Past Issues of Government Technology

Digital Cities

Virginia Beach, Va., and Redmond, Wash., bookend the 2004 Digital Cities Survey.

by / December 2, 2004 0
David Sullivan, CIO of Virginia Beach, Va.
"Service-oriented," "business-driven," "cost-effective" and "sustainable" emerged as watchwords for cities and consolidated city/county governments participating in the 2004 Digital Cities Survey, the Center for Digital Government's annual assessment of how well municipal governments use technology to serve citizens.

The survey invited cities with populations of 30,000 or greater to participate, each of which were ranked with peer cities by population -- including a category for small cities (30,000-74,999), two for mid-sized cities (75,000-124,999 and 125,000-249,999), and one for large cities (250,000 or more).

This year's winners are Virginia Beach, Va., in the population of 250,000 or more category; Des Moines, Iowa, in the 125,000 to 249,999 category; a tie between Denton, Texas, and Ogden, Utah, in the 75,000 to 124,999 population category; and Redmond, Wash., in the 30,000 to 74,999 population category.

"From one end of the country to the other, cities are blending high tech and high touch in ways that fit with their unique local histories and local priorities," said Cathilea Robinett, the Center's executive director, "It is not technology for technology's sake, but technology for the community's sake."

All first-place winners provide parks and recreation service payments, and nearly all provide online utility bill payments, online parking ticket payments and online tax payments.

Overall, the 2004 survey shows more cities offering online payment for services than last year. Online utility bill payment is up from 36 percent to 40 percent, parks and recreation services payments are up from 23 percent to 35 percent, and online payments for parking tickets/traffic citations are up from 32 percent to 36 percent.

In addition, half of the cities in this year's survey use content management on a citywide basis, up from roughly a third of respondents last year. All 2004 winners report using an enterprisewide Web content management system.

Virginia Beach's system -- completed in early 2004 -- has 450 named users, includes a workflow process, and permits automated creation, review, approval and subsequent publishing of content on the city's Web site VBgov.com.

Another upward trend exemplified by first-place winners is online submissions for city job applications. In 2001, just 28 percent of U.S. cities could accept more than a quarter of their job applications online. That number grew to 37 percent in 2002 and 42 percent in 2003. This year, 44 percent of cities said more than a quarter of all city job applications could be submitted through the Web.

In many first-place cities, the percentage of job applications that can be submitted online is much higher: Des Moines, Iowa, and Ogden, Utah, receive 60 percent of their employment applications via the Web. Denton, Texas, integrated its document imaging system with the online application process and Internet/intranet applications so the entire job application process is paperless. Seventy-six percent of the city's job applications are online.

Results of the 2004 Digital Cities Survey, underwritten by Oracle Corp., were based on 24 scored questions and 56 data points. The redesigned survey instrument sought to shed light on:

oimplementation and adoption of online service delivery;
oplanning and governance that makes the transformation to digital government possible;
oinfrastructure and architecture that also makes the transformation possible; and
ocollaboration, enterprise activities, the use of spatial data, policy priorities, and organization and structure data.


Virginia Beach, Va.
First place, 250,000 or more population

Virginia Beach, like other cities, strives to create an enterprise organization with a single common IT infrastructure that supports and enables new approaches to serving citizens and doing business. The city characterizes this approach as "E3" -- efficiency, effectiveness and excellence -- said CIO David Sullivan.

Saving money for the enterprise is the hallmark of E3's efficiency aspect. The city has analyzed its approach to constituent services since 1997, when officials launched a project to study customer telephone inquiries across the city enterprise. Sullivan said the city discovered it was handling 5 million nonemergency calls per year, with almost 800 individual staff members spending the equivalent of 250 full-time employees (FTEs) of effort to field those calls.

City officials devised a 10-point plan to respond to nonemergency calls more efficiently. Four of those points centered on enhancing and managing a better city Web site that could furnish up-to-date and easily accessible information for service requests.

For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2004, VBgov.com handled more than 5 million "user sessions" with fewer than 25 FTEs, Sullivan said. In addition, VBgov.com produced significant transaction savings. On the first day the city went live with a Web-enabled application for Parks and Recreation class registrations, the application handled 4,000 registrations and more than $200,000 in payments -- work that would have taken 10 days of staff effort with the old mail-in process.

Though much behind-the-scenes work went into improving efficiency, Sullivan said the impetus came from the Mayor's Special Advisory Commission on E-Government, which was formed in 2000 and composed of Virginia Beach residents.

"They were very quick to define that their expectation was not just Web-enabled services," Sullivan said. "They wanted technology to impact all areas of government, including driving the cost down. We'd thought we'd have a citizens' group that was interested in mainly the Web site -- what services could they get over the Web -- and that wasn't it at all. They were really interested in ensuring that technology is being used to make our government is as efficient and effective as it can be."


