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Digital Cities 2019: Winners Gear Up for a New Decade

The winners of this year’s Digital Cities Survey from the Center for Digital Government are those making smart investments in technologies from infrastructure and citizen engagement to data storage and cybersecurity.

by , / November 14, 2019
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Hover over points on the map above to learn more about each winner. Red indicates 1st place winners, yellow indicates 2nd place winners, green indicates 3rd place winners, and blue indicates winners that placed 4th through 10th.

1st City of Weston, Fla.

Weston, Fla., rose from 9th place in last year’s survey and continues to make it easier for residents to engage with the city through an improved, mobile-friendly website and by migrating a number of business functions online, improved mapping technology, as well as improving permitting services via features like electronic plan review. The city also provides mobile field inspections and automated messages related to inspection schedules. Migrating permitting to an online platform has led to a 70 percent reduction in foot traffic in the Permitting Services building.  

The Weston Technology Strategic plan, first published in 2018, has identified cybersecurity as a focus area and has fortified the city’s network systems with revamped policies, improved firewalls and machine learning analytics, among other systems. If a cyberattack or ransomware incident occurs, the city has an established remediation plan.  

By the same token, the IT plan is dedicated to transparency and open data, making access to public documents easier, along with employing innovative tools like Alexa Skills, where residents can use the online personal assistant to look up city data such as the zoning for a particular address. The most citizen-centric map application in Weston is known as My City Services and allows residents to access a number of city services and data related to an entered address, which can include property information, planning and zoning updates, code enforcements cases, school zones, and more

2nd City of Danville, Va.

In the last several years, Danville, Va., a community of 41,000, has faced a declining population, aging infrastructure and limited tax revenue, making creativity a must when it comes to technology. Danville IT leans on collaborations with nonprofits and other governments — its new budget visualization and collaboration tool, for example, grew out of another city’s open source effort, and it shares a GIS system for helping investors find opportunities with Pittsylvania County. Rather than opting for expensive change management clauses in procurement contracts, Danville trained its IT business relationship manager in change management. 

The city has also recently completed several projects, including new crime dashboards for police, a branded mobile app, a metrics dashboard for performance management and interdepartmental collaboration and upgraded VoIP. Currently, Danville is working to set up a one-stop shop permitting portal for residents that will integrate with its ERP system, as well as researching smart city opportunities such as camera analytics to publish downtown’s real-time parking availability to the public.

3rd City of Tamarac, Fla.

It was another strong year for Tamarac, Fla., which finished in the top three for cities with populations up to 75,000 and appeared in the Digital Cities rankings for an impressive sixth consecutive year. The city, which is part of the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro area, has been steadily investing in modernization in ways that yield results, doing so under the guidance of a thorough strategic plan for IT and a comprehensive technology roadmap

This work has led to an increase in Tamarac’s use of cloud-computing services, meaning staff can now access digital tools from anywhere with an Internet connection. They also have new mobile-friendly software to use in the field via tablets. For residents interacting with the city online, Tamarac continues to take great strides toward turning its website into a virtual city hall, a desirable concept throughout the world of gov tech that means making essential walk-in government services available online. This year, that work has meant mostly staying the course with small additions, as last year the city launched a redesigned website with a companion mobile app.

What was new this year, however, was increased use of Web streaming to foster civic engagement. Residents can now access feeds of city commission and neighborhood meetings live or on-demand through Facebook, with the city aiming to put planning board meetings online next. Finally, work that was previously underway on smart parks was completed this year, giving public spaces in Tamarac high-tech touches such as fiber connections, full Wi-Fi coverage, video surveillance, remote lighting control, and smart irrigation, among others.

4th Village of Pinehurst, N.C.

The rural North Carolina village of Pinehurst took fourth place in its population category in 2019. This year, the village increased its focus on community engagement with the launch of a new engagement tool, Engage Pinehurst, in May. The online portal allows citizens to express their thoughts and ideas on topics posted by the city. They can provide written feedback and upload photos, and staff and council members can access this information and take it into account during decision-making processes. Additionally, the site has a special communication mechanism that allows the village to let residents know how their input made an impact.

