On the heels of recognition from the Public Technology Institute (PTI) for its efforts to enhance government through the use of technology, California's Sacramento County IT officials are continuing to improve how it offers services, says CIO Rami Zakaria.

The county is starting by looking at how its constituents use technology. At the end of June, the county began development on several new mobile websites, including a mobile 311 website, that are scheduled for completion this fall, Zakaria said.

Sac+Food+App+screenshot

These new mobile offerings will be similar to the “Sac Food” website and app -- both of which were recognized by PTI -- in that they will provide extra information to people in an easy-to-use format, he said.

The Sac Food app was created as an extension of the color-coded placards that restaurants in Sacramento County are required to display. The red, green or yellow placards show that a restaurant has either failed, passed or conditionally passed inspection.

“It’s really an outreach to the community to share some of the data we’re finding about restaurants,” he said. “The thought behind it is if you have a favorite restaurant and you want to know how well they’re doing or not, you can go online and look it up on the county Internet website, or you can have a mobile phone that shows the restaurants around you and see the results.”

Principal IT Analyst Jerry Gray added that the app and website give the consumers the power of choice rather than just seeing the placard and accepting the county’s word that a restaurant is a safe and healthy place to eat.

“You can see the PDF of the inspection report,” Gray said. “Even if the restaurant has a green, they may have had minor violations that need correction, so you can look into that and see if it has anything that concerns you.”

Moving Beyond the Restaurant App

The county is currently working on three or four new mobile websites, Zakaria said. “This is really a complete program,” he said. “We’d like to make county services available to the Web -- as many of them as we possibly can -- to our residents, that will be accessible 24/7, anywhere, using any device.”

Sac County's Award-Winning Tech 

This past May, Sacramento County, Calif., was recognized by the Public Technology Institute for its work on various projects, including the completion of the Sacramento International Airport Shared Use Network, a VoIP buildout to replace the county’s legacy phone system, an update to the county’s radio system and the Sac Food inspection app and website.

The website, says CIO Rami Zakaria, marks the beginning of a change in the county’s approach to its service offerings.

When the county began looking at mobile offerings, Gray said it was looking at what new things it could do with a mobile device that a desktop computer couldn’t do.

But the attitude has since changed, he said, because mobile devices aren’t just about added functionality -- for some people they’re the sole source of Internet access. “So with that mindset, we’ve been looking at everything we do to make sure that what we’ve done in the past works well in the mobile world on tablets or a phone,” he said.

By using responsive design, he said, the county can ensure that its upcoming property tax mobile website and 311 website are available to as many people as possible. The county is also creating a new mobile website to replace the county’s existing eight-year-old construction information website, which offers data about ongoing construction and land development projects. When that website was built, Gray said, mobile devices weren’t really a consideration.

The county isn’t ruling out building apps rather than mobile websites in the future, and may do so if there’s a business case, he said, but mobile Web is a smarter approach for many projects.

“With mobile Web, we can have a more rich application experience," Gray said, "and it’s more cost effective to hit all platforms that way."

Colin Wood Colin Wood  |  Staff Writer

Colin has been writing for Government Technology since 2010. He lives in Seattle with his wife and their dog. He can be reached at cwood@govtech.com and on Google+.