Category  4

Commerce, Labor and Taxation – Economic, Business, Community and Work Force Development

Dakota County, Minn.  

Few counties responded to the survey category on commerce, labor and taxation, according to Digital Counties Survey judges. Those that did respond often didn’t score very well, mainly because county governments simply weren’t doing much in this area, said the judges.

However, the consolidated Real Estate Management System deployed in Dakota County, Minn., was one project judges considered worth imitating. The project consolidated multiple systems and databases used for assessing property taxes and notifying homeowners of what they owed. The idea to consolidate multiple outdated applications and databases to one user-friendly system may not seem earthshaking, but Dakota County’s project went live with little stress — both on the vendor and end-user sides.

Dakota County IT director Anita Scott said the project’s success stems from strong end-user participation in the selection of the new solution and a careful analysis of the contract. After selecting its vendor, Dakota County spent three months ensuring there were no gaps or shortcomings in the contract before executing the deployment. The extra time enabled county organizations to negotiate adjustments with the vendor before the project launched.

“When you’re doing your first proposal, you put an RFP out there. You put out requirements. You get responses back. You look at product, but you really don’t look through the requirements in a whole lot of deep-level detail when you’re doing the evaluations for vendors,” Scott remarked. “That’s why that gap analysis is so important.”

Scott considers a gap analysis an effective way to prevent the lapses in communication between governments and vendors that cause many high-profile project failures.

The strong participation from end-users can be attributed to enthusiastic support from executive-level county officials and by establishment of three project managers. One project manager coordinated IT employees, another coordinated end-users and the thirdrepresented the vendor.

“They all worked really well together,” Scott said. “We needed that focus in all three of those areas to keep things on track.”

With the new system, county employees can now process property tax data in real time. In the past, they had to input their data and submit it to the IT department for overnight processing. Now the system processes the data without IT staff involvement.

“It’s a cost savings because they can do things more quickly. There is no lag time,” Scott said.

Category  5

Finance and Administration, HR, Licensing and Permitting

Fairfax County, Va.  

Fairfax County, Va., met the judge’s criteria in this category for an aggressive enterprise approach, being one of the few municipalities of its size — more than 1 million people — to completely centralize IT. Since 2002, the county has combined permitting, inspection, licensing, cashiering, code enforcement and complaint activity for land use and construction onto a single enterprise software and database solution. The departments that collaborated on the project include Public Works and Environmental Services; Planning and Zoning; Health, Fire and Rescue; and Housing. Employees from all of those departments can access relevant information from one another via one application.

CTO Wanda Gibson said Fairfax County’s IT governance structure enabled the county to strike agreements between departments. When a department submits an IT proposal to the CTO, her staff looks for similar proposals from other agencies and arranges for the collaboration.

“We also work very closely with our [department] customers to help them realize their strategy,” Gibson said.

County developers, citizens and businesses now have a faster process for permit issuance, inspections and code enforcement services. Using the Web or interactive voice response, they can schedule inspections, access inspection results, apply for permits and check permit status, submit land-use code violations and complaints, view complaint status, and perform historical land use inquiries. The system is fully integrated with other systems, such as the state’s contractor license validation database, the Master Address Repository, the Land Development Plans and Waivers System, and the Real Estate Tax Assessment System.

Andy Opsahl  | 

Andy Opsahl is a former writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.