Making a government Web site user friendly is not an easy task. Just ask Rock Island County, Ill. In mid-September the county launched a redesigned Web site www.co.rock-island.il.us. The revamped site features a user-friendly design and a multitude of easy-to-navigate resources. From the beginning, the overhaul of this five-year-old site was all about making it accessible to citizens.

According to Tim Oliver, director of Rock Island County's Department of Economic Development, GIS, Zoning and Animal Control, "The old site was very cumbersome to navigate through, unless you knew where you were going. The goal of the new site is to be able to find where you need to be from the homepage and have that same ability from any page you navigate to."

The county also wanted to redesign the site to help it prepare for several e-government applications it plans to deploy. "While several of the e-gov applications will be rolled out over this winter, it was still felt that the look and feel should begin to take shape with this redesign so as not to require a complete rework of the site as new e-gov applications deploy," Oliver said.

Oliver believes that a site's design sends either a positive or negative message to New Economy companies regarding just how tech-savvy local government is. "New Economy businesses not only operate via the Net, but expect to be able to transact business over the Net," he said. "If local government is not at least moving to transactional Web-based applications, New Economy businesses may decide to look elsewhere."

With this thinking in mind, Rock Island County instituted a new feature on its Web site called the Economic Development Site Locator, which provides access to data concerning parcels of land located in the county and area municipalities. Users can search all the parcels in the county that meet certain criteria that they determine. For example, a user can select a specific lot size, zoning and municipality. "In just a few minutes all parcels in the county that meet the criteria have been selected and mapped, providing the user with enough information to proceed in making contact with local economic development offices for further information," Oliver said.

With these added features on its Web site, it is obvious Rock Island County's motive is to make itself as accessible to citizens as possible. "The Net provides a mechanism to provide the most frequently requested services on a 24/7 basis without the intervention of someone at the counter," Oliver said. "Citizens don't like waiting in lines, taking off from work or having to stop at a number of offices to take care of business. The ability to get the information and transact business at their own convenience makes for a happier citizen."

In the future, the county plans to work with the state on its Digital Signature Project, as well as continue to improve the site's e-commerce ability and add more GIS applications.