The village also made improvements in public safety, collaborating with surrounding Moore County’s Emergency Services department on fire dispatch and communication. Dispatch information for fire emergencies is immediately sent directly to mobile terminals within the fire trucks, and a shared 800 mhz radio system allows city and county fire officials to communicate seamlessly throughout both jurisdictions. Additionally, Pinehurst and other nearby municipalities use a joint computer-aided dispatch system to collaborate with Moore County’s 911 center.

Part of Pinehurst’s fiber network also got an upgrade in 2019. The village’s Metro-E network, which connects remote locations in the village including public event venues and a fire station, saw its bandwidth doubled. This increased capacity has allowed for faster and more secure public Internet access for mobile users, and the city can now use it to archive information in the cloud.

5th City of Lebanon, Mo.

One top priority for Lebanon, Mo.. is transparency, which includes posting all agendas and work sessions for public viewing. Work order software lets residents report issues and receive continuous email updates on projects as the city does the work. The public will receive a notification when the city accepts the issue, when it assigns it, and all notes, then the closing resolution.

Another of Lebanon’s significant goals is to effectively reach the public during an emergency. The IT Department was assigned to find a solution to alert residents if there was a disaster or if an advisory needed to be publicized. IT coordinated those efforts with the county and Office of Emergency Management, and decided to launch the Nixle public alert warning system. People can text a key phrase to the city’s established number, and they will be informed of all alerts concerning Lebanon and surrounding Laclede County. The IT Department also links the messages to city and county social media accounts. 

In order to better engage the public and share ongoing projects, the IT staff does weekly drone projects, showing progress that is also posted on social media in an effort to visually demonstrate to citizens where their tax dollars are being used. The department also coordinates with local media outlets, which use the imagery as well.

6th City of North Port, Fla.

In 2019, North Port, Fla., was focused on improving the digital experience of its citizens and employees. Much of the city’s progress in that respect came from new software tools, some of which are still in the process of implementation: GovQA for public records requests; GovMax for budgeting; a TRAKiT permitting and licensing application with a Web portal for citizens and contractors; OpenGov for communication and transparency; Granicus for public access to agendas for local commissions and advisory boards; Smartsheet for project management; Airwatch and Smarsh for mobile device management; and a new customer relationship management system with dashboards. 

North Port also added more features to its North RePort app for residents to report local issues, and implemented Laserfiche to store documents, with plans for a workflow engine to automate purchase orders. It has invested in a website checker to identify accessibility and quality issues, and started saving about 1,500 printed pages a year by giving citizens self-service kiosks. 

No exception to growing concerns about cybersecurity, North Port is implementing firewall enhancements and a Vulnerability Assessment and Remediation Program, updating its Cyber Incident Response Plan, planning to replicate data backups to a third-party storage site, and has budgeted for a vulnerability scanning tool to check IT systems. 

The city spent about $260,000 on infrastructure modernization in 2019, adding dark fiber between two remote sites for 10GB connectivity and POE+ (Power over Ethernet) compliance, and budgeting $40,050 for Wi-Fi enhancements at the city’s community and aquatic centers. North Port is also working on several initiatives to bring digital services to underserved areas, such as renewing cell tower leases to allow 5G capacity and expanding Wi-Fi locations. 

7th Village of Schaumburg, Ill.

The Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, population 74,295, has, like other municipalities in Illinois, seen its share of funding drop as the state government struggles with its fiscal crisis. Despite that challenge, the village has been able to roll out several new applications, including a facility access control system to protect public buildings; a reverse 911 alert system for utility customers; a new asset management system that has improved data reporting; and a mobile field inspection system.

To improve customer service, Schaumburg has a robust 311 hotline service with a variety of channels, including text and chat, along with a mobile service request app and optimized call routing capabilities. Internally, the village has focused on increasing staff efficiencies with the implementation of a seamless document and workflow system, as well as a new data warehouse with plans to add comprehensive analytic tools.

While practical solutions take priority, the village has its innovative side and is developing a bot to monitor incoming email requests and respond with information based on key words. It has also installed a leading-edge traffic monitoring system at key intersections to help with congestion problems in real time.

8th City of Punta Gorda, Fla.

In Punta Gorda, Fla., technology evolves with the needs of citizens — assuming it has a reasonable return on investment. The municipality’s standing as the only city in a small county has limited its opportunity for shared service partnerships, but that hasn’t stopped these efforts. For example, the city and county have partnered to bolster emergency services and collaborated on GIS systems. 