Des Moines, Iowa
First place, 125,000-249,999 population

When your network suffers less than 27 minutes of unscheduled downtime during all of 2003, you're doing something right.

CIO Michael Armstrong traces Des Moines' success to several factors: the fact that the city owns its network (200 linear miles of fiber, more than 120 layer-3 switches and fiber connections to more than 60 city-owned facilities), a bit of luck and a lot of work.

"It may be the most valuable asset we own," Armstrong said. "We control our own destiny. We can provide whatever bandwidth we feel like we need without having to go through some third party and dealing with that set of services. It lets you do so many things."

Des Moines' network carries all city data traffic and carries VoIP traffic to a substantial part of the city's work force in 25 facilities, Armstrong said. It also delivers video conferencing to all 12 of the city's fire stations, and city staff enjoy 100 Mbps connections from their desktops to network wiring closets.

"We don't have to worry about dealing with an application that has to have a thin client because we've only got a 64K frame relay link somewhere," he said. "We can run anything. That's an incredible advantage, and it lets us maintain the very strict standards we have. It eliminates the constraints of distance and bandwidth."

Des Moines also made its network available to Polk County, Armstrong said. Aside from carrying traffic for a number of county facilities, all three of the county's public safety answering points are connected to the city network.

Work on the back end of the city's network infrastructure started in 1998.

"It does take a long time, but if you do it right, you end up with a product that's very, very solid," Armstrong said. "The better you do at the fundamental things, at building that infrastructure, the more successful you're going to be. We've not really found anything we can't do because
of some sort of physical limitation."


Denton, Texas, and Ogden, Utah
First place tie, 75,000-124,999 population

In its survey response, Denton highlighted its GIS initiatives, including the emergency operations center/homeland security intranet site, a 23-layer Web site that includes aerial photos, city facility locations, floor plans, flood plans, employees' home addresses, and city parcels and streets. CAMStat, a 911 intranet site, presents live map queries for the 911 call database and police records system, including high accident location data, sex offender tracking and residential crime.

Denton integrated its document imaging system with the online application process, and now 75 percent of the job application process is done online. "It's helped us enormously as far as efficiency of human resources as well as the hiring managers," said Alex Pettit, Denton's director of Technology Services. "Before, it was very difficult not only for us to process so much paper and search for qualified applicants, but when you tell people, 'We'll keep your resume on file for a year or whatever, and if something comes up we'll call you.' That was really difficult to do when it was a paper format."

Ogden also developed an online application process for employment and for other transactions, such as payment of water bills, that has increased efficiency in many areas, said Chief Technology Officer Jay Brummett. "One, it helps us to be a multitouch point in that we reach our customers and our respective employees. We've got applications for jobs. We've got applications for city services. We have a lot of things online."

The online application process forced the city to rethink how it handles applications and payments, Brummett said. "It caused us to do a business process re-engineering, which is to go back and question all of our processes and procedures and why and how we're going about doing things. One of the key pieces that e-government can drive for a city is a review of their long-held processes and procedures."

Ogden improved on its 2002 Winter Olympic Games readiness by making significant IT upgrades. "We moved very rapidly with technology, and quite frankly, we did pretty well at getting technology deployed," Brummett said. The city learned something in the process as well. "We kind of fell on our face in ensuring that we paid for it appropriately, that we put policies and procedures and technology renewal in place as part of that." Brummett said MIS (now called the IT division) ended up $2 million in the hole. That has since been rectified and the IT division is back in the black. "We had to reorganize the way we did business so the gains we made in the deployment of technology in the city were sustainable long term," he said.


Redmond, Wash.
First place, 30,000-74,999 population

As part of the mayor's agenda to build a connected community, Redmond works with the Lake Washington School District to provide high-speed network links to schools, according to Peter Robinson, the city's former information services manager. Redmond allowed the district's 57 schools -- serving nearly 25,000 students -- to connect to the city's extensive network of fiber-optic conduit.

Redmond also partnered with the neighboring cities of Bellevue, Kirkland and Bothell to develop a regional economic development Web portal, called NWProperty.net, which provides online search capabilities to prospective businesses or site-selection firms seeking new locations.

The city's Finance and Information Services Department spearheads two enterprisewide IT projects to address key needs of other city departments, said Robinson, who recently resigned. The first is a citywide ERP implementation to support the finance and HR/payroll systems in all city departments. Redmond is replacing unsupported legacy hardware and legacy financial software.

The second project is a citywide electronic document and records management system (EDRMS), Robinson said, designed to revolutionize how city departments collect, use and store information. In part, the goal of the EDRMS is to move city departments away from paper-based processes, which have many undesirable byproducts. One is the decentralized manner in which the city manages and retains paper documents. Another is the cost of storing stacks of hardcopy records. Redmond, with a population of approximately 46,000, pays a storage company $16,000 per year to store 1,522 boxes (or 2,179 cubic feet) of paper files, Robinson said.