In this year's survey, the Center for Digital Government recognizes 55 counties that understand technology's value, empower their tech leaders, and implement new ideas to make life better for those who live and work there.
Last year’s fourth-place winner, Wake County, N.C., moved to the top spot in the 2016 survey. An open data pioneer, the county has been sharing restaurant inspection, elections, property and permitting data for 15 years. Last year, the county launched a dedicated portal, data.wakegov.com, featuring high-value data sets from the county and its closest government partner, the city of Raleigh. In a best practice worth emulating, each new data set that is added has an automated update method on regular intervals, and is also backed by rich metadata to give it as much context as possible. The county, whose population exceeded 1 million in the past year, has an active social media presence across multiple platforms, including Nextdoor and Periscope. When a retro ambulance was unveiled at the 40th anniversary of the Emergency Management Service, it was live-streamed on Periscope. County Communications staff also led a campaign on Instagram in which employees shared photos of work activities, providing citizens with an inside view into the workings of government.
A number of transformative planning efforts are underway to ensure Wake County IT is adequately staffed for the future. A newly hired chief information security officer now manages cybersecurity efforts, and the county is looking to hire a data scientist to help make county data actionable. In addition, the county has a fledgling Disruptive Technologies and Innovation Program, which is seeking to hire staff with the skills to help the county take advantage of emerging technologies like analytics, drones, IoT, wearable tech and gamification. An innovation program is also in the works, including the future addition of a chief innovation officer as well as funding for an innovation lab that supports the development of creative ideas.
Perennially high-achieving Fairfax County, Va., (second place this year and first place in 2015) relies on agile development, flexible technology infrastructure and strong governance to align IT strategies with overall county business objectives — and this alignment is critical as the county cites continued resource challenges. Citizen communication and engagement is a top priority, proven by the recent launch of the county’s NewsCenter, which operates like a mainstream news site, providing timely and relevant content to site visitors. Articles are also linked to Flipboard, Apple News, Google News, Facebook and Twitter. The county now has a guiding social media strategy to ensure the more than 50 staff members responsible for social media are using the tools as effectively as possible. Social media proved an effective tool during a 2016 blizzard — 97 percent of survey respondents were satisfied with the county’s emergency social media use. Fairfax County residents now have access to a personalized Web portal, MyFairfax, which offers single sign-on for conducting county business, including paying vehicle taxes, business taxes and real estate taxes.
The Fairfax County IT Department also plays a leading role in the National Capital Region Interoperable Communications Infrastructure program. Twenty-one jurisdictions in the area share a dedicated fiber-optic network over which they can exchange voice, data and video communications. The program, managed by county IT staff, enables data interoperability and real-time information-sharing between the planning and responding agencies that participate.
Also a second place finisher, Montgomery County, Md., is redesigning its website using responsive design, taking into account the growing percentage of mobile users visiting the site. Only 8 percent of visitors were mobile in 2012, but by earlier this year, that figure had grown to 35 percent, mirroring the pattern in other jurisdictions. The county also launched a new social media hub in the past year, where administrators can push out aggregated content from about 36 accounts across the county. Also in 2015, Montgomery County started using Twitter as an extension of its 311 program — residents can now tweet their service requests to the county. A new performance platform has recently come to life, called performanceMontgomery. Visitors can engage with interactive dashboards featuring performance metrics and a wide array of county data. The county is also one of 23 agencies participating in the White House Police Data Initiative, a national effort to encourage more transparency around crime and law enforcement activities. Strategic planning around cybersecurity has focused on recent assessments and benchmarking, which included reviews of cybersecurity practices in key areas. A sum of $1.5 million was invested to strengthen the county’s vulnerability assessment program, which resulted in software upgrades, new anti-virus and anti-malware tools, and additional dedicated security staff.
A commitment to transparent operations can be seen in several new projects that have come to light in Sacramento County in the past year, like a new Request to Speak application that eases public participation in Board meetings and can extract data for speakers and elected officials once meetings are over to facilitate follow-up. Public meetings can now be streamed from browsers, mobile devices and streaming boxes like Apple TV. Meeting archives are now easier to search, and NextRequest lets citizens ask for public records online, which are routed and tracked through the fulfillment stage. The county’s award-winning website is now responsive, supporting its mobile-first strategy that ensures a consistent user experience across devices. Code Enforcement and Environmental Management were empowered with productivity tools that can be used in the field, while several new mobile apps give residents the ability to request services, query food inspection data, get personalized election information and submit tips to the Sheriff’s Department.
Earlier this year, the county conducted a six-week Civic Technology Outreach Project to engage the local tech community with its open data portal, stocked with more than 100 sets of data and visualizations. In all, 13 mobile apps aimed at improving service delivery were developed by nearly 200 community members. Sacramento County also demonstrates a commitment to performance-driven government. In one example, monthly IT metrics are published online, plotted against targets and standards for service, while several key processes have been refined for maximum efficiency. In the Department of Human Assistance, data analytics and business intelligence are used to improve service delivery to more than 325,000 constituents. The tools identified 10,000 backlogged cases and resulted in a $2 million savings in labor for the department.
With more than 3 million residents, San Diego County has quite a population to cater to — which it does well thanks to its thoughtfully articulated strategies that address the community’s needs and challenges. A few initiatives that align with these strategies are the county’s new Connect Well San Diego initiative that, once live, will electronically connect certain health and social service providers through a new digital client referral system, and the Live Well San Diego website, which offers resources and tools to help citizens make healthy choices. This year’s judges described the county’s open data site and overall transparency efforts as exceptional, and officials are continuing to use technology to make improvements. Case in point: San Diego County is working toward providing an enterprisewide data portal, the first phase of which is the SDCountyInFocus website that compiles reports, maps, election results and public safety data, among other information, in one easy-to-access location.
