Each year, the Best of New York Awards program, conducted by the Center for Digital Government (CDG)*, acknowledges the best of the best in government and educational IT projects and professionals, and on Friday, Sept. 16 at the New York Digital Government Summit held in Albany, this year's awardees were made public.

From a financial system overhaul to citizen engagement portals and apps, winners of this year's survey serve internal and external stakeholders well, proving the dedication and hard work in designing and creating these projects was well worth the effort — and will continue to be for years to come. 

Throughout many of the projects, collaboration emerged as a theme.

At the New York City Department of Finance, Michelle Miao, program director of the Business Tax System (BTS), managed that particular project in a way that emphasized collaboration: Every day, a team of Department of Finance employees, programmers and coders from the vendor and subject matter experts  from each city agency that use this project were on-site with Miao helping build the system and creating training documents.

And two projects — the Court Actions Portal from the Suffolk County Clerk and the Health Disparities and Inequalities Collaboration Platform from University at Albany, SUNY — won full-fledged collaboration awards.

“Ingenuity, collaboration and a lot of hard work on the part of New York government departments have yielded great innovations that are improving government interactions with citizens,” said Todd Sander, executive director of the Center for Digital Government.

WINNER: Demonstrated Excellence in Project Management

 Michelle Miao, Business Tax System Program Director, New York City Department of Finance

As program director for the city's Department of Finance’s Business Tax System, which replaces two legacy mainframe systems that processed more than $10 billion in business and excise taxes annually, Michelle Miao has led a team of internal and external stakeholders to launch a system that integrates the processing of taxes across six Department of Finance divisions: Payment Operations, Audit, Enforcement, Collections, Legal, and Tax Policy.

Not only did Miao deliver phase one of the project — the largest and most complex, which launched in January 2016 — on time and on budget, she also managed the project in a way that encouraged an open and honest environment, emphasized collaboration, focused on how to best address business challenges, and solved communication gaps that are inherent with large-scale projects.

For Miao, success depends, in part, on having a solid team in place.

"I have very talented teams," she said. "And in my position, you need to have a vision of how the teams can work together, who’s doing what best in their role."

Miao emphasized that she's not a micromanager, so she must have a team in place that she can trust to get the work done by specified deadlines, and that it will be done correctly. And she also said she has an excellent quality assurance team on site from research and advisory firm Gartner.

Also on site each and every day is the vendor, about 20 to 30 people, working side-by-side with city employees — and full-time subject-matter experts (SMEs) from each business unit within the Department of Finance.

"They are required to be the very best from each [business unit]," Miao said, "because the new system is going to be used by these [units]." And someone who's been integral in its creation will be on-hand back at the ranch, so to speak, to work with their [business units]." 

The team also consists of full-time testers, whom the vendor also helps to train. And yet another unique piece of this project, Miao said, is that these testers will eventually become trainers for their respective business units— and they participate in crafting the training materials.

"So they have ownership," she said. "It’s a very different approach, but it’s a very successful approach because the business units feel that they own the process."

WINNER: Best Application Serving an Agency’s Business Needs

NYC Department of Finance Integrated Business Tax System

All of the teamwork, buy-in and effort on the part of Miao and her team paid off: The Business Tax System was named as the survey's Best Application Serving an Agency's Business Needs.

The system serves both the Department of Finance's needs and those of constituents, as it includes modules that support taxpayer registration, payment processing, tax return processing, financial and revenue accounting, refunds issuance, workflow, letters, reporting,and data warehousing.

2016 Hugh L. Carey Leadership Award Winner

This year's Hugh Carey Award was given to Nonie Manion, executive deputy commissioner of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, for her expertise in and commitment to using technology to advance the department's work — most notably for her role in the implementation of the data-driven case identification and selection system (CISS), which sifts through millions of tax returns, identifying the most suspicious. Last year, CISS prevented New York from paying out more than $500 million in fraudulent refunds.

Manion also was the driving force behind the department's development of its Data Analytics Center of Excellence, called the Tax Analytics Solution Center (TASC). She knew the department needed to understand all of the data in its possession and optimize its use, as she firmly believes such data can best inform the department where to focus its resources, said Robert Plattner, New York state deputy commissioner for tax policy during the awards ceremony held Sept. 15 in Albany.

