Articles

2015 Survey Honors Most Innovative, Pioneering Digital Counties

In this year's survey, the Center for Digital Government recognizes 54 counties as adaptive IT leaders, collaborators and arbiters of the public trust.

by , , , , / July 9, 2015
Click points on the map above to learn more about each winner. Red indicates 1st place winners, blue indicates 2nd place winners, green indicates 3rd place winners, and yellow indicates winners that placed 4th through 10th. This information is also included on page two of our story.

 

2015 Digital Counties Survey Winners

 

500,000 or more population category:

1st Fairfax County, VA
This year’s standard-bearer in the large counties category, Fairfax County, Va., moved up from third place in 2014 to earn the top spot on the strength of a variety of its programs. Transparency shines as a county priority, with robust and usable open data that provide a telling look into community demographics, via apps like the Demographic Interactive Mapper and Community Easy Stats. When it comes to the openness of its finances, Fairfax County also earns high marks. Its budget site offers full visibility into the budget life cycle, including details on revenues, procurement and expenditures. The county’s move to the cloud can be seen in an enterprise switch to Microsoft Office 365, which helps position it to serve a more mobile workforce. In addition, the Board of Supervisors is now up to speed with a cloud-based tool that makes all board materials available securely from any browser. Other Fairfax County subcommittees are now getting on board as well, saving reams of paper and increasing accessibility.

Fairfax County also leads the National Capital Region project, a network that connects all area jurisdictions and partners, allowing secure, real-time cross-agency communications. Boasting 99.9 percent availability since 2010, the system ensures all participants have access to the same emergency management, public safety and law enforcement data.

2nd Montgomery County, MD
A perennial high-achiever in the Digital Counties Survey, Montgomery County, Md., held on to the second place spot that it earned in 2014. There’s no shortage of evidence as to why. July 2014 saw the county retire its mainframe, freeing up more than $1 million in annual licensing costs. In order to do so, the county upgraded its final mainframe-dependent applications: tax assessment, health and criminal justice. Each new system was developed in-house at significant cost savings and offers new technologies that better serve the county’s needs. Employees are also in the midst of migrating to Microsoft Office 365 in the cloud, a training-intense process expected to be complete by the end of this year.

The past year has been a busy one for the county’s financial transparency efforts too, as several new tools are now available for those who seek a deeper understanding of where their tax dollars go. An Interactive Fiscal Plan lets residents test their skills at balancing the budget and see the complex consequences from any one decision. In addition, the county has launched two additional sites offering a granular level of detail on financial decisions: budgetMontgomery and spendingMontgomery. The county is also taking a data-driven approach to improving online customer satisfaction, including visitors to the primary website, the 311 site and the websites of the County Council. The yearlong project measured customer satisfaction, reviewed the main contributors to visitor satisfaction and took steps to increase satisfaction, and ultimately scored some admirable results: Overall satisfaction increased by almost 15 percent. Expect to hear more in the coming year about Montgomery County’s growing number of efforts to pilot Internet of Things technologies.

2nd San Diego County, CA
San Diego County, Calif., unveiled a new website last year featuring responsive design and a clean, updated look. Among the innovative apps offered to San Diego County citizens is Finding Rover, which uses facial recognition to help locate lost pets. The county’s emergency mobile app logged nearly 75,000 new users during the May 2014 wildfires, during which the county sent out 2.5 million push notifications, while the emergency website, which suffered no downtime during the event, got more than 2.4 million hits. A new internal-facing app is also getting results in the county’s Probation Department. Understanding that recidivism decreases with more contact with probation officers, the app allows officers to update case records during visits, rather than back at the office. The initial pilot surpassed goals to increase officer productivity by 50 percent.

In an effort to effectively make decisions regarding the county’s growing cloud portfolio (the number of cloud solutions used has almost doubled since 2012), a Cloud Review Committee now evaluates all cloud services and intervenes when needed to keep projects on course. Meanwhile, the Health and Human Services Agency took aim at the accidental disclosure of confidential information that has plagued so many agencies and private-sector companies across the country. Data loss prevention software detects confidential information on employee machines, alerting them and requiring a conscious decision on their part to move the data to another location. Those who say yes will have their action logged for department review.

3rd Oakland County, MI
Inching up one spot from its place in the 2014 survey, Oakland County, Mich., hangs its hat on a number of programs, including a countywide social media strategy (including a social media landing page) that includes employee training on official policy and account governance guidelines, ensuring consistent branding and value to citizens. Social media strategy follows the “80/20 rule,” in which 80 percent of shared posts are generated by the community and the remaining 20 percent come from government. The county's website took top honors in the Center for Digital Government’s 2014 Best of the Web competition, bolstered in part by site navigation that immediately leads visitors to what they seek in 95 percent of use cases.

Sharing seems to be at the heart of most of Oakland County’s efforts. One prime example is the G2G (Government to Government) Marketplace, where the county offers applications and services on demand to governments that might not have the resources to purchase and/or operate the same solutions onsite. More than 250 public entities in 33 states are registered on G2G to date. Similarly, Oakland County participated in the creation of the Cybersecurity Assessment for Everyone (CySAFE) tool, which allows governments to evaluate their cybersecurity posture against common frameworks to understand their readiness and gain support for needed upgrades. In addition, the county’s Courts and Law Enforcement Management Information System (CLEMIS) links criminal justice and public safety agencies within the county and beyond using common applications.