Alameda County is well aware of the millennial demographic shift that’s occurring: As the baby boomers retire in droves, millennials are on the rise in the workforce. And Alameda is ready. In 2015, the county convened a Millennial Task Force that devises solutions to the concerns and challenges raised by an assessment conducted with current millennial employees. The ultimate goal? To ensure that Alameda County is an employer of choice not just for the millennial generation, but employees of any age. As was noted in the 2015 Digital Counties Survey, Alameda’s commitment to open data is commendable and ongoing; this past year, the county refreshed the look of its Open Budget site that gives information public visibility. Of particular note is Alameda’s dedication to — and use of technology in — fighting human trafficking. Citizens can help the county track which businesses are compliant or noncompliant with California’s human trafficking laws via Map1193, a partnership between the county IT Department and the District Attorney's Office. Collaboration and shared services are also a high priority for Alameda County, which worked in partnership over the past several years with the East Bay Regional Communications System Authority to migrate disparate radio systems into a single network so that more than 30 jurisdictions have full radio interoperability. And in 2015, Alameda County was one of the first two counties selected to participate in the Google Government Innovation Lab program, which resulted in several citizen-based, well rounded initiatives.
Home to tech-savvy Seattle, King County, Wash., works hard to offer its 1.6 million citizens top-notch services in the most efficient and cost-effective ways possible. In addition to enhancing internal collaboration through tech tools such as Skype for Business and SharePoint, the county also is one of 24 Community Connectivity Consortium partners that are working together to provide the region with a high-speed fiber-optic network that will provide 1 gigabit of connectivity. The county also has designed and piloted cellular 4G wireless that will bring connectivity to areas where fiber buildouts are cost prohibitive. This year’s judges were particularly impressed with King County’s mobile offerings. In addition to using responsive design on its website, the county has created native mobile apps where appropriate, such as the Flood Warning App and the Grow Smart, Grow Safe App. The county’s social media operation is also very diverse and robust. As the second-largest social media program of any county in the nation, its presence has grown sixfold since 2012 — and pushed on extensive growth for a reason. Rather than relying on one person or a small team to publish content at the enterprise level, King County staff are empowered to self-publish and create their own stories. Because of this, the county successfully operates more than 180 different social media pages that offer near-real-time customer service, targeted public outreach and a data-informed approach to analytics.
After missing out on last year’s survey, Miami-Dade County gained attention for its strong showing this year, based largely on its impressive open data, mobile, engagement and collaboration efforts. For example, Miami-Dade has opened up data from its permitting, 311, GIS and public safety to the public, resulting in more than 50,000 views per month. It has also launched a number of mobile applications for 311 service and public transit. Internally, the county has consolidated and centralized IT operations from more than a dozen agencies, and replaced a number of legacy software programs with an enterprise resource planning system for finance, procurement and human resources. In terms of modernization, Miami-Dade has leveraged cloud technology to support internal operations and provide cloud services to nearby municipalities. The county has also tapped IBM’s Watson intelligent software to predictively manage major county operations, including transportation, law enforcement and water utilities.
Michigan’s second most populous county is once again ranked in the top five for digital services, primarily for its strengths in engagement, collaboration, information security and connectivity. Faced with a growing problem of workforce retirement (30 percent of staff members are expected to retire in the next three years), the county has taken a long-term approach to leveraging and modernizing its IT infrastructure, such as its new unified communication system and an updated identity and access management system.
Judges were impressed with Oakland County’s forward-looking use of social media, whether for conducting government business or for engaging the public and its service needs. For example, social media is now an integral part of the county’s CRM system, allowing residents to get quick answers and information. Social media is also used as a method to crowdsource ideas as well as to provide peer-to-peer help.
The county has been a longtime proponent of government-to-government marketplaces, helping other governments to evaluate and procure enterprise tools and solutions. One of the innovations to come out of this collaboration is a self-assessment tool that other, mostly smaller governments can use to assess, understand and prioritize basic cybersecurity needs. Along with other useful tech tools available through the marketplace, Oakland County estimates it has already saved more than $600,000 and could save nearly $4.7 million over a six-year period.
Looking to the future, Oakland County is part of the Connected Vehicle Taskforce, which has been set up to make recommendations on how to deploy the world’s first countywide connected vehicle system.
Baltimore County continues its hold on the Digital Counties top 10 ranking, coming in sixth place for 2016. The county has received high marks for its innovative mobile CCTV, which consists of 25 portable observation devices that police can move to hot spot areas to help prevent, deter and record criminal activity. The system also consists of a situational awareness dashboard, known as OneView, which links live camera streams to central command and patrol vehicles. OneView proved highly useful during the unrest that broke out in the city of Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray in April 2015.
The county recently redesigned its website, making it easier to navigate and to search for services and information, but most importantly it has taken full advantage of social media to ensure strong community engagement. The entire project was done in-house.
The county has also launched a virtual multi-location 911 call center. The technology allows calls to be answered in both the main 911 center and a secondary 911 call center. In the event of an interruption, the county has ability to switch over to another 911 center without interruption.
With a population of 890,000 people, Prince George’s County is focused on open government, connectivity, collaboration and developing the future generation of IT workers. The open data initiative, called Open Prince George’s, features dashboards and apps that display real-time information for the public to view and to aid internal decision-making. The goal is to break down silos by merging info from numerous sources. In addition, a mobile-first strategy aims to get agencies thinking about how new applications can be deployed online and in a mobile format. For example, the county launched a 311 app before adding the call center, encouraging people to enter their request online. Prince George’s collaborates with nearby jurisdictions on numerous programs: the NCRnet regional fiber-optic network for public safety agencies; public-private partnerships for storm water management that enlist a GIS map; and the Inter-County Broadband Network, which includes nine local governments in Maryland and aims to offer consistent, high-speed Internet access to schools and libraries. To encourage interest in IT, the Tech Prince George’s program has multiple efforts, including enlisting teams of students to address the most challenging issues facing some of the county’s communities. The program has helped develop a career pipeline for local students.
Moving down two spots from a fifth-place ranking in 2015, Bexar County has developed a five-year IT strategic plan, which includes migrating services to the cloud. A major initiative the county is expanding is its all-digital library BiblioTech: funding has been allocated for a second location and e-readers and a BiblioTech kiosk will be added to three other libraries. The goal is to provide all residents with the opportunity to access technology while promoting reading. Key areas are covered by the county’s transparency efforts including a data portal, live streaming of the Commissioners Court sessions and performance measures for different departments. Bexar County is working to redesign all of its websites and applications with responsive design. More than 75 percent of the sites will be transitioned by the end of the year. Numerous cybersecurity programs are helping create a safer IT environment. For example, the county hired a network security administrator and enlisted security prevention tech to examine network traffic flows for vulnerabilities.