"Still in its infancy, TASC has begun to fulfill its promise," he said, "gleaning valuable insight from the data as to when and how the Department can best communicate with taxpayers to maximize voluntary compliance." 

Manion is the sixth recipient of the Hugh L. Carey Leadership Award.

"For one agency, it's much more efficient, Miao said, noting that the two legacy systems that BTS is replacing are very old mainframe systems that make it very difficult to make corrections. "For this administration, tax and reform has been the top priority on Mayor [Bill] DeBlasio's agenda, and replacing this 30-year-old legacy system is an integral part of that. And in city government, there are always legislative changes, and with this new system, that's much easier because it's more flexible, and it's more efficient and transparent."

The public-facing portal, called eServices, helps taxpayers to manage their tax accounts online. The portal is easily configurable, and offers improved processing of tax returns, payments, refunds and audits.

On the whole, the Business Tax System helps the Department of Finance to better manage taxpayer's cases, view registered contacts, access transactional history and view other information useful in understanding the background of a case. And it helps department officials make more informed decisions.

Miao also noted that in addition to a stellar team, another key factor in this being a successful project is the buy-in from top-level officials. Department of Finance Commissioner Jacques Jiha trusts her 100 percent, she said, and department CIO Seb Formoso offers guidance and support whenever she needs it. "I get absolute full support from my commissioner and the senior leadership."

WINNER: Best Application Serving an Agency’s Business Needs

Investigator App/Improving Quality of Community, Town of Brookhaven

Also at the local level, the town of Brookhaven's Investigator app received the Best Application Serving an Agency's Business Needs award.

In addition to giving town employees tasked with answering resident queries a one-stop shop for various departments' information, it also has helped investigators and other field workers be more efficient and responsive to constituents for quality of community concerns.

But Brookhaven did not create this app on its own; it collaborated with Suffolk County, and in addition to including town department information and data, also includes Suffolk County GIS services, police and law enforcement data, and legislative data. 

WINNER: Most Innovative Use of Social Media/ Citizen Engagement

New York State Senate Public Website

At the state level, the New York State Senate Public website was named as the Most Innovative Use of Social Media/Citizen Engagement, which means the purpose of the site's 2015 redesign — to more effectively connect New York citizens with their Senate representatives — was fulfilled. It's now much easier for citizens of New York to follow Senate legislative sessions and public hearings, and get ahold of such information as bills, resolutions, calendars and committee agendas.

A new set of tools on the site lets constituents support or oppose bills, follow issues they care about, sign petitions, and send messages to their senators. It also gives senators tools to organize and respond to the high volume of feedback they're receiving, and they can access dashboards with summary statistics.

Since the site's launch in January, more than 22,000 messages of support or opposition to bills have been sent, and state policy issues have been subscribed to more than 30,000 times.

WINNER: Most Innovative IT Workforce Initiative Quality Management Center

Excellence in Quality Assurance, New York State ITS Human Services Cluster

In New York state government, the practice of quality assurance (QA) is not standardized, so the Quality Management Center for the Human Services Cluster has created a standard quality assurance process that is being adjusted for use in agencies across the state. The ultimate goal in QA standardization is to minimize risk and provide a better product to citizens.

The center is engaged in an ongoing and intensive effort to convert the manual functional testing practice that has been the standard in the past to automation testing. This provides a quicker timelines for the delivery of application changes while still maintaining a very high quality product to the public.

WINNER: Best Application Serving the Public

NYC311 Mobile App, Office of the Mayor of New York City

The NYC311 Mobile App has transformed the way millions of customers access information, submit requests and receive updates from NYC government. The mobile app -- powered by a team from the city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications and NYC311 — was enhanced over the past year to align with the strategic goal of “meeting customers where they are” and evolving a customer-centric tool that promotes equity, equality and opportunity for all Android and iOS users.

Over the past year, the App was downloaded 130,000 times, and the customized NYC Today feature — which gives users immediate access to the city’s most requested updates for parking, garbage and recycle schedules, and public school status — was accessed 500,000 times. The App has significantly reduced operating expenses for NYC as it is a lower-cost method for citizens to file service requests.