3rd Sacramento County, CA
It’s another strong showing for Sacramento County, Calif., in this year’s survey, up from a fourth place finish last year. The Sacramento County website is feature-rich, allowing site visitors to complete more than 50 types of transactions online. And statistics prove the public is taking advantage of these options, as the county reports a 15 percent increase in online transactions over the previous year. For example, 8,000 business license and building permit applications were filed in 2014 using the portal, during which time 34,700 parcel owners took care of property taxes using the EPropTax application. The county also serves as a lead partner in a regional GIS cooperative formed in 2000 and managed by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. The partnership enables a multilayered map featuring a variety of standard parcel data, as well as trash pickup and water service information. Recent upgrades to the county’s ERP system include the automation of new staff onboarding paired with expansion of the employee self-service portal online. The county rounds out its ambitious IT agenda with an aggressive and comprehensive cybersecurity program, composed of a host of solutions across the network spectrum: perimeter, network, host, application and data.

4th Wake County, NC
Moving up four spots from last year’s Digital Counties Survey is Wake County, N.C., which this year was highlighted for its diverse and broad-based open data portal. The portal includes highly curated and accurate data sets related to GIS, permitting and restaurant inspections, among others, that are being used to produce collaborative results with citizens and county staff. Also of note for this year’s fourth place winner in the 500,000 population or more category is its regional collaboration for E911 services. Partnering with the city of Raleigh, the two jurisdictions created the Raleigh-Wake County Emergency Communications Center, which has the second-highest 911 call volume in the state. Over the past two years, Raleigh officials and the Wake Emergency Communications Organization have collaborated to produce a partnership that benefited both entities by upgrading the communication center’s 800-MHz public safety radio system; planning to open a new Critical Public Safety Building in Raleigh in early 2016; replacing, through joint funding, the communication center’s outdated computed-aided dispatch system; creating a new position at the communication center to serve as co-project manager with Raleigh staff to streamline project tasks; and creating city, county and advisory board agreements for governing the aforementioned systems and various services. County officials say these changes signal a new era of collaboration between the city and county in the critical area of citizen safety.

5th Bexar County, TX
Bexar County, Texas, population 1.8 million, has moved up three spots from last year’s survey, due in part to its succinct Bexar County Business Analyst, an online interactive map designed for anyone interested in the county’s current demographics or market-related data, calling it very handy and informative. Also of note is the Bexar County Bexar County's GIS Open Data Portal, primarily because of the resource sharing and collaboration with ArcGIS Open Data. The portal is a repository for the county GIS group’s digital mapping data that offers public access to commonly requested geographic data that is available through an interactive map or search by keyword.

5th King County, WA
Jumping five spots from the 2014 survey is King County, Wash., which boasts a succinct and very functional Puget Sound Trip Planner app, which helps both residents and visitors plan a transit trip, find the best stops and see the next departure times on all modes of transportation — bus, train, light rail, streetcar, ferry, water taxi and monorail. In addition to being a helpful on-the-go tool for travelers, the app also is an excellent example of cross-agency collaboration, as it includes regional transportation data from 11 area transit agencies. The county’s constituent relationship management (CRM) system manages interactions with customers, using technology to organize, automate and synchronize records. This enterprisewide CRM tool increases customer service and collaboration throughout the county by offering a “no wrong door” service: Questions can be received, assigned and assured of completion in the CRM system, no matter which department they originate from. This solution allows for the tracking, monitoring and reporting on any issue’s progress, as well as the ability to track trends by issue type, agency, resident and neighborhood.

6th Orange County, FL
After dropping off the winner’s list in 2014, Orange County, Fla., has made a strong comeback in this year’s survey. Its overall citizen outreach and inclusion program — which has many initiatives — is considered the start of the county’s move toward civic innovation. In addition to launching an improved OC Newsroom website complete with featured stories, statements on key issues and a photo gallery, the county also launched an accompanying smartphone app and a regular newsletter from Mayor Teresa Jacobs. In addition to pushing information out to its citizens, Orange County also launched a website that includes all available volunteer opportunities by topic and location. Also, the mayor’s new Technology and Social Media Workgroup will operate as a think tank to advance new technologies, social media and mobile applications, and also will collaborate on how to best enhance online public engagement and support the region's growing technology and digital community. The security improvements and big data plans currently in place will be beneficial going forward. For its big data initiative, large volumes of information from multiple systems are aggregated and processed on a daily basis, and through the use of custom programs, staff members can cross reference and identify activity based on active threats. The county also is implementing technology that processes structured and unstructured data using a visual analytics system with machine learning capabilities, which allows for intelligent searching and communication analysis for investigations and e-discovery of data throughout the enterprise. 

7th Alameda County, CA
Ranking seventh for the second year in a row, Alameda County has implemented numerous tech initiatives over the years with a heavy focus on citizen engagement, open data and transparent government. The county continues to add features and update ongoing projects. For example, it refreshed its open data portal in 2014 (originally launched in 2012), highlighting more than 200 data sets, including crime reports and restaurant inspections. In addition, it’s employing responsive design to make websites mobile friendly. A variety of Web and mobile apps aim to make key information and tools — like voter data and issue reporting — easy for residents to access. Internal and external hackathons help the county innovate and develop new tools for both employees and residents. The public-facing AC Apps Challenge has included 440 participants in the last three years, leading to 62 app ideas and eight working apps. The internal hackathon, Rethink AC, brings together employees from across different departments to create new tools, like a one-stop shop for permits that’s currently being developed. Additional initiatives include partnering with a nearby county for reciprocal hosting for disaster recovery and business continuity infrastructure, as well as investing in enterprisewide network upgrades to improve uptime of critical systems used by departments, including police and fire. Numerous programs seek to reach young residents about tech opportunities and civic engagement. The student intern program, for example, has challenged participants to create apps that benefit the community, and the Youth Leadership Academy educates high-school students about the county’s programs and services.