Regularly placing in the Digital Counties Survey since 2003, Orange County is using tech to improve and modernize nearly all aspects of government. IT is a key player in many of the mayor’s initiatives, including INVEST in Our Home for Life, a capital investment program that includes a new system for making park reservations and new tech for public safety facilities, and Walk-Ride-Thrive, which will use tech to improve the tracking and reporting of pedestrian safety issues. Open government initiatives like Orange Stats and a portal that tracks real-time information on lobbyist activities promote a transparent county. In addition, numerous apps — such as 311, OCFL Alert for emergency notification, OCFL News and OC Serves for volunteer opportunities — promote the county’s mobile-first agenda, in addition to its plan to make all sites mobile-first over the next two years. Online outreach is used to increase engagement with millennials and the next generation of community leaders. The volunteer Technology and Social Media Workgroup collaborates on this and how to support IT in the region. Insourcing and outsourcing are both used to cover operational needs, with a focus on succession planning to prepare for retirements. And in one of the first agreements of its type in Florida, Orange County has established redundant 911 capabilities with Palm Beach County to enable resiliency of the critical public safety system.
Up two spots from its 2015 10th-place ranking, Ventura County has put new emphasis on a countywide strategic plan and mapping the future of the local government. The Southern California county’s newly minted proposal includes focus on financial stability and good government, workforce, environmental land use and infrastructure, community well-being and public safety. In addition, the goal of making the government finances more transparent has translated into a website that allows for the everyday citizen to quickly digest how money is moving through the system. To meet the demands on county health-care systems, officials have implemented an electronic health record system, and the sheriff’s office is leveraging statistical monitoring programs and data analytics to identify recidivism rates associated with Assembly Bill 109. Additionally the Human Services Agency has transitioned from a paper-based system to a more efficient digital workflow. The county is currently working with outside partners to improve broadband connectivity throughout the region.
In Hennepin County, Minn., which encompasses much of Minneapolis, a focus on technology has opened government to its citizens. Efforts have been made to build on 2014 efforts to evaluate and improve the quality of data and more than 90 data sets have been opened to the public. A three-year Strategic cybersecurity plan, developed in 2015, is helping IT leaders collaborate, align and deploy successful security initiatives. This approach includes a dedicated Security Incident Response Team to address cybersecurity emergencies as they arise. In terms of hiring and maintaining competent staff, the county is taking a multipronged approach. On one hand the county’s human resources department has evaluated and refined IT positions throughout the larger organization. On the other, outreach efforts into the community through academic channels attract interns interested in pursuing technology careers. Internally the county has established a pilot electronic bidding process to cut costs and improve the relationship between the county, its vendors and the community at large. A multiyear project to develop a human resources and financial data warehouse has also been established. The use of performance tracking on a weekly/monthly basis allows for the prioritization of IT projects. Additionally the county is working to migrate from a leased data center to a government-owned data center.
With a focus on a successful transition from a manufacturing economy to a services-based model, officials in Westchester County are looking for companies and government to innovate. This effort includes a commitment to a 21st-century local government and strategic investment in tools like modern telecommunications networks, streamlined government services and collaboration with local partners. Attention to the workloads of staff and redistribution of assignments is one strategy being used to meet county goals. A series of initiatives around transparency allow citizens to see where money is spent through a specialized database. Similarly, other data transparency initiatives, like a searchable broad subject database, have been launched. In keeping with the county’s support of a mobile and efficient workforce, efforts have been made to provide secure, portable tools for staff. Conversely, the same efforts have been made to ensure the same level of access to citizens through the county’s website, which was completely redesigned with mobile use in mind. Plans to develop mobile applications for select communities are underway, and collaborations with partner agencies are bringing enhancements such as smart transportation corridors to life.
Los Angeles County placed ninth in the 2016 Digital Counties Survey. One of the biggest reasons for its success is its commitment to open data and data-driven solutions. Teaming up with Socrata in 2015, the county was able to release its open data portal and has gained applause from private-sector entities, academic institutions and other public agencies. Former CIO Richard Sanchez said that he and the rest of the county are committed to transparency and letting constituents know what the data looks like and how the government is working to turn that data into solutions. Due to the county’s commitment to data and transparency, the county released a slew of mobile apps including a 311-style app called The Works, and a county library and museum app. For the rest of 2016 and into 2017, the county is considering the potential of data scientists and how they could put aggregated data from the county's 37 departments county to use.
2016 proved to be a big year for Chester County, Pa. In a commitment to open data and transparency, the county has partnered with OpenGov to publish public spending information online. However, responsible governance was only one element of the county’s goals. Others include a commitment to data security, migration to cloud-based systems and a strong social media presence. The county was able to demonstrate its proficiency with social media with the 2015 National Health Week campaign, in which county officials held their sixth and most successful photo contest for high school kids demonstrating healthy lifestyles. Additionally, the county released its ChescoCONNECT app, providing residents with community news, events, health and human services information, and emergency alerts.
Cook County, Ill., CIO Simona Rollinson and County Board President Toni Preckwinkle are aligned in their desire to modernize county systems, as well as digitize as many services as possible. Pushing past the mantra of e-government, the county is focused on smart government that combines transparency, department integration and cybersecurity. To meet these objectives, county officials have launched their own open data portal and expanded the public-facing application Connect to Cook. Perhaps the biggest undertaking is the county's attempt to deploy a new cloud-based ERP system, as the current one is decades old. The upgrade will allow the county to collect, store and manage data across all county operations. On the security front, the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Information Security Office created an information security strategy, making significant advances in improving and introducing new security controls and security awareness training to county employees.