WINNER: Best Mobile/Wireless Project

New York State Veterans Mobile App

The NYS Veterans Mobile App is a collaboration between the the New York State Division of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) and the state's Information Technology Services agency — and is one of the nation’s first Veterans’ Affairs mobile apps.

After conducting surveys, DVA determined there was a critical need to enhance its delivery of timely, easy-to-navigate information to veterans and their families, and most importantly, helping veterans to better understand services and resources available in their own backyards.

The app provides the 900,000 veterans and their families living in New York state easy-to-navigate information about federal and state services and resources, as well as efficient localized access to assistance and advocacy at the state and county levels.

WINNER: Best IT Collaboration Among Organizations

Court Actions Portal/Unifying Government Systems for Efficiency, Suffolk County Clerk

The state of New York has mandated that the New York State Court Electronic Filing System (NYSCEF) be used for filing all Supreme Court mandated documents, but because these mandated documents are a subset of the total documents filed within the Suffolk County Clerk's office, this meant using two separate systems to maintain Supreme Court records.

Using two separate systems is an inefficiency recognized by clerk staff, so to bridge the gap until all filings must go through the NYSCEF system, the clerk's office developed an Integrated Court Actions Management System (ICAMS) to allow for a seamless transition. The unified system has resulted in a 75 percent reduction in the overall backlog of document filing, and is an integrated solution that unifies applications from three different agencies into one application. ICAMS has reduced the filing of documents from six to eight weeks to less than three weeks.

WINNER: Best IT Collaboration Among Organizations

Health Disparities and Inequalities Collaboration Platform, University at Albany, SUNY

A virtual research community called the Health Disparities and Inequalities Collaboration Platform now enables faculty, researchers and clinicians at the University at Albany and SUNY Downstate Medical Center to communicate, access real-time information, and share ideas and resources in a cloud-based environment. The goal? To strengthen research and funding pursuits focused on health disparities.

The collaboration platform serves as a one-stop destination to develop scientific and research proposals, as well as access a wide range of resources and information including faculty and researchers in the news, federal funding opportunity announcements, national data analytic resources, and a communications and notification/alert portal, to name a few.

WINNER: Best Data Analytics/ Business Intelligence Project

AnalyzeNY Financials, Workforce Analytics, New York State Information Technology Services

AnalyzeNY gave users across all agencies secure access to a state data warehouse, and has increased the efficiency and accuracy of a process that was previously a spreadsheet created from various sources. Now, various decision-makers have a statewide view of financial and human resource information, and users from Finance and Human Resource offices in every state agency now have online access to their agency data.

SPECIAL AWARD: Building the Foundation for a Smarter City

City of Schenectady

Movement tackling urban problems is never easy, especially for older municipalities. But try improving energy efficiency, public safety, parking and public works on a tight budget. The city of Schenectady is doing just that by building a digital infrastructure of wireless networks, LED lighting that includes sensors, cameras and other linked devices that are smart and responsive. The new lighting is expected to cut energy consumption by 50 to 70 percent; a wireless network connected to mobile cameras on streetlight poles will provide the police with extra eyes to fight crime; the same cameras can also monitor parking and when synced up with a software app, alert drivers when there’s a free parking space. The cameras can also provide public works with periodic updates on road conditions.

To make sure it has the right talent and technology, the city has partnered with local industrial giant GE and various tech companies, including Cisco, Sensity Systems and Presidio, to help with development and deployment. While the project is still in its early stages, Mayor Gary McCarthy expects that by investing in the right kind of technology now, the city of just over 66,000 people will benefit immensely from a smart, connected infrastructure that generates important data for city services.

“This really is a new kind of opportunity," McCarthy said, "and this technology will enable us to move forward and do great things within Schenectady and regionally."

*The Center for Digital Government is the research arm of e.Republic Inc., which also owns and operates Government Technology magazine and Govtech.com.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 9 a.m. to reflect factual changes to Michelle Miao's Demonstrated Excellence in Project Management award as  Business Tax System Program Director at the New York City Department of Finance.