7th Baltimore County, MD
Falling one place since last year's survey, Baltimore County is working to reduce redundancy and increase the usability of online services for residents. An in-house redesign of the county portal went live this year, featuring an emphasis on search and responsive design. An upcoming move to a Microsoft Enterprise agreement will consolidate 13 apps and is estimated to save the county $1.5 million every two years after implementation. The technology department has also developed workforce efficiencies through a Document Management Center and Council Action Request Form, helping to deliver services faster. In addition, Web services aim to increase transparency, including online council session videos and services platforms for code enforcement and land management records. Technology also is enabling field staff members to be more effective and efficient: Public works and animal control employees can complete work orders and citations while in the field; emergency medical services workers can securely transmit vital data to hospitals prior to arrival; and an equipment upgrade allows firefighters to receive CAD data and access an internal reporting system while responding to an incident.

7th Snohomish County, WA
Snohomish County is proof that tech investments pay off. A GIS program established in 1992 set the stage for what’s now more than 260 data sets and 500 GB of aerial images — an investment that proved invaluable during the devastating mudslide in March 2014. This information helped the county produce maps and images to aid search and rescue efforts, while also aiding public education about the incident. Recent tech initiatives include the launch of the county’s first redesigned website in 10 years, which has shown an increase from 3.1 million to 5.3 million page views annually since it went live in February 2014. In addition, a public records portal provides a menu of accessible data, helping with the 1,700 public records requests that are made annually. An expanded cloud computing strategy includes the county’s transition to Microsoft Office 365, and it’s employing Skype for Business (formerly Lync) for digital communications outside of email.

8th Pierce County, WA
From its cloud-first strategy to using apps and Web resources to promote sustainable agriculture and farming to launching self-service Web-based tools, Pierce County has embraced a multipronged approach to technology. The county reworked its permit inspection process, enlisting self-service tools on its website, which has reduced the number of citizen visits and phone calls to county offices by 25 percent. In addition, an app for inspectors provides easy access to real-time information via iPads, and video chat tools like Skype and FaceTime allow minor inspections to happen remotely. Self-service tools are also streamlining court services, including allowing residents to schedule traffic hearings online and use live chat to get answers to court-related questions. To increase situational awareness during emergencies, Pierce County responders now use the FirstToSee app to send reports from the field. The Oso landslide in March 2014 was the app's first real-world test, during which it helped confirm the identities of survivors and keep track of who was missing. The cloud-based system is GPS-enabled and integrates with social media so responders know what the public is posting about. The county has also been recognized for its contributions to open government. An online list of available records provides information to the public, and a GIS open data portal includes more than 300 data sets, replacing the process of a GIS technician responding to individual requests for information.

8th San Bernardino County, CA
A countywide vision is driving San Bernardino to be a transparent government by focusing on open data, public-facing websites, mobile apps and social media. An open government portal provides key information, including campaign finance disclosures, property records and budget information. Numerous Web forms integrate with the county’s constituent relationship management (CRM) system, allowing residents to submit a variety of requests through the portal. Public safety initiatives include the move to a Project 25 communications system that’s compatible with the systems of neighboring governments and a radio policy that standardizes communications between emergency medical services personnel and hospitals. In addition, an automated referral system for the county’s hospital eliminates manual processes and improves data accuracy and integrity. San Bernardino is working to replace its more than 20-year-old ERP and is also focused on desktop and server virtualization.

9th Hennepin County, MN
Minnesota’s largest county turned in another strong performance this year. Hennepin County has finished among the top 10 in the survey’s large county category since 2009. Accomplishments for 2015 include a centralized housing portal, an upgraded election results application, and an automated citations and charging system. The Hennepin Housing Key is a Web-based application that offers a single database of housing assets operated by the county and nonprofit organizations. The mobile-friendly portal lets residents or their advocates search an inventory of more than 8,000 housing units. Housing providers can enter and update their inventory in real time. A new election night Web page integrates previously separate GIS and text-based information; a simplified back end lets the new site offer election returns faster, and new tools let users access detailed data on voter turnout and demographics. Finally, new eCitation and eFiling technology is removing paper from the criminal justice system. Officers from local police departments enter citation information into the system from their squad cars. And the County Attorney’s Office, as well as the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office, can file charges with the court electronically.

9th Westchester County, NY
Westchester continues to be a tech leader among large counties. The county recently deployed several innovative public safety applications. The Shared Criminal Justice Data Warehouse lets local public safety agencies manage, share and analyze vital information, including city and county police information, jail and probation data, pistol permits, and taxi and limousine records. The county’s new Inmate Mental Health Data Exchange automatically alerts jail staff when an inmate has a history of mental health issues, and provides staff with diagnosis and medication information. The exchange also notifies the county Department of Community Mental Health of the individual’s incarceration and release date, so the department can provide transition services. Westchester’s Department of Information Technology also offers a growing number of shared services to area cities and schools. For instance, last year the department began offering local municipalities no-cost licenses to Symantec Protection Suite cybersecurity software. And the county’s contract for multifunction copiers is used by many of the cities and school districts within the jurisdiction.

10th Cuyahoga County, OH
A recent consolidation effort centralized IT staff, networks and applications for some 40 county agencies, including human resources, public works, the sheriff’s office, clerk of the courts and the medical examiner. The county also has launched new regional services to support local communities. For instance, a cybersecurity website offers resources for residents, cities and businesses in the area. Cuyahoga also intends to grow its new GIS portal — which currently provides detailed maps for county employees and citizens — into a regional resource for sharing GIS data and applications among nearby governments, utilities and businesses. Cuyahoga’s centralized IT approach is powering a series of modernization, including deployment of a new countywide ERP to replace aging department-level financial systems, network upgrades, property tax system replacement and phone system improvements.

