What challenges do government sites face from high demand?

People around the world turn to governments sites for a number of reasons: financial support, registrations, information, and more. So how do website managers cope with increased demand?

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1. Why do visitors turn to public sector websites? 

There are a number of reasons people turn to government websites, and we can expect the number to increase as more services move from in-person to online.

Applications and registrations 

One of the main reasons people go to government sites is to submit applications or registrations for various activities: tax filings, car registrations, blood donorship, among others. These activities can often have a specific starting time or strict deadline meaning waves of traffic hitting sites at set times, potentially affecting website performance and overwhelming the system.

Recently however, state websites in the United States and others around the world have seen influxes of visitors applying for financial relief. The added load has been difficult for many websites to cope with.

  • Online systems in states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Oregon experienced issues maintaining their infrastructure as millions hit their sites to register for unemployment benefits. New York state, in particular, saw a 900% increase in website traffic in just a week.
  • The Thai government announced a handout for individuals considered “informal” workers. As a result, nearly 20 million individuals tried to log in and register on the government’s payout website, higher than the 3.5 million anticipated. Even before opening the website, there were nearly two million people on the site, waiting and refreshing the page.

 

Travel authorizations

Government and public sector websites are also the focal point for immigration applications and other travel authorizations. In recent times, citizens stranded abroad have turned to governments to get approval for controlled re-entry. Minutes after announcing this process, the Jamaican government’s and mobile app website almost instantaneously received 100,000 hits and was automatically shut down as a result.

 

Trusted sources of information 

In reaction to certain news or events, individuals will often turn to government or the public sector because they are considered trustworthy sources of information. Canada’s immigration website crashed following the U.S. presidential vote in 2016 as a result of higher than normal levels of traffic. New Zealand’s immigration website also saw an increase of almost 2,500% in 24 hours from curious Americans.

 

2. The consequences of traffic surges 

As public sector activities broaden and increasingly move online, websites visitors follow, overloading government websites. However, these spikes in online traffic can have serious consequences for the industry. Having worked together with government agencies around the world, these are the effects we’ve observed.

Slowdowns and crashes

One of the major consequences of traffic spikes are website overload, leading to slowdowns and crashes. This can hurt overall operational efficiency as critical services grind to a halt. Crashes are costly and a site outage is not a quick fix. 65% of organizations need over an hour to bring their sites back up and sites with frequent outages experience higher costs. In the meantime, the site outage can also impact staff’s productivity as resources are spend elsewhere.

 

Frustrated taxpayers and visitors 

Public sector website crashes are costly in more ways than one. Downtime also often means an influx of frustrated visitors to phone lines and social media, now left unsure about whether they will be able to receive the support that they need. What’s worse, employees often rely on the same systems as site visitors, only compounding the issue. Additional staff resources must then be spent to assure and inform taxpayers about the situation at hand.

 

Data security issues 

In perhaps the worst-case scenario, an overloaded website can start to fail in other ways and expose sensitive user data. That was the case for the Italian social security website when it received about 100 requests per second, numbers it had previously never seen. As it malfunctioned, the website also began showing users other people's personal details, including names and tax numbers.

 

3. How website managers can keep their systems online 

Scale up, with caveats 

When preparing for increases in traffic, many website managers turn to scaling up. While this is a good starting point for building in website performance, it’s also a technically difficult and costly process. Scaling servers can be ineffective for older infrastructures and it doesn’t mean all parts of the website can scale equally well. The mechanics behind scaling websites make it tough to maintain performance under increased demand. And with many government websites seeing exponential, traffic peaks, scaling up cannot save their sites fast enough before a slowdown or crash.

Related: Autoscaling explained: Why scaling your site is so hard

 

Know your bottlenecks 

Website managers might be confident that their site can support thousands of concurrent users, but what happens when that number of visitors are all trying to log in or send in forms simultaneously? Even if government agencies can support that many visitors, having them concentrated on one page could mean the platform is vulnerable to slowdowns and downtime. The best way to understand a website’s true capacity is to run load testing, which will give more realistic data of the traffic levels sites can support during their busiest periods.

Related: How to avoid the website capacity mistake everyone makes

 

Get help from a virtual waiting room

A virtual waiting room can support government sites in preventing crashes when it matters most. When demand exceeds capacity, website visitors are placed in an online queue and allowed back onto the site in a first-in, first-out order. Here, managers can also communicate clearly and provide real-time updates to waiting users, creating a feeling of transparency and fairness.

To maintain a secure environment, Queue-it’s virtual waiting room does not collect or have access to any data on end-users and can filter out some forms of fraudulent traffic. Our servers are also located in the European Union and in the United States, in compliance with legal frameworks on storing data.

 

We at Queue-it understand the complexity and the security need in handling overwhelming traffic. Our first customer was a Danish government website used to renew hunting licenses, and we’ve worked closely with many global public sector organizations since then. Our virtual waiting room ensures operational efficiency for less than server scaling and provides crucial analytics to predict future case volumes.

Confidently manage surging demand to your public sector site