After ringing in at No. 4 in the 2015 Digital Counties Survey, Sonoma County made significant improvements over the last year, helping it to earn the top spot in its category in 2016. When it comes to the county’s four strategic plan goals — safe, healthy and caring communities; economic and environmental stewardship; civic service and engagement; and investment in the future — its information and communication technology strategies align with and focus on helping departments achieve these and other objectives. It does this by implementing tech solutions like data-driven decision-making and social media that support and enhance county services and programs. Like many other top counties in this year’s survey, Sonoma represents a solid model for collaboration; it worked with the city of Santa Rosa to give the public access to data from multiple jurisdictions through the same tool, no matter which jurisdiction’s portal was used to access the data sets. On the whole, Sonoma County recognizes that transparency and open data are vital in garnering public trust, participation and collaboration, and as such are high priorities. In this vein, the county administrator and Board of Supervisors have provided board agendas and materials online; meetings are live-streamed and archived; and the county has implemented SoCo Data, its open data portal, where data sets from various departments and agencies are continuously being added.
Making big strides in this year’s Digital Counties Survey is Chesterfield County, which jumped five spots from 2015 — from seventh up to second in its population category. This likely is due in part to strong Information Systems Technology (IST) leadership and the county’s business-like approach to government. Part of this approach includes the IST department creating customer relationship managers (CRMs), each of whom is assigned to a county department. The CRMs ultimately serve to “de-mystify” IT for their customers — the departments — and advise them on new technology initiatives they can use to more efficiently conduct operations, advocate for the business customers’ needs and help navigate the IT processes that are necessary to complete projects. And when it comes to open government, Chesterfield County’s transparency portal ranks among the highest in the nation, earning an A+ from the Sunshine Review for two consecutive years. In addition to hosting links to vendor payment information, budget documents and a comprehensive annual report, the portal also includes public meetings information, procurement opportunities and regional cooperative initiatives, among other details. Chesterfield prides itself on its citizen engagement efforts, having completed a new citizen-focused library and robust makerspace. A task force created a Seven-Step Guide to Community Engagement to encourage involving citizens in the business of government. This year’s judges also took note of the county’s comprehensive cybersecurity program that includes acquiring cyberinsurance to help mitigate its risk.
After dropping off the Digital Counties winners’ list in 2015 from a fourth-place spot in 2014, Dakota County has come back strong in 2016, snagging third place in its category. This year’s judges were particularly impressed with how well managed the county’s IT functions are, and noted that a solid foundation is in place to build upon and grow. Realizing the benefits of shared services, the county hosts and supports infrastructure for more than 50 law enforcement agencies in the state through its Criminal Justice Integration Network. In addition, the county has an ERP system arrangement with Anoka County in which it provides documentation, workflow and security configuration files, among other things. Anoka County in turn provides numerous scripts to assist with Dakota County's latest ERP upgrade. A High Performance Partnership Program was used to consolidate five separate 911 dispatch centers into one modern center. Beyond this, the county also is renting data center space to Rice County, and officials are discussing co-location for Tier 3 Disaster Recovery with Olmsted and Hennepin counties. Judges also noted the county’s new volunteer program that launched in June 2015 and had more than 25,000 contributed hours of time by year’s end, saving nearly $600,000 in taxpayer dollars. Tracking software lets county officials run analytical reports to evaluate the program’s value and success.
Holding in fourth place for a second year is Loudoun County, which in January 2016 was deemed by a University of Virginia research group as the fastest growing county in the state (as of July 2015, the county’s population is estimated to have grown by nearly 20 percent since 2010). So with a population just under 365,000, that puts a lot of pressure on officials to continue meeting the demands of a growing and tech-savvy citizenry. Integral to this is the county’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) division, which aligns its projects with policy direction set out by the county administrator and board of supervisors. First on the agenda was saving money and resources through consolidation. By consolidating technical and infrastructure support for a combined county/public schools ERP system, the schools are saving more than $2 million per year. ICT also is implementing a new Public Safety Technology System that will incorporate 1,200 volunteer firefighters into a single system, which not only saves millions in staffing costs, but also improves emergency services to citizens. Expanding broadband into the western part of the county is also a top priority, as it's considered underserved based on the FCC’s definition of broadband. To remedy this, ICT has worked to improve wireless coverage in this region and hosted a broadband summit where industry and government partners collaborated to resolve the service gaps. Loudoun County also has a strong cybersecurity program, in which all employees complete security awareness training, and identity and access management, threat detection, Web analytics and end point security are fully deployed. Also of note is the use of crowdsourcing by the county’s Office of Mapping and Geographic Information Systems, which resulted in the mapping of trail amenities along the Washington & Old Dominion Trail.
Cumberland County, with Fayetteville its county seat, has entered the Digital Counties ranking, thanks in large part to its effective, dynamic and mature social media operation. The county uses Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram extensively for two-way communications and information dissemination, and as a tool for managing public safety and public service (its social media outreach for adopting pets has been highly successful). Citizens connect with the county through social media an average of 900 times per day. Feedback from social media is also used as a means to update and improve the county’s website.
Cumberland also stands out for efforts to bring mobility to its workforce. Volunteer firefighters receive text message alerts about calls within their district; field workers can receive voicemails, instant messaging and voice calls via the county’s VoIP phone system; first responders use a mobile damage assessment application to report incidents following a storm; and the public utilities department can access an app on an iPad to find the location of sewers, manholes and fire hydrants that require inspection. The time and resources saved using this mobile-friendly strategy is significant.
With an eye on its future, Cumberland is working to ensure human resources aligns with the ongoing digitization of county government. Last year, the county created a business intelligence unit within the information services department. Starting with two specialists, the unit has brought business process improvements to a range of county departments, including child support enforcement, social services, veterans services, community development and the county print shop. Periodic evaluations keep the unit sharp and focused.
Dutchess County is no stranger to these rankings, having made the top 10 for Digital Counties three years running. This year, the county has been cited for its strong and successful efforts at shared services. In 2013, the county executive directed the IT department to expand and promote shared services. The result is that the county has led the way with shared services summits to brainstorm with other local governments; multiple tech-related shared services accomplishments (GIS shared services has generated $2.2 million in savings for municipalities); and surpassed the goals of a state-run, joint government efficiency plan by 1,200 percent.
The county’s mobile strategy also stands out. A lot of the efforts benefit citizens (a mobile app helpline; text-to-911; another app that overlays aerial photos of the county with a digital map), but many are also internal: up-to-date mobile devices for police, social service and home health workers; as well as a BYOD policy for county workers.