10th Ventura County, CA
Ventura County recently migrated nearly 9,000 users and 11,000 email accounts to Microsoft’s cloud-based Office 365 email platform. The project — completed in six months and $800,000 under budget — replaced 20-year-old Novell GroupWise software. The county also worked with OpenGov.com to launch a new open-budget portal that dynamically presents revenues and expenses to citizens, and strengthens budget management capabilities for county leaders. New financial management and performance budgeting solutions from CGI are expected to enter full production this summer. They’ll provide a range of new capabilities for internal staff and vendors doing business with the county. The county also released a couple of innovative mobile apps for residents: An animal services app matches lost pets to their owners — in many cases before the lost pets arrive in the county animal shelter. And a new elections app lets users register to vote using a smartphone or tablet and view election results in real time.

 

250,000-499,999 population category:

1st Chesterfield County, VA
Consistent IT investment guided by comprehensive planning powered Chesterfield County to the top of its population category. A “Blueprint Chesterfield” strategic plan completed last year guides the county’s Technology Improvement Program and other activities. Through a partnership with Virginia Commonwealth University, master’s students in information management recently reviewed the county IT department for effectiveness, risk management and innovation. Findings from the assessment will be considered for the 2016 budget cycle. A comprehensive upgrade of the core network connecting county government buildings boosted bandwidth from 1 GB to 10 GB, building a foundation for app modernization over the next decade. In addition, the core network upgrade facilitated replacement of Chesterfield’s public Wi-Fi network that’s available in libraries, county buildings, parks, training centers and meeting spaces. The county also boosted security of its internal networks by implementing two-factor authentication for staff. County employees now use technology from Duo Security to receive a unique one-time code and authorization access to Chesterfield’s Outlook Web access site.

2nd Dutchess County, NY
Dutchess County has strengthened citizen engagement through savvy use of social media platforms and outreach applications. The county says it grew its total Facebook outreach by 900 percent last year, and it relied heavily on Twitter and Facebook to alert citizens to road closures and service interruptions during the harsh winter of 2015. Residents also can receive alerts via text or email on more than 60 topics through the county’s DutchessDelivery service. In addition, the county offers a portfolio of shared services to local cities. Among the services offered by the Office of Central and Information Services (OCIS) are website development, PC/server tech services, network services, software development and IT assessments. OCIS completed website redesigns for two cities last year and signed a long-term agreement with the Arlington Fire District – in the town of Poughkeepsie – to provide comprehensive IT services. The county upgraded its popular GIS portal late last year, adding features like the ability to view maps by categories such as education, government, health care, recreation and transportation. In 2014, the GIS site served more than 6.7 million pages to county users, local municipalities and businesses, according to the county.

3rd Jefferson Parish, LA
Jefferson Parish took third place in its category on the strength of thoughtful new citizen services. A mobile app lets residents apply for permits, pay water bills, report code violations and plan transit routes on a smartphone or tablet. An online service request system offers the ability to report problems and ask for service across nearly 20 categories of city services. Another site called My Permit Now lets users track the progress of permit and license applications, and download copies of inspection reports and plan review files. And a Web-based JPAlert system distributes emergency alerts to residents using landline and cellular service, as well as email.

3rd Sonoma County, CA
Moving up one place from 2014’s survey, Sonoma County is working to expand online services through its app and website. Online initiatives include a data portal, budget app and Web-based payments system for residents. A catalog of mobile apps helps residents access online services and increases access to county information. Sonoma County utilizes technology and information analysis to aid data-driven decision-making in order to allocate program funding based on results. And it’s working to share data across agencies — the Information Systems Department has consolidated numerous systems under a common management structure to enhance the collection and use of data across different sectors. Additional IT initiatives include the replacement of its financial system with an ERP (phase two is scheduled to go live in July); a secure outdoor wireless network that helps mobile workers in the field; and an in-house cloud solution that enables data sharing while ensuring compliance.

4th Loudoun County, VA
Moving from second to fourth place this year, Loudon County’s five-year IT strategic plan sets the stage for 2015-2019, highlighting key initiatives like transitioning to a software-defined data center and enhancing online services and public access to data. Interactive tools on the county’s site help residents with tasks like understanding changes to flood insurance rates and zoning districts. A new online tool rolled out in December 2014 allows residents to submit questions and requests to county employees to enhance customer service and transparency. A CAD2CAD project started in 2007 addresses communications interoperability in the National Capital Region. The project allows emergency calls to be automatically transferred to another emergency communications center if the county's is unable to respond. Phase two of the implementation of a new financial system is under way and will include the transition of payroll and HR benefits information for the county’s more than 4,000 employees and 14,000 school employees. Phase one was completed in 2013 and has since helped improve functionality in a number of areas like producing ad hoc reports from the financial database.

5th Leon County, FL
Leon County’s numerous public-facing tech initiatives helped move it from 10th place last year to fifth in 2015. The projects include online access to bids, RFPs and RFIs; requests for county services and the ability to comment on issues; and the Citizen Engagement Series, a nationally recognized program that aims to enhance transparency and provide insight into the county’s decision-making process. An enterprise phone system is in the works, enabling business continuity in the event of an outage. During a disaster, an Emergency Information Portal provides up-to-date information and if necessary will act as the county’s home page. In addition, mobile devices and digital access are helping employees complete work orders and other tasks from the field.

6th Ottawa County, MI
Moving up one spot from last year’s survey is Ottawa County, Mich., which not only offers a tremendous amount of static information on its website, but also places strong emphasis on its citizen and employee engagement, with an ultimate goal of being receptive, responsive and transparent. To that end, the county utilizes social media resources to help citizens stay current on available services and resources, stay up to date on important issues and receive timely notices during various county meetings. The county also offers a new GIS-based parks and recreation map, digital plat book, biannual newsletter and a GIS Twitter account. The county also has launched the Great Lakes Ag-Tech Business Incubator, which serves clients with agriculture-related business or product ideas that also involve machinery, equipment, software or wholesale, business-to-business food processing plants. Because the incubator model is based on a “garage startup” private-sector philosophy, there is no facility to manage, keeping capital and operating costs to a minimum.

