Click through the rest of our story for detailed write-ups on each winner.
A county IT leader may encounter any number of existential crises: Budget cuts shred the IT workforce. Wildfires literally burn half the county to the ground. A new business process dumps 80,000 new users on the system. These are the kinds of things that can break an IT shop.
The winners of the 16th Annual Digital Counties Survey, conducted by the Center for Digital Government,* have tackled these and a range of other seemingly mortal threats, and come out shining. They’ve learned to cope with the unexpected and seen their thoughtful investments bear fruit in the face of unexpected challenges.
When the going gets rough, this is how IT gets going.
Nevada County, Calif., 1st Place, up to 150,000 Population Category
In Nevada County, headcount is down 26 percent from pre-recession levels, and CIO Steve Monaghan is learning to do more with less.
That means doing the big jobs first: Cybersecurity is critical and he’s attacked that. It also means leveraging IT assets. Investments in cloud have helped him to make the most of sparse resources. Mostly, though, Monaghan’s task as an IT leader has been to impart a sense of ownership to all involved in supporting the county’s technology needs.
“We spend a lot of time building culture around taking an entrepreneurial approach,” he said. “We’ve done workshops, we have done a whole service-management initiative aimed at defining everything we offer, every piece of equipment we manage, so that everything has an owner within IT. Everybody knows who is responsible for what, and we ask people to be entrepreneurs over their own services. We want them to run with the ball.”
Take for instance the network analyst in charge of the VMware farm. “His documentation is immaculate. He has a very tightly run ship. We know what we have, and as a result the service level is very high. We’ve never had an outage on that virtual farm, because he has really taken it to heart that those are his,” Monaghan said.
Same goes for the analyst overseeing the replacement of the first-generation VPN platform. “He taps into other members to support that, but ultimately he owns that. There’s a sense of ownership that drives the project forward, which in turn leads to an enhanced, more reliable product for the customer,” Monaghan said.
How can a government IT leader spark that entrepreneurial spirit? Much of it comes down to setting expectations. “In the last six months we had a Ph.D. in organizational development come in for multiple sessions to refresh our Values and Expectations document, to do a workshop geared around what it means to take ownership,” he said. “As IT leaders, we have to build these cultural processes, something bigger than any one project. That’s the secret sauce of delivering excellent IT services.”
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Arlington County, Va., 1st Place, 150,000-249,999 Population Category
CIO Jack Belcher doesn’t just want to be a back-end provider. He says his department’s job is to serve the public good, a mission he pursues with uncommon vigor.
“If you make sure the network is running, that the servers are secure — well, that’s what you are expected to do,” he said. “Taking it to the next step is what distinguishes a CIO from an IT director. That next step is all about understanding your community.”
It isn’t easy to know what the public wants or needs, or how IT can best facilitate. To meet the challenge, Belcher has gone right to the source, organizing a series of public gatherings around the theme of “Defining Arlington’s Digital Destiny.”
“The idea is to bring together leaders from education, from the community, from government, to think about what might be possible,” Belcher said. He’s hosted events on the future of education, the nature of work, and what it means to be an intelligent community.
These public gatherings have directly informed the IT agenda. Take for example the recently completed deployment of a countywide fiber-optic network. “These discussions transformed our vision of what to do with that asset,” he said.
Sure, the fiber could spur development and drive economic growth — they knew that going in. But with community input, the vision evolved. “We saw that we could provide an immense value in the form of digital equity, providing people in affordable housing with free broadband access. That helps break the bonds of poverty,” Belcher said. “It took these discussions to bring that idea to the surface and make it possible.”
Community input likewise helped spur development of a mobile project-tracker app to help keep residents informed about civic undertakings. “We want to make that data available in a form where residents can easily find out what we are doing. How are we spending our money? We want to leverage the technology to provide that level of transparency.”
When the CIO seeks citizen input, there’s risk involved. What if they ask for something extravagant? What if they put something entirely unexpected on the table? Belcher said a strong relationship with county leadership gave him the confidence to open that door. “You can’t do this unless your elected officials have the confidence that you are doing the right thing. There has to be a level of mutual trust,” he said.