The county has also been innovative when it comes to open data. Ballotopedia (an online nonpartisan media site that covers American politics) has ranked Dutchess County the most transparent among the state’s 61 counties. For example, a public dashboard gives citizens a quick and easy way to monitor the county’s economic and performance indicators that impact government programs. There is a public portal to the county’s CRM system as well as easy public accessibility to budget information and legislative meetings. Not surprisingly, the county’s social media operations are robust and highly effective too.
Bell County, located in central Texas, is one of the fast-growing counties in the country (its population grew 30 percent from 2000 to 2010). That growth has put pressure on IT operations to both modernize and consolidate the growing number of disparate systems. Still, the county has pursued more outward reaching projects at the same time, including a robust and dynamic open data strategy that has put budget data online along with terminals scattered throughout the county that the public can use to search government documents.
The county’s mobile-first strategy has blossomed into a number of initiatives that include cloud technology that impacts data storage, communications and document management. The sheriff’s department, in particular, has used mobile tools to assist with everything from managing traffic citations to setting up and tracking training classes for K9 units.
On the efficiency side, Bell County has created a centralized Communication Center, a consortium of 61 agencies that provides emergency 911 services, centralized computer-aided dispatch, record management system and an interoperable radio system provides communication between member and nonmember agencies. The Communication Center operates on a cost-sharing model based on the number of events that occur.
Shared services are a key focus in Leon County, which moved down two places from its ranking last year. A hurricane-proof multijurisdictional data center shared with Tallahassee and the State Attorney’s Office, among others, provides redundancy to critical systems, while another shared resource, the NW Florida Pawn Shop system, enables law enforcement in more than 30 counties to know when a stolen item has been taken to be pawned. The county is enlisting mobile tech to enable more efficient websites and systems — Leon County’s site is mobile responsive and field workers are using mobile apps to document work orders. It’s also using multiple channels for citizen engagement and ran a crowdsourcing data project to create a Web-based inventory of trees. Transparency can be seen in the Your Checkbook Web app, in addition to annual reporting and budget documents. Upcoming initiatives include plans to migrate to Office 365 while also improving the county's mobile strategy.
Michigan’s fastest-growing county thinks strategically about IT not only within its borders but also beyond to other jurisdictions by participating in shared services and hosting apps for them. Falling one place since the 2015 Survey, Ottawa County’s tech initiatives line up with the Board of Commissioners’ strategic plan, which includes goals like maintaining and enhancing communication with citizens, employees and stakeholders. For example, a biannual survey gathers public input to guide the county’s strategic planning. Since 2014, the county has held an Innovation and Technology Forum to bring local governments together to discuss what’s next. And in line with thinking across borders, Ottawa County developed a parks reservation system to support other jurisdictions, and is hosting a dog licensing app and payment for another county and providing IT services for two other local governments.
Home to 269,000 people, Santa Cruz is focusing on an increased mobile presence. An in-house developed app, Citizen Connect, was released last year with the goal of being a one-stop shop for county resources, reporting issues and paying fees. It has been downloaded more than 1,000 times, and new features, like restaurant inspection reports, have been added. The Board of Supervisors identified four initiatives for the county to focus on, which in addition to the mobile presence include increased access to broadband. As part of this, Santa Cruz County has worked with the Central Coast Broadband Consortium to identify underserved areas and existing resources. The county also is working on a shared communications system for first responders.
Douglas County is using technology to meet a number of constituent needs. In the public safety space, Sex Offender Tracking and Registration (SOTAR) helps residents and law enforcement keep tabs on registered sex offenders, while tools like the soon-to-be-launched NearNeDC.com, a roadwork notification application, will allow safer, faster travel for roadway travelers. The SOTAR system is also a point of collaboration for the county, as it has worked closely with Arapahoe County in the Community Justice Management System. Douglas County GIS Services have also worked closely with Douglas County Emergency Telephone Service Authority and Elbert County Communication Authority in their public safety mission. A transparency portal allows for access to a host of government information providing tabular data in a machine-readable, API-accessible format. The county also plans to implement an "open expenditures" application, which will allow line item visibility into county expenditures.
In light of shifts in funding, Dauphin County is turning to technology to close the gaps between human services and the community. Mapping tools have been deployed to identify the need for programs like mental health and drug treatment and improve the overall delivery of services. In the future, officials hope to use analytics to better align the needs of the county’s population with the correct services. Shifts in funding streams have led to reduced or capped programs. In terms of the information the local government shares with the public, the county has consistently increased what it shares through Web-based platforms. Information such as tax assessments and deeds can be found through their own unique portals. The county government converted its property tax maps in 2008, and elections data has been available online since 2007. The county is carrying on this tradition of accessible data with plans to develop and implement an open data strategy. Additionally, collaboration between Dauphin and Adams County allowed for a cooperative radio network. In line with other cybersecurity measures, a countywide “Stop. Think. Connect.” campaign is working to elevate awareness of the risks to the public.
In Richland County, a change in state funding has officials looking to technology to inform the public about a one-cent sales tax. Through the creation of a widely monitored website, the public and media could learn more about the high-profile program that represented more than $1 billion in tax revenue for the county. A similar portal allowed citizens access to 48 hours’ worth of weather data and a host of real-time weather cameras. The weather platform is available via smartphone. During what officials called a “thousand-year flood,” GIS and county IT services worked to compile data about damaged infrastructure. The team used information from firefighters as well as from social media to bolster this effort. Moving forward, the county plans to replace its existing customer relationship management system with a newer, GIS-enabled system. On top of these other efforts, the county built, copyrighted and is sharing an e-recording system to process and manage deeds digitally. The tool allows for more effective management of property records at considerable savings.
Arlington County took first place in its population category this year, in part because of its continued appetite for technological innovation (the county ranked second in last year’s Digital Counties survey). To maintain its technological edge, the county has implemented a “team of teams” management structure, which emphasizes communication and fosters responsibility along with a shared sense of direction. Meanwhile, staff focused on IT innovation have been separated from traditional IT support, resulting in new projects involving mobility and open data.