6th Richland County, SC
Holding steady at sixth place is Richland County, S.C., which was called out this year for its strong and appropriate emphasis on security. During the last year or so, approximately 1,000 Richland County employees were enrolled in a cybersecurity training program by the SANS Institute called Securing the Human, in which the emphasis is awareness on today's weakest link in enterprise security — people. The county saw an approximately 40 percent completion rate for its first year and plans on expanding the internal cybersecurity training next year to move toward a higher completion rate. Richland County also takes public safety very seriously, as shown by its Internet of Things-based network of professional-grade automated weather monitoring stations located throughout the county. Called RCWINDS (Richland County Weather Information Network Data System) the sensor network’s website provides live and historic weather data at dozens of locations countywide. Each site has a Weather Hawk monitoring station set to update with nearly live data 24/7. RCWINDS enhances the safety and quality of life for people throughout Richland County.

7th Hamilton County, IN
Dropping four spots since the 2014 survey is Hamilton County, Ind., which this year was called out for its use of video to help citizens register for applications, as well as the common look and feel of its Web platform. The county also has focused on communication and outreach; rather than expecting citizens to come to the website, officials are deciding what affects citizens and sending the pertinent information to their email, phone or social media accounts. For instance, property owners can have their tax statements emailed rather than sent via traditional mail, and the county’s Social Media Index helps citizens sign up for interactive content related to their interests. And in 2013, Hamilton County began systematically upgrading its infrastructure to support expansion of shared services and a more robust disaster recovery environment, which has been upgraded in many ways since then.

8th Forsyth County, NC
A 2009 study commissioned by the city of Winston-Salem, N.C., and Forsyth County, N.C., underscored the fact that both organizations stood to benefit from a joint investment in GIS technology. The county took the lead, and the Map Forsyth project was born. Among the many tools developed in subsequent years is GeoData Explorer, a searchable, interactive map that identifies school locations, zoning data, flood zones, topography and more. Forsyth County rolled out Google email in the cloud, along with a comprehensive employee communications campaign that explained its cost savings, potential for collaboration and anywhere, anytime availability. In addition, IT staff helped the Social Services Department move past its cumbersome paper process to admit a child into protective services. The intake process went from days to hours, thanks to a new Web app that enables real-time collaboration from any location. An investment in Chromebooks and smartphones for caseworkers ensures they have the tools needed to get their job done more efficiently.

9th Dauphin County, PA
In Dauphin County, Pa., the GIS program, run by IT staff, provides critical support to a diverse set of programs, including the Planning Commission, Emergency Management Agency, Conservation District, Elections and Voter Registration, as well as a variety of law enforcement agencies. For example, GIS is used to help assess potential flooding risk as well as analyze damage from flooding. Among the systems in place to manage criminal justice data is a unified case management solution that cuts back on siloed data storage and reduces redundant entries. The county is able to derive new insights from the information, using analytics practices and improving operations throughout criminal justice and human service programs. Dauphin County is also focusing increased resources on cybersecurity threats, reporting that the efforts have already succeeded in better protecting IT assets. A recent addition to the roster of members of the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC), the county now offers cybersecurity training to employees and has developed a detailed incident response plan.

10th Durham County, NC
Durham County, N.C., has its eye on a new IT hire: a chief information security officer, identified as the IT department’s most urgently needed new position. Also on its agenda is a unique city-county open data collaboration to expose public data in order to be more transparent and efficient. The initiative will operate on a common platform, with costs shared between Durham County and the city of Durham. CIO Greg Marrow has formed an IT governance committee made up of county department directors, with the goal of leveraging strategic IT investments to maximize benefits across the enterprise. The IT department has also measured its performance over the past year with a series of surveys in an effort to benchmark and drive improvements. One measured job satisfaction within the IT department; one gauged perceptions of and satisfaction with IT across 1,800 county employees; and an external-facing survey aimed to compare its performance with similar organizations. Durham County is making a move to the cloud with its migration to Microsoft Office 365, citing its flexibility and potential for collaboration. Expected completion is summer 2015.

 

150,000-249,999 population category:

1st Catawba County, NC
Catawba County’s numerous tech initiatives — public-facing, internal and cross-government collaborations — helped it take first place in its population category. The open data site makes public information easy to access, and a GIS portal ranks as the county’s most popular Web page, with more than 2.5 million page views per month. In addition, a regional GIS website is the result of a collaboration between Catawba and its surrounding counties to eliminate the need for people to visit multiple sites for property information and other data. The county leverages online communications through multiple social media accounts, an initiative that began in 2008. The different accounts focus on specific services, like parks and animal services; the approach helps the agencies target different audiences. A performance dashboard promotes transparency by tracking key metrics for the county’s different service areas, helping Catawba benchmark itself against other municipalities and allowing for public education. Internal initiatives include a focus on storage and electronic communications archiving that has reduced storage needs and saved money; an off-campus disaster recovery site; and moving toward a smaller carbon footprint.

2nd Arlington County, VA
Arlington County moved up two places from last year’s survey as it works to use technology to make it easier for residents to interact with government. A digital strategy for 2015-2020 outlines the county’s goal of using technology to enable service delivery. For example, a mobile payment parking system works with the county’s 4,500 metered parking spaces to allow people to pay via an app and receive alerts when their time is about to expire. A new secure email system allows government employees to initiate encrypted email conversations with accounts not on the county network, like those from Gmail. Arlington County considers this to be a critical service, especially in the area of human services. Other public-facing initiatives include the property search portal, which is one of the county’s most used websites, and the Customer Assessment and Payment Portal, which is available for residents to pay bills and file taxes online. To help with real-time incident tracking, the Fire Incident Command Board works as a digital white board for commanders, allowing them to track and manage resources in real time.

