mace & Menter draw up a comprehensive report highlighting findings, but they also provided strategic recommendations for the service. Most importantly these were backed up with evidence, so we knew that we could take the research and go on to create a site that best serves its users.”

Using evidence to inform design

Our design team went on to run an alpha, designing a new service, prototyping and testing a series of concepts to illustrate key moments, layouts and flows. Using evidence to inform design means that DCMS is now focusing investment on the areas that will have the biggest impact for Cyber Exchange users.

For a long time, technology has led the way services work, but increasingly people are realising the value of starting with user needs. Human-centred design has been at the core of the way we work for a long time because we know it’s the best way to design effective services. It’s great to see this approach becoming the norm across government.