The county was also cited for its extensive efforts at civic engagement — 165 monthly e-newsletters and nearly 89,000 subscribers — that emphasize simple and fast interaction with government. Besides newsletters, these initiatives range from text-to-911, near-real-time access to budget information, the use of Periscope to live-stream county events, to offering special online commenting tools for constituent feedback.
Arlington has also expanded how it uses shared services. The result: It is collecting data from lighting sensors and tapping into traffic analytics from the state’s Department of Transportation; sharing resources with the regional metro system, including fiber communications as well as transit data; and sharing bandwidth with regional libraries, schools and surrounding jurisdictions to support education and research.
Charles County returns to the elite ranking for digital counties in its population category (it ranked first in 2014) with an impressive array of strategic IT initiatives to support the county commissioners' goal of creating a transformational government. Working on several fronts, the county’s IT department has bolstered IT training while undertaking a variety of IT upgrades. It has given support to the county’s teleworking initiative and developed a comprehensive series of mobile applications that support employees in a variety of ways. The county has also launched a number of mobile applications for citizens who wish to interact with the government while on the go.
Civic engagement is a priority in Charles County, and the IT department has raised the government’s profile with its “GetConnected” campaign, which consists of a suite of social media, online applications and other technology resources that enhance how it engages citizens and keeps them informed of what’s going on. To ensure that staff are up to speed on social media tools and the engagement strategies used by the county, a social media workgroup keeps everybody apprised of what is going on.
Frederick County illustrates how local governments have embraced social media and transparency, and the county could serve as a model. It has more than a dozen different social media platforms that keep citizens informed, while the county’s transparency projects are wide-ranging, from public safety and health to purchasing and finance. The new projects have been rolled out despite deep cutbacks in staffing in recent years.
The county has launched a series of mobile apps that help citizens with a variety of services, from general complaints to recycling and the purchase of bus tickets for local public transit. County workers also benefit from mobile upgrades that include mobile data terminals (MDTs) for fire and rescue vehicles that provide immediate dispatch information and feedback on changing emergency conditions. The MDTs also provide first responders with access to GIS mapping and computer aided dispatch data.
Looking forward, the county plans to launch what it calls the Community Connection Module, which will allow residents to connect with each other to create groups, post comments and vote for any of the discussions that might be happening on the site. Features of this module include streamlined topics, abilities to provide feedback and comments.
Down two spots from a second place finish in last year’s survey, St. Tammany Parish is working to deploy a new enterprise resource planning system across the parish, replacing legacy technology that is now 15 years old. Leaders expect the new system will help improve their capacity for data analytics and transparency, offering almost real-time reporting capabilities of key data sets, like financials, permit information and code enforcement actions. Parish leadership demonstrated its support of IT by adding two positions since last year, including a dedicated security analyst. Job one for the new hire is a thorough review of the status quo, followed by the development of security policies and training of both IT staff and the broader population of end users. Upgrades to security tools like the firewall, intrusion detection software and malware protection are ongoing. Mobility comes through as a major priority for the parish, which continues to equip field staff like inspectors, engineers and emergency personnel with iPads to make them fully functional outside of the office. GPS tracking of fleet vehicles has been added for improved monitoring and communication of expected arrival times. And the new tools are having a real impact — an updated Post Storm Assessment Tool recently helped expedite data collection for a FEMA declaration in a recent flood.
There are several major initiatives on deck for Boone County, Mo., the fifth-place winner in 2016. A recent merger of the county’s emergency management office with 911 services prompted the construction of a new category EF5 tornado-resistant Emergency Communications Center. The new facility’s data center will serve as backup for all other county systems. The merger doubles the responsibility for both the IT and GIS departments, according to the county. A new Smart911 System lets citizens create safety profiles that can help inform first responders in the event of an emergency, enhancing situational awareness and potentially improving response times. Profiles can be populated with details like physical descriptions of residents and pets, medical history, mobility limitations, prescribed medications and floor plans. Among many mobile-focused projects, the county is working on its job application process to appeal to the broadest possible range of applicants, making the entire process mobile-friendly. This includes a number of documents required by the Sheriff’s Department that people used to have to download and fill out manually, as well as applications for appointments to county boards. Several improvements have also been made to elections information in the name of transparency. The Election Day Voter Turnout page lets interested citizens monitor turnout at each polling place, and Clerk Wendy S. Noren engages with citizens with an active social media presence. In addition, text messaging is now used to communicate with poll workers on assignments and custom instructions. The office is looking at adding the same functionality for voters who sign up for text notifications.
Mobile-first thinking and a commitment to transparency are driving a variety of initiatives in sixth place Cabarrus County, N.C., up from seventh place in last year’s survey. The county added a couple new websites to its fold this year: the Animal Shelter portal leverages the open source Drupal content management system and a map-driven open data site offers things like local resources, environmental maps and permit and parcel data. As in many other leading counties, Cabarrus County offers archived, searchable video recordings of meetings of its elected officials. The same access is given to meeting agendas and minutes. An increasingly mobile workforce includes law enforcement and emergency response, building inspections and general services staff. A new children’s resources portal helps link eligible citizens with child care services. County IT had a comprehensive security analysis in the last fiscal year. The report pointed to areas for improvement, which have since been addressed or budgeted for in 2016, including laptop and email encryption, chip-enabled payment machines, increased endpoint security and threat detection capabilities, an enhanced awareness program and the addition of a security administrator position. Also of note is the fact that officials in Cabarrus have remodeled the physical IT workspace in a more open, collaborative style. The office now includes informal meeting space and a stand-up workstation.
In 2016, Davidson County, N.C., makes its fourth consecutive appearance on the survey. With a strong tradition of putting IT efforts at the forefront of its agenda, the IT department works to deliver cost-effective services to help government enhance service delivery. One of the highlights of the county’s efforts has been the Performance-Based Budgeting initiative, which evaluates programs and measures the relationship between resources and results in order to allocate resources in the most effective and efficient way. And Davidson County can point to some real results: The efforts have helped generate financial savings of $23.68 million to date. The county is also very active on social media, running 15 Facebook pages to keep constituents up to date and in the know. Gains in the mobility program are helping too, as iPads and other tablets have been introduced in the county workforce. Previously, mobile devices were strictly BYOD, however in 2016 tablets were introduced to help monitor social media accounts and perform fieldwork without pen and paper.