2nd St. Tammany Parish, LA
Moving up from third to second place in this year’s survey, St. Tammany Parish uses technology to support its four tenants of good government: customer service, transparency, accountability and cooperation. The design of its portal was driven by potential needs and services, and it’s supplemented by a social media presence on numerous platforms — both of which aim to make government accessible 24/7. The formation of a GIS District will foster collaboration and promote data sharing across parish agencies and all levels of government. For example, the district will be able to set GIS data standards. In addition, cloud-based systems are helping to expand services. The permitting system has been moved to the cloud, allowing citizens and contractors to conduct numerous tasks online, and cloud-based code enforcement services enable officers to complete inspections in the field and provide an easy way for citizens to track complaints. The parish is gearing up to undertake one of its largest technology projects to date with the implementation of a new ERP. It is currently working with a vendor and expects to select a software product by the end of the year.

3rd Lackawanna County, PA
Though Lackawanna County, Pa., was not on the list of 2014 winners, it has come back in 2015 to reclaim its third-place spot, received in 2013, in the 150,000 to 249,999 population category. The county’s Wi-Fi initiative — in which Wi-Fi hotspots have been placed in strategic locations throughout the county — is a huge community benefit. After the initial hotspots went live, local businesses began asking to sponsor more county-managed hotspots. Lackawanna also has made headway in next-gen 911: In 2014, its 911 management team embarked on a project to allow text-to-911 and can now accept text messages from the four major carriers: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. Lackawanna County also believes in transparent government, so it created the Ordinance Archive, which contains every county ordinance ever created in digital downloadable format. And in an effort to reduce technology costs, the county began a wireless initiative that aimed to build a network of all sites in the county without making fiber connections to each site. That network became a reality in 2014, and came with a viable byproduct: bulk unused Internet bandwidth, which the county is reselling at a competitive rate to help businesses, school districts, medical institutions, etc., reduce their technology costs.

4th Boone County, MO
Boone County, Mo., has moved up one spot from the 2014 survey, likely due to its increased online offerings and the modernization of its data retrieval apps — for personal and real property assessment data, parcel data and building permits — to provide support for mobile devices. Also of note are the county’s various public policy initiatives to keep citizens informed of important policy decisions, public announcements and other countywide initiatives, and the Boone County Public Works Story Map Index, an interactive map that lets citizens see project status and detailed images of actual work being completed. The county also is highlighted for its public cybersecurity awareness efforts. The county, along with the city of Columbia, held a joint Cyber Summit — a one-day event that was open to the Columbia, Mo., business community, the public, and county and city IT departments.

4th Charles County, MD
After taking the No. 1 spot in the 150,000 to 249,999 population category in last year’s survey, Charles County, Md., has moved down three spots to 4th place this year. Of note is the county’s updated Public Information Office page that consolidates the many aspects of the county’s Get Connected program – a unified effort to connect with citizens via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and other places – into one location. Also of interest is the county’s emphasis on tourism and economic development. As highlighted in its Commissioners Goals and Objectives document, Charles County created and filled a Chief of Tourism position to focus on planning/coordinating tourist attractions and activities. One project to this end is the implementation of the Stay & Play Planner that lets visitors customize vacation details like lodging, activities and transportation to create a personalized itinerary. The fact that security is a high priority for Charles County also bodes well; its security initiative included the installation of a new firewall device, and the IT Security Awareness Program ensures all employees are aware of potential threats and complete required training annually. The program educates employees, and uses an in-house developed, Web-enabled application to distribute renewal notifications, disseminate training material, and manage employee security training.

5th Berrien County, MI
Moving up one spot from last year’s survey, Berrien County, Mich., has shown great examples of transparency with its performance dashboard and annual reports for various departments, and sees transparency as an ongoing process. In addition to what the county already has made available, it plans to add information to make FOIA requests easier to obtain. Collaboration with other local governments also seems to be key in Berrien County’s success. One such example is its regional online jury system that lets residents check online to see if they need to report for jury duty; by the end of summer, Berrien will host online jury reporting for three neighboring counties, and expects that to expand. Berrien also has built secure VPNs to all 39 local agencies, allowing them to securely access county and state information through the county network. And when it comes to public safety, Berrien has many programs in place, such as installing life preserver rings at a local beach that will soon be monitored 24/7 by security cameras to prevent misuse and theft, ensuring they are readily available for citizen use. Berrien County Dispatch also has access to live feeds from the security cameras of local area schools, which can help direct emergency responders should an event occur. And in addition to its main emergency operations center, the county also has a backup EOC should the main EOC be rendered useless or unavailable. Both rooms provide the technology and access to information necessary to respond to a large-scale disaster, emergency or public disturbance.

6th Oneida County, NY
Notable tech initiatives in Oneida County, N.Y., include an enterprise content management capital project that first got underway in 2013. The county is currently converting paper records into electronic form, reducing paper storage costs while enhancing search and data-sharing capabilities, and ensuring compliance with the New York State Archives records retention schedule. To date, the upgrade has introduced new efficiencies for the Oneida County District Attorney’s office as well as the Board of Elections and the Health Department, with several additional projects in the works. A major infrastructure project for 2015 will upgrade the county’s server, storage and backup systems. Officials made their investments strategically, with an eye toward possibly sharing disaster recovery capabilities with adjacent Herkimer County in the future.

7th Cabarrus County, NC
There are a number of examples in Cabarrus County, N.C., where shared services help infrastructure run as efficiently as possible. The county data center is shared with two local school districts, upgrading their reliability and disaster recovery capabilities, while the city of Concord subcontracts with Accela through the county’s hosted service agreement for its automation software. The arrangement, outlined in an intergovernmental agreement, enables simple integration of city and county workflows for planning, zoning and inspections, improving service to citizens and making the most of the county’s IT investment. The county also has demonstrated its commitment to responsive Web design with its “develop once for use on all” approach to application development, simplifying updates and bringing a more consistent experience across mobile devices to citizens. It wants the same for its employees, with a mobile strategy that includes virtual desktops and specialized productivity apps to maximize anywhere, anytime effectiveness.