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Dutchess County, N.Y., 1st Place. 250,000-499,999 Population Category
It’s not just that budgets are stagnant. It’s that, in a time of stagnant budgets, everybody still wants more. Towns want upgraded websites. Cops want cutting-edge technologies. For Glenn Marchi, commissioner of the Dutchess County Office of Central and Information Services, the challenge is to deliver on all that, without breaking the bank.
“Shared services are key to doing that,” he said.
This year Marchi’s team worked with public safety officials to bring online emergency 911 service, computer-aided dispatch, and new records managements systems for law enforcement and corrections. The initiative saved the police $500,000 by leveraging county IT resources, including existing hardware and multi-jurisdictional software licenses.
Marchi has taken the same approach in beefing up the websites of half a dozen towns, police departments and fire districts. His IT professionals will design a site and host it on shared infrastructure. By leveraging these resources across multiple uses, “we can design to exactly their specifications, and we can do it at a lower cost than an outside vendor,” he said.
Towns are free to use outside vendors, and Marchi says isn’t looking to compete with local private-sector IT providers. But he adds that in many cases, the county’s shared-service approach will prove the logical economic choice.
IT leaders looking to follow this model would do well to reach out actively to civic leaders. The Dutchess County executive hosts an annual Municipal Innovation Summit to ensure mayors and town council members know what is available to them.
“Our county executive leads that discussion, and anytime an IT solution pops up, my job is to share how that technology can enable a business solution or solve a business problem. I’m there as the CIO for the county to share how technology can be employed to achieve our specific strategic goals,” Marchi said.
Without such gatherings, it can be hard for a shared services initiative to pick up steam. “We have had seven newly elected town supervisors and mayors in the past year. They have no idea these services are even available,” he said. “It’s our job to tell that story.”
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Sonoma County, Calif., 1st Place, 500,000-999,999 Population Category
When wildfires swept through Sonoma County, Calif. in the fall of 2017, Director of Information Systems John Hartwig found the IT landscape as radically transformed as the rolling hills, now scorched and scarred.
“The wildfires put a lot of things on hold. Everybody had to step back and take a new look at the situation,” he said. Geospatial systems suddenly were front and center, along with document management capabilities. Website volume blew up exponentially.
“GIS, for example, had a huge responsibility in things like tracking the fire, tracking the road closures. All that had a spatial component to it,” he said. “The volume on the websites went up at least three times from everybody trying to seek information and find resources. With document management, suddenly everybody was processing requests that would be essential to us filing for federal aid. That means we needed a lot of forms and a lot of document-capturing tools to make sure our record keeping was clean, consistent and available for future reference.”
The key to success: an early investment in virtualization.
“We had made an advance move early on to virtual machines, where we were able to shift resources on the fly — storage, memory and processing capacity — to the applications that were most urgent,” Hartwig said.
The county had begun roughly three years ago to virtualize its server environment: An original inventory of more than 700 servers is now about 90 percent virtualized. That infrastructure delivered the flexibility and agility needed to spin up IT capacity and balance workloads in the face of the new, unexpected demands.
“It put us in a very good position to add to or share resources. If we have 50 applications that are critical to the response, it’s nice to be able to slide resources over to those applications,” Hartwig said. “I don’t think we could have had all these services up and running if we were still on dedicated equipment.”
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Montgomery County, Md., 1st Place, 1,000,000 or More Population Category
In Montgomery County, Md., the county runs the booze business. Last year that became IT’s problem, and it triggered a renewed focus on cybersecurity.
“The liquor system needed automated support for warehousing, distribution and point of sale. So it was decided that we would incorporate that into our relatively new Oracle ERP system,” said CIO Sonny Segal. That meant a sudden leap in the user base. “We are up to almost 100,000 external identities in addition to the 20,000 county identities.”
Segal already had a watchful eye on cyberissues, but with the massive influx of non-county users on the system, security became the focus of renewed attention. The IT team put new mechanisms in place to guard against spam and phishing attacks. They also tightened end-point management, effectively cutting enterprise vulnerabilities in half.
“We have taken a very aggressive stance on eliminating endpoint vulnerabilities through continual scanning and remediation,” Segal said. “We are not shy about taking end points offline and pursuing replacement and reimaging on a very aggressive schedule. Those things have paid off in the form of greatly reduced risk.”