Returning to the top 10, New York’s Oneida County had a strong year of progress in citizen engagement and a commitment to transparency. One of the programs currently underway is the implementation of Laserfiche Rio for the Board of Legislators, which will use the system for communications, resolutions and agendas. Once the project is completed, the public will be able to easily search and navigate these postings, simplifying access to the data and county rules. Currently, the District Attorney's Office is using the system to share records with defense attorneys for e-discovery.
One of the county's most successful steps has been the creation of an Innovation Team to devise strategies and advise the county executive on communication both internally and with the public. The team has devised ways to deliver newsletters to constituents focused on county progress in an effort to keep morale high and instill civic pride. The team also decided to consolidate E-911 services for the cities of Rome and Utica and the town of New Hartford into the county command center, saving taxpayers an estimated $2 million yearly.
After being a consistent member of the Digital Counties Survey, Delaware County, Ohio, makes its return to the top 10 in its population category. Much of this is due to its efforts in cybersecurity proactiveness and mobile device use. Delaware County is focusing on four major security elements and setting policies to proactively address these areas: advanced persistent threats, denial of service attacks, IPv6 Protocol threats and Mac-targeted malware. The county's chief technology officer and network administrator regularly attend education summits and training webinars to stay up to date on the latest threats involving cybersecurity and pass that training back to county employees.
Delaware County has also implemented a mixed architecture for its mobile solutions. By utilizing commercial-off-the-shelf applications, online cloud storage through enterprise GIS software and locally maintained Web services, the county has provided public departments with mobile solutions without major procurement initiatives or big-ticket system overhauls.
Due to a renewed focus on cost optimization and future viability, Barnstable County, Mass., has placed in the Digital Counties Survey for the third straight year. In a transitional year, the IT department has primarily focused on budgetary challenges and a hiring freeze that have forced tech leaders to get creative. Working to optimize services and generate revenue for the county became of the utmost importance. One example of a cost-saving measure in transparency is to live-stream county meetings on YouTube instead of building infrastructure and storing videos in-house.
The county is also undergoing a transition to optimize services for mobile users. Currently the county is looking into a number of state contract vendors to provide related development services that go beyond the standard mobile version available option to accommodate the increased mobile traffic.
Moving up from last year’s second-place ranking, the county of nearly 100,000 people took first place for the smallest population category this year and enlists an Enterprise ICT Strategic Plan to focus on maintaining sustainable operations while meeting citizens’ service needs. The Great Recession left long-lasting impacts on Nevada County, including a permanent staffing reduction, so it’s identifying where information and communication technology can reduce costs and improve services without adding employees. The Sunshine Review gave the county website an A+ grade for government transparency, and a budget section outlines information while also allowing the public to provide feedback. In addition, APIs are available to developers through the open data portal. Nevada County’s site has been undergoing a redesign, with plans to implement features like responsive design and enhanced search capabilities this year. A mobile device management platform secures county- and employee-owned devices, which is part of its BYOD policy. And in a different style of mobile computing, the library is transforming a vehicle into a Mobile Technology Center that will bring IT programs into the community and be outfitted with equipment like a 3-D printer and 3-D scanner.
Jumping from seventh place in 2015 to second place, Albemarle County uses tech to support policies set by the Board of Supervisors like aspiring for an open government and increased citizen engagement. Key performance indicators are published for many county departments, and an interactive budgeting feature went live in July. The county is also moving to be more mobile — the site will be updated to a mobile-first design, and police officers and other employees working in the field have connectivity to allow for real-time reporting. In addition, a video conference platform allows for digital visitation between some children and their incarcerated relatives. The Board of Supervisors approved the creation of a Broadband Management Team, which as part of a statewide campaign urged CenturyLink to accept Connect America Phase II funding, which subsidizes the construction of broadband networks. The network upgrade process has begun in Albemarle County. Numerous cybersecurity measures are in place, but what stood out to Digital Counties’ judges was an annual audit process in which security policies and procedures are tested.
Allegan County, last year’s winner in the smallest population category, aligns its tech to a continuous improvement strategy. The county released a strategy map in 2012 that aims to align and tie different components and goals together. IT is viewed as something that adds value instead of a function that processes need to be built around. Allegan County was an early adopter of mobile tech — in 2006 it began working to facilitate connectivity for users to work from anywhere and at any time. Recently the Information Services team deployed remote access tech to allow users to connect to the county’s computing infrastructure from any device, including personal ones. The county has numerous shared services programs including ACGnet, a hosted cloud and server environment that’s utilized by seven government agencies. In addition, a countywide 800 MHz multiagency public safety radio system, put into place in 2001, is being refreshed. To showcase transparency, the county's Dashboard outlines performance in different areas like violent crime and unemployment.
Roanoke County is working to streamline existing programs as a Community Strategic Plan that’s currently in the works will likely create several new initiatives for the IT team to focus on. The county continues to build on its open government programs, and a Budget Development Web page highlights the annual planning process. In addition, access to open data sets will be completed this summer. A mobile-enabled GIS portal, called the Maps and Apps Gallery, features tools including PoliceView for seeing policy activity in an area as well as code zoning and enforcement. Roanoke has taken a comprehensive approach to social media, which includes an internal policy that’s included in the employee handbook, daily public engagement on different channels and the posting of real-time information like public safety threats. And as public safety tech moves forward, the county is working to create a next-generation 911 data set across multiple jurisdictions featuring information on municipal boundaries and address building points.
Montgomery County, Va., earned the No. 4 spot in its population category this year, as compared to its third-place finish last year. Its Web architecture initiative proves its commitment to supporting a growing mobile citizenry, with a planned expansion of Virginia Tech that aims to grow the student body by more than 40 percent by 2030. This college-centric county focuses heavily on social media as a citizen engagement tool, with 30 social media sites across various departments. Recent successes include a video that had a reach of 19,000 on Facebook and the use of LinkedIn Recruiter to fill two key IT positions. County IT staff is working with Code for New River Valley, the local Code for America brigade, to open up planning and building permit data, as well as providing parks data that will feed into a citizen portal. Look for a BYOD policy for Montgomery County employees later this year that will include the ability to isolate government data from personal data on the same device. Other notable initiatives include a consolidated ERP system that spans the county and public schools, as well as a data storage and virtualization effort with impressive results: The county is now 100 percent virtualized, 40 physical servers have been eliminated and system availability now exceeds 99.9 percent.