7th Davidson County, NC
Davidson County, N.C., has made several strategic investments related to public safety. A new emergency notification system capable of delivering 150,000 texts per minute is now in place, which lets residents and employees voluntarily enroll to receive emergency-related information. Automatic vehicle locators have also been placed in all county ambulances, allowing them to be tracked in real time and enabling faster response times. In addition, a 3.5-mile fiber project represents a major reliability upgrade to the analog lines that were previously used to transmit public safety radio communications from the county 911 communications center to the state of North Carolina Viper tower. A new emergency medical record solution improves patient care by enabling easier access to data and enhances the county’s data-sharing capabilities.

8th Barnstable County, MA
Construction of a regional fiber-optic network and data center position Barnstable County as a shared service provider to municipalities in the Cape Cod area. The county already provides services to several small towns, and officials are looking to ramp up that activity by formalizing contracts and business plans. As of last year, 100 percent of critical data center servers and appliances in the county are virtualized, and deployment of virtual desktop infrastructure is under way now. A cloud-based identity management service provides simplified sign-on for hosted services. And the county recently upgraded its unified communications platform, opening up new options for county employees to work remotely. The platform enables voice calls, instant messaging and video conferencing on any device, anywhere in the world.

9th Dona Ana County, NM
Dona Ana County launched a social media initiative last year and hired a social media technician to expand and coordinate citizen engagement activities across platforms. The county now has active accounts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to interact with residents and businesses. A paperless workflow system implemented in the County Assessor’s Office is streamlining processes for citizens and internal staff. And the county has outsourced its property tax payment and employee recruiting systems. The new tax payment platform offers multiple payment options, including online payments, as well as lower operational costs and better security and fraud protection. The new recruiting system automates portions of the applicant screening process and streamlines performance evaluations, helping the county hire and retain talent more effectively.

10th Jackson County, MI
Jackson County took steps to improve transparency and upgrade internal systems over the past year. A Web-based Digital Dashboard tracks quality-of-life metrics and offers detailed information on county revenue collection and spending, while an online Citizen Support Center gives residents an easy way to find information, ask questions and request services. Behind the scenes, the county implemented significant new systems to strengthen internal operations. A new ERP delivers upgraded services, better financial data and improved audit capabilities. A new emergency dispatch system is part of a state-of-the-art 911 call center that opened this year. The county also has virtualized most of its servers and recently deployed a new storage area network. In addition, document imaging technology is reducing paper in the county clerk and prosecutor’s offices.

10th Mohave County, AZ
An online meeting portal gives Mohave County residents access to audio and video from Board of Supervisors' meetings, along with agendas, meeting minutes and backup documentation. Residents also can use a credit card for a growing number of online payments, including water bills, traffic fines, library fees, taxes and permit fees. Server and storage virtualization have reduced hardware and software costs in the county data center and cut the facility’s energy footprint nearly in half. In addition, the county recently finished installing mobile data terminals in sheriff’s patrol cars, giving officers real-time access to mug shots, GIS locations of fellow officers and other information.

 

Up to 150,000 Population Category

1st Allegan County, MI
Jumping eight spots from last year’s survey to take the lead in the smallest population category this year is Allegan County, Mich., which now offers 27 different online services – the most notable of which is its online GIS Data Library. This library includes the county’s entire suite of GIS maps, layers and shapefiles, which citizens and customers can download at no cost. Judges also were drawn to the county’s Connect with Us social media portal, where users are presented with a consolidated list of all social media sites. Also of note is Allegan’s collaboration with Kent and Ottawa counties on procurement, through which it actively participates in and advocates for the use of a reverse auction process for commodity acquisition. This solution and the consortium created by these three counties serves as a model for other municipalities across the state of Michigan. Allegan County also actively maintains a public performance dashboard with key indicators and budget reports that it can use to measure and learn from outcomes.

2nd Nevada County, CA
Moving up the ranks from fifth place in the 2014 survey for the smallest population category to second this year is Nevada County, Calif., whose Landmark Story Map uses GIS data to take users on a virtual tour of the county’s historical landmarks using both computers and mobile devices. The county also boasts a comprehensive citizen engagement effort, called the Citizen Participation Initiative, that includes an integrated solution between its SharePoint platform and Facebook, LinkedIn and blogs, as well as the Participate Nevada County crowdsourcing site that lets residents suggest new ideas for community improvement. Also of note is the county’s Collaborative Tech Center — supported by more than 20 local businesses, nonprofits and schools. The 2,000-square-foot addition to the county public library is dedicated to technology and community development, and promotes new technology use, job skills, collaboration and education.

Another highlight is the fact that Nevada County partnered with the community Public, Education and Government (PEG) cable TV station nonprofit operator, the Nevada County Digital Media Center (NCDMC) to assist them in avoiding a planned organizational shutdown. Using only the PEG franchise funds, the county purchased a new state-of-the-art video broadcast "station-in-a-box" technology platform and hosted it in the county data center, and helped NCDMC transition over to the new platform. This cloud solution allows NCDMC to operate at less cost, and the partnership was beneficial for the county in that it saved two highly regarded PEG TV channels and enabled the addition of a third educational channel for local schools.

3rd Montgomery County, VA
Montgomery County has launched several regional technology initiatives designed to use resources more efficiently, and it’s upgrading online services to meet the needs of a more mobile citizenry. Separate ERP systems for the county government and Montgomery County Public Schools are being replaced by one consolidated platform. The move is eliminating duplication, improving accuracy and making data available to business users more quickly. The county also established a regional authority to consolidate 911 dispatch and emergency communication services for the Montgomery County Sheriff, Virginia Tech Police Department and several other local police forces. The authority is intended to strengthen interoperability and collaboration between local law enforcement agencies in the county. A new county website launched in April incorporates responsive design to better support mobile device users, and it includes new self-service features that let residents pay real estate and property taxes online.

