The first annual "Best of the Web" awards were presented at an executive dinner in association with the Eastern Region Government Technology Conference (GTC) on Thursday, Sept. 19 in Albany, N.Y. The Florida Communities Network (Florida's home page) and the city of San Carlos, Calif. drew top honors. The awards were co-sponsored by Government Technology, State Technologies Inc., Public Technology Inc., the International City/County Management Association and the University of California, Davis, Institute of Governmental Affairs.
Judges from each of the sponsoring organizations rated 142 entries, which included 33 state governments, 24 counties, 69 cities and many more individual government agencies. The contest was conducted entirely online including all applications and judging. Each site was judged on four criteria: innovation (use of online technology to deliver government service), efficiency (time saved), economy (money saved), and functionality (ease of use, improved citizen access).
Bill Lindner, secretary of the Florida Department of Management Services, attended GTC to accept the award on behalf of the winning state site, the Florida Communities Network (FCN). "We're very pleased to be here," he said. "It is always nice to be recognized for something you feel strongly about and work very hard at. We've viewed the Florida Communities Network as another arm of our state economic development strategy. If we can use the Internet to make it easier to do business with the state and within the state, then we're doing the right thing."
Lindner also gave a presentation of FCN as part of a keynote address at GTC. The services he highlighted included links to a database of government job vacancies which is updated daily and contains information about nearly 8,000 vacancies. Traffic at the job site accounts for nearly 400,000 of the 2 million monthly hits on FCN. Citizens can apply for jobs online, store their personal information in a database and resend the application for more than one vacancy.
Lindner also demonstrated state contract information available in a section of the site called SPURS View. This site is expected to expand to include an automated RFP system to provide bidding services to vendors interested in doing business with the state. Former FCN project manager, Shannon McWilliams, who recently left the state and is currently president of Net Commerce Group Inc., started the bid project. "Other states aren't doing this," he said. "Instead, they are putting pages on the Web that merely talk about the agency and its executive director, but do not speak to business needs.
"What makes Florida unique," McWilliams said, "is that it was created not to be a government Web site." Future plans for the state include a site to purchase fishing licenses through a secure online transaction.
SAN CARLOS, CALIF.
Brian Moura, assistant city manager for the city of San Carlos, Calif., made the local government presentation as "Best of the Web" award winner. During the presentation, Moura showcased a number of government services the city has pushed to the Internet in an attempt to bring city services to the citizen. He pointed out that more users have viewed the State of the City address online than were in attendance when the address was given.
During his talk, Moura demonstrated several forms the city has placed online for downloading, including business registration applications and job applications. The directions and application for a permits-by-fax service are on the site. The service allows citizens and businesses to fax in applications for simple building and construction permits that do not require a plan inspection. The process reduces bureaucracy and the number of trips to city offices. San Carlos will also participate in a project with several San Francisco Bay Area governments and the Association of Bay Area Governments in the development of a smart permitting process.
The city has instituted a citizen complaint form that received laughs from the award ceremony audience, but has been very popular among San Carlos residents. "One citizen called me to tell me he liked the online form," Moura said, "not because he was able to get whatever he needed taken care of -- although I expect that pleased him too -- but because he sent in his complaint via e-mail, he was responded to quickly and the action was taken. That citizen felt in touch with his government and he never had to visit City Hall."
San Carlos also makes connections to city businesses by providing an area restaurant guide and links to Realtors and other city businesses. The realty section gives newly arriving citizens a chance to view area real estate, including pictures of properties. "Clearly, we have stimulated some economic growth," Moura said. "What we found early on is that by linking to other sites, it made our site richer and more interesting."
Second and third place in the state government category went to Utah and the Virginia Department of Transportation , respectively. John Child, Webmaster for Utah, said, "We're absolutely thrilled with the award. This contest was a catalyst for us to completely redo the site. We coordinated information from 118 servers and over 22,000 documents. What we've tried to focus on is the ease with which users navigate our site. It is our goal to get the user from the home page to the information they want in three clicks or less. We try to use links that describe the information they lead to rather than blind links. We used the contest as a motivator for a complete makeover of the state site and we're committed to it. They have created a position of Webmaster and we expect to continue to update and grow our Web presence," he said. "We'll be back to try to win next year."
The Virginia Department of Transportation has been hosting their Web site at the University of Virginia since its inception one year ago, but staff have purchased a server and have plans to bring it "in house" soon, according to Web site editor Bob Spieldenner, a member of the agency's public relations staff. The site's clean look and polished graphics are the result of the work of the department's other two members of the Web site team, Graphics Designer Kelly Balagtas and Web Site Manager Jerri Kittle.
The more popular areas of the agency's site include state maps and construction information. Many of the maps are downloadable and efforts are under way to make more of the state's maps available in digital format. The "doing business" section of the site provides project information to vendors interested in doing business with the state. Live traffic updates are easily the most dramatic areas of the site. Cameras in Northern Virginia give motorists an up-to-date view of traffic conditions in their area. It is expected that this service will be expanded to include the Virginia Beach and Norfolk areas.
The city of Rochester and the city of New York placed second and third, respectively, in the local government category. Richard Goldstein, assistant to the director of communications, said Rochester's site was started as a labor of love. "I basically started this thing on my own time," he said. "Converting what is now nearly 10MB of information into HTML that is hosted on the City Library's server ... thank God for OCR software," he said. "But now that it's all in there, I can update the site within the normal activities of my job. We started out with a $5,000 contract
to a local consultant who showed me how to set up and administer a site and taught me some HTML basics, and we were off to the races," Goldstein said. "The thing that I like best about our site is that it consolidates our city services to one place," he said. "It used to be that every agency produced their own information and their own brochures. The site brings it all together for citizens."
In terms of the future, Goldstein said, "We've only begun to explore the interactive aspects of the Internet. Giving citizens the ability to interact with their government on their terms is what service is all about."
NEW YORK CITY
Ralph Balzano, commissioner of the New York City Department of Information and Technology and Telecommunications, was pleased to accept the third place award on behalf of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. "The most exciting thing about this new information system is that it didn't cost the city's taxpayers one cent," Balzano said. "We developed the entire thing using existing resources, and it was developed by people who love what they do. I think you can see that by the product they've developed."
Honorable mention awards went to the following sites:
San Bernardino County, Calif., ; Orange County, Calif., Public Schools ; city of Chicago ; and the Washington State Senate Ways and Means Committee .
Awards were provided to the top three place winners in each category through the support of the contest's corporate sponsors, which included AT&T, IBM, MCI and Sun Microsystems.
Congratulations to all winners and contestants.
Michael Nevins is a co-founder and director of State Technologies Inc., a nonprofit research group. State Technologies publishes the Web service Government On Line: . E-mail address: < email@example.com >.
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