The city seems to be focusing most of its energy on protecting its systems and data stores. In addition to staff training, which will soon go from annual to several times a year, IT officials have fine-tuned their disaster recovery processes and are proactively removing old end-user equipment from staff circulation every four years. Penetration testing helps to identify vectors for attack, while trainings and phishing tests help to keep employees aware of the potential cyber-risks. The city is currently working to establish a crisis response plan. 

Punta Gorda’s move to advanced metering infrastructure (smart utility meters) is allowing for benefits like remote usage monitoring for homeowners, but it has also laid the foundation for future Internet of Things rollouts. Where automation and streamlining of services are concerned, document and records request management and e-procurement are being automated to ensure timely and accurate maintenance. The state’s Sunshine Law makes these efforts extremely important, and also creates the need to monitor the type of information being disseminated to the public. Not all data is fit for publication, like some names and addresses.

9th City of DeSoto, Texas

Desoto, Texas, placing ninth in this year’s survey, has distinguished itself by continuing to invest in innovative solutions for court and law enforcement procedures, as well as continuing its focus on improved cybersecurity. In particular, the city has continued to expand its innovative “e-court” video arraignment program, which allows defendants to communicate with the judge over video chat. This year, the court also began allowing the public to communicate with staff using Web chat and text to mitigate issues, sign paperwork, ask questions and set up payment plans.

At the same time, the city has also expanded various IT initiatives to aid local police — including installation of facial recognition technology in the jail, with an attached cloud-based shared database. Upgrades to cruiser dash cams were also made that allow for more efficient video uploads and searches, as well as longer retention. The city also recently joined the Amazon Ring network, a digital doorbell and neighborhood watch app that connects residents with police for local notifications and alerts.

Additionally, the city made significant efforts this year to bolster its cybersecurity posture, hiring a new network security administrator who will be responsible for internal security. At the direction of the administrator, the city also hired a third-party vendor to help expand the existing employee security training program, including the inclusion of a phishing campaign assessment. The city has also adopted a vulnerability scanning tool that will be a consistent feature of its vulnerability management program. Looking to the future, the city also hopes to improve staff identity management through the purchase of a multi-factor authentication feature and is in the process of developing a cyberincident response plan. 

10th City of Marana, Ariz.

One of the strategic goals for Marana, Ariz., focuses on commerce. And to help residents and the town council stay current on development efforts, the Technology Services and Development Services departments built an interactive online map where the community and staff can see the various projects taking place, categorized by project type. Locations of the projects are easily identifiable on the map, along with supplemental information such as drawings, applicant info and status. New projects are also highlighted. This tool has been used in monthly presentations to the Town Council.  

Another strategic goal to use technology to enhance government transparency has led Technology Services to create a dashboard that shows how the town is meeting defined metrics. Prototypes include: Development — permits issued, new home construction, new water connections, etc.; Community — new business licenses, crime, and animal services; and Human Resources — demographics, turnover rates, number of positions, etc.  

And in an endeavor to improve public safety, the Police Department and Technology Services collaborated to develop a Web form that residents can use to report traffic issues. The police Motors Division will then report back on the work being done to resolve the issues. This project is in development and is scheduled to go live in 2020. 

10th City of Shawnee, Kan.

The Kansas City suburb of Shawnee continues to work toward becoming a more transparent, easily accessible government for business partners and citizens alike. A big push this year is around digitizing land management records, which will allow easy access to services like code enforcement, licensing and registration and more. A number of these functions are available through a partnership with Citizenserve, part of an effort to become more mobile and to improve efficiency, citizen engagement and customer satisfaction. For example, since the launch of an online system for burn permit applications, 70 percent of those applications are now done through the website. Other apps like Shawnee Connect let residents communicate directly with staff on municipal issues.

There are 46 miles of fiber within the city, which Shawnee plans on joining with networks in Johnson County, neighboring cities, and the local school district. A fiber ring through the city is included as part of a capital improvement plan and will support broadband communications and future technology additions. In line with the city’s “safe community” goal, Shawnee has implemented a new police records management system with Niche, a service that comprises all of Johnson County and allows law enforcement to share data with neighboring jurisdictions.

In IT basics, Shawnee has transitioned its internal government email from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Office 365, and the city’s current budget includes more than $500,000 for replacing aging technology infrastructure.

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