4th Roanoke County, VA
Roanoke County is expanding citizen services, using data to improve public safety and strengthening enterprise IT governance. A new mobile-friendly GIS portal gives citizens and county staff access to a large set of maps and applications. Users may create comprehensive maps or generate specific views for property taxes, government services, voter information, parks or school districts. In addition, a new Property Report function combines county real estate valuation data with aerial imagery, Google street maps, zoning data, tax maps and legal descriptions. The function, which enables citizens to generate custom real estate reports, has reduced citizen calls to the county Real Estate Valuation Office by almost 80 percent. An ongoing effort by county law enforcement to correlate crime and accident data has reduced violent crime by 6 percent in targeted areas, according to a January analysis. The technique uses data for burglaries, larcenies and crashes to direct police and community resources at hot spots. The county also formed a new Technology Governance Committee to address technology needs and set policies across its 35 separate business units.

5th Skagit County, WA
A commitment to transparency is evident in Skagit County, Wash. It offers an impressive amount of property data via searchable database by address, owner, road or parcel number. Even more depth on tax valuation, purchase and sale data, recorded documents, permits, and more is also available to site visitors, with information dating back to 1977. A location-based app getting more than 7,000 daily hits is another route to property data, providing everyone from real-estate agents to pizza delivery drivers more information than Google. The CrimeMap app features an interactive jail roster, court information and case details on reported crimes. Updated every 15 minutes, incident information from most county law enforcement agencies is included. The county’s approach to cybersecurity is risk-based, laid out in a security policy now under development. All information is classified based on sensitivity, reserving the costliest controls for protected data. Coupled with new event monitoring capabilities, firewall upgrades, encryption and other protections, the county has significantly reduced its vulnerability to viruses.

6th Gloucester County VA
The Gloucester County, Va., website was overhauled this year, with responsive design functionality applied throughout. Improving the site’s mobility even further remains on the agenda for the next year. Thanks to a proposal from the IT department, a multimode fiber network got a major upgrade to a redundant, single-mode network that offers a 10 GB link back to the data center for major county buildings. Employees also now use cloud-based Microsoft Office 365, easing technical upkeep requirements and helping enable employees to be more productive in and out of the office. In terms of citizen engagement, the county points to its SpeakUp Gloucester portal as a valuable way to gain citizen insights on county issues via open forums, surveys and commenting functions.

7th Albemarle County, VA
Albemarle County, Va., launched a comprehensive citizen engagement effort, Budget Gateway, to solicit public involvement in budget-related decision-making for both the county and local schools. The “virtual town hall in a box” included audio from division directors outlining budget realities, as well as video and social media tools aimed at getting and keeping residents engaged throughout the process. The county also continues to expand upon its Albemarle Performs website, which tracks KPIs for 11 different departments, with the help of interns from the University of Virginia. A recent redesign means the site is now mobile-aware. A coordinated effort to bring high-speed Internet to the county hinges in part on linking connectivity to its potential to advance agritourism and global sales of local farm products. The county has surveyed citizens and local businesses on broadband, conducted broadband speed tests, and is participating in a statewide telecommunications planning initiative.

8th Summit County, UT
Last year Summit County rolled out a redesigned portal that uses responsive design, easily translates to Spanish and features a button-based design to highlight popular sections. In addition, a new mobile app helps residents access resources on the portal. The county has implemented a GIS-based visual tool to highlight approved building projects in the Snyderville Basin Planning District to help residents visualize upcoming changes to the vacant land. To meet the needs of the county attorney’s office for an easier way to distribute criminal discovery files (instead of mailing them), the IT team implemented Box.com. The new system provides access to prosecution and defense attorneys, and tracks who accesses the files. Other initiatives include the move to a voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phone system; providing an online widget for grant applicants to upload files with their application; and moving the county’s tax map from hand-drawn sheets to parcel fabric, which eliminates duplicate processes.

9th Tompkins County, NY
Moving a few spots down from sixth place in the 2014 survey, Tompkins County is leveraging shared services to increase cross-departmental collaboration and information sharing. Web-based services like a meeting management portal provide public access to county information and video recordings of meetings. Another online service, a portal for potential job applicants to view openings and apply for positions, has helped achieve a 200 percent increase in the number of applications received for vacancies. A digital archiving records program is now available as a hosted solution for other local government agencies, and the Law Enforcement Technology Shared Services Group oversees coordinated public safety technology services across county agencies. The county is also in the process of implementing an electronic health records system to manage the Health and Mental Health departments’ clinical and billing data, information and records. The Tompkins and Cayuga Ubiquitous Last Mile Coverage Project will provide broadband service to more than 5,700 households, 53 businesses and 120 community anchor institutions.

10th Franklin County, VA
Falling three places since last year’s survey, Franklin County is focused on Web services, helping to provide key information for residents across its 723 square miles. The county’s budget site is a first-class example of transparency, helping residents assess the current financial situation and view data from previous years. The county portal was redesigned this year to be easier to navigate as well as easier to view on mobile devices. A public safety contact system called CodeRED allows citizens to register for different alerts via the communications channel of their choice, including text message or email.

Colin Wood former staff writer

Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.

Steve Towns

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic. 

Noelle Knell Editor

Government Technology editor Noelle Knell has more than 15 years of writing and editing experience, covering public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and on Twitter.

Elaine Pittman Former Managing Editor

Elaine Pittman worked for Government Technology from 2008 to 2017.

Jessica Mulholland Former Web Editor/Photographer

Jessica Mulholland served as the Web editor of Government Technology magazine from October 2012 through September 2017. She worked for the Government Technology editorial team for nearly 10 years.