Fifth-place Brunswick County, N.C., laid out an ambitious five-year technology plan in 2013, and officials now report that 98 percent of it has been accomplished. The county has replaced several paper-based processes with electronic systems, like electronic building permit forms that have shortened the review process for frequent contractors considerably, freeing up staff time for first-time applicants. The Department of Social Services’ document and appointment management system and the building site inspection process have gone electronic too. Improvements like these demonstrate Brunswick County’s commitment to empowering its mobile-enabled workforce. Employees in several service areas like inspections, code enforcement, environmental health and social services now have mobile devices that can be locked and remotely wiped if needed.
A new 911 data center is not only home to the Sheriff’s Department’s data, but county data as well. The co-location arrangement eliminates the need for other data center facilities, and provides redundant Internet access and state-of-the-art protections for all physical and virtual servers. The county also recently added a state DMV office to its headquarters, offering streamlined service options for citizens. Among other evidence of collaboration include the county’s leading role in various IT user groups in which government users team up to share best practices and develop solutions to common problems, including the North Carolina Local Government Information Systems Association.
With the help of the county manager’s Executive Technology Committee, Coconino County is working to address government technology needs throughout the organization. Areas of focus include public safety and protection; education and health human services; and public works, development and recreation, along with general administration. The county developed a financial transparency Web page where budgets, official statements, annual reports and various other financial documents are held. The county has also successfully leveraged GIS to support property, crime, zoning and other key information for public and government consumption. While the county admits open data efforts are in their infancy, there are plans to improve upon them. On the heels of its 2013 cloud migration efforts, the county has adopted a cloud-first approach for the remainder of its infrastructure. The county has now migrated more than 40 percent of its application service platforms to the cloud.
In Goochland County, technology is leveraged to meet the needs of constituents, whether those needs come in the form of access or usage. The county relies on technology to monitor, inspect and permit stormwater as it relates to land disturbances. Increasing customer expectations have also prompted the local government to turn toward technology. The growing demand for broadband Internet service has officials concentrating on how to connect constituents and schools. Redundant networks have been established between county buildings and schools. Additionally the county and its officials are committed to open data and transparency: Portals like the county’s check and credit card register, and online tax inquiry system are available for all to see. Officials are also assessing whether a new financial management system is needed to improve overall transparency.
Maintaining infrastructure and mitigating costs are two factors behind Martin County, Fla.’s IT plan. The county leverages a collaborative approach between departments to ensure government responds to citizen needs. One such collaboration is between county IT and the Engineering Department for the Road Rating app, which allows reporting of infrastructure issues that can then be analyzed and repaired by road crews. In late 2015, the local government launched its open government portal, where constituents can access a variety of items, including budgets, check registry, audits, public records requests and commissioner/administrator email. The system was equipped with a simple, easy-to-use search feature to enable access even in cases where searchers weren’t sure what to look for. In line with this effort, the county has also launched its mobile-first strategy, which requires all online assets be accessible by mobile devices. To capitalize on this strategy, there are plans to build an application that allows parks and recreation inspectors to rate county properties and file reports in real time.
Mapping technology is the primary driver for Skagit County, Wash., and its placement in the top 10 of the Digital Counties Survey. The county's Geographic Information Systems division developed iMaps, a feature for the county to use in multiple applications. The top two uses are the interactive map service called Crime Map, which displays incident information from as far back as 2001 for county law enforcement agencies. The next most popular use is the portal where constituents and possible incoming businesses can look up legal documents that reference property close to their parcel. Users would be able to search by address, parcel ID, Section-Township-Range, or by simply clicking a location on the map and retrieving land-related documents. In the future, county officials are hoping to add more services online. Within the next two to three years, county officials are hoping constituents will be able to file permit applications, submit electronic forms, submit documents for recording and electronically file court documents all through the county's website.
Although the county is home to just over 50,000 residents, Franklin County, Va., makes the most of its resources. The county has invested in dashboards, easy-to-navigate overviews that departments can use to monitor, analyze and report data much more quickly. The simple visualizations make policy decisions much easier, since they can be backed by data, as opposed to theories or hunches. Data dashboards can also promote transparency, create workflow efficiencies and improve decision-making through the expanded availability of data. Additionally, the county has partnered with Code Red to provide emergency notifications to community residents on issues like evacuations, missing children reports and dangerous weather patterns.
For a rugged and mountainous jurisdiction of less than 40,000 residents, Summit County, Utah, works hard to offer helpful and appropriate services to citizens, and also turns to technology to make them aware of important or dangerous situations. A technology of choice for the county is social media, which it uses to share such information as traffic accidents and dangerous road conditions during the winter months. And the strategy has made an impact, as the county’s social presence has grown dramatically. In 2015, the county doubled its Facebook presence and saw a 150 percent increase in Twitter followers. The approach to social media has also changed; rather than solely pushing out information to its public, the county interacts with citizens on the platforms and responds to their needs. Of particular note is the county’s dynamic weed abatement map, which helps the Public Works Department inform the public about types of weeds, and when and where they were observed, as well as which areas have been sprayed and when, and the number of acres covered.
For Tompkins County, N.Y., population 105,000, collaboration is key. Not only do county officials see shared services as a boon to government operations (and coffers), but Gov. Andrew Cuomo also has made such projects a priority by committing substantial amounts of funding to shared services endeavors. One such endeavor for Tompkins County is use of its Laserfiche ECM technology, which is deployed in all 28 county departments and offers records hosting for the 16 cities, towns and villages within its borders. Thus far, the project has saved the municipalities $328,051 annually, and ultimately saved the county $5.5 million thanks to the automation of various business processes and digitizing of 9,000 boxes of records in its records center. The county’s next move is to host Laserfiche for a neighboring county and its towns and villages.