Segal upped the security game by implementing tighter controls around IT devices, ensuring that all devices that touch county systems are registered for IT security oversight. He also uses dashboards and other reporting mechanisms to hold individuals and departments more publicly liable for their role in supporting the cybereffort.
“We have implemented risk-based dashboards that include the number of people who didn’t take cybertraining, the number of security instances that can be assigned to specific business units,” he said. “That all connects to our dedication to managing by measurement. Our chief administrative officer has each of the department heads accountable in public sessions for measurements in their business areas. Now security is one of those measured scorecards, and as result we have seen significant improvements in risk reduction.”
Click here to see all the winners in this category, and click through the rest of our story for detailed write-ups on each winner.
*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, Government Technology’s parent company.
Up to 150,000 Population Category
Click 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 Nevada County, Calif.
One of 10 Sierra Nevada agencies that were ground zero to the state’s formative Gold Rush, Nevada County, Calif., built on IT accomplishments to reclaim the No. 1 spot in the smallest population category for the second time in three years. Guided by a supportive Board of Supervisors that has set clear technology investment policy, a strategic plan focused on service and an enterprise technology reserve fund, the county of nearly 100,000 has expanded and refreshed online and tech offerings.
County supervisors prioritized innovation in their 2018 value statements, forming an innovation team led by the chief information officer. The county also held a Citizen’s Academy to educate residents on their government. It launched a new regional law enforcement activity map last month, and has created a new public communications position aimed at identifying ways to improve information pushed out to the public through social media and the Internet. The agency is in early stages on an enterprise-level contract management system and has implemented a new in-vehicle video system that fosters collaboration between its district attorney and sheriff’s office.
Nevada County's CivicPlus-powered public website went live in August 2017 with responsive design that eliminated the need for a separate mobile site. The MyNeighborhood app on the website offers parcel, land and property data with new layers documenting marijuana ordinance and roadway information; and the county’s Open Data Portal offers residents a better way to search 18 layers of GIS data. AskNevadaCounty, another app accessible through the website, uses Accela’s customer relationship management (CRM) system to sort questions in eight categories, submit service requests and get answers from six city departments. Plus, new kiosks facilitate residents’ access to probation, sheriff’s and building departments, enabling functions including probationer self-service and building plan submission.
2nd Albemarle County, Va.
Although it slipped from first to second place this year, Albemarle County, Va., (population 108,000) continues its success in transparency and efficiency for citizens. The county uses GIS-enabled apps to let the public view open building permits and important county records like building applications and parcel activity. Residents are also encouraged to give feedback on the county budget and stay up to date with e-newsletters, email and community meetings. The county Board of Supervisors authorized the establishment of a broadband authority to meet the area's growing Internet needs, and the authority has gotten a $430,000 grant to expand broadband and improve wireless coverage for first responders in rural Albemarle.
Albemarle considers cybersecurity an important concern. The county partners with the University of Virginia and the city of Charlottesville to discuss cybersecurity issues, and meets with other universities, school districts and localities statewide to publish the Cybersecurity Partnership for Virginia Cities and Counties report (funded by the National Science Foundation).
This region shares just one emergency communications center, and this year, the county successfully rolled out two records management systems for four public safety agencies to replace incompatible legacy systems. IT teams partnered to launch New World Systems for the police department and Image Trends for fire and rescue, as well as computer-aided dispatch system updates.
3rd Allegan County, Mich.
Third place is a familiar ranking for Allegan County, Mich., which finished in the same spot for counties of up to 150,000 residents last year. Despite this success, county leadership notes, however, that within its ongoing vision it needs to be “continuing to evaluate the technology itself to find efficiencies that will ultimately help offset increasing costs.” If there’s a simpler way to sum up the heart of gov tech efforts, we haven’t heard it. It all speaks to Allegan’s practicality. This is an efficient county that is, for example, prolonging the life of its PCs and laptops by using virtual desktops, thereby still enabling quick and responsive computing. Allegan has also redirected money saved there to cybersecurity.
Meanwhile, the county continues to use analytics and look at trends to tailor its website to customer needs, also using data to build new online services and improve upon existing ones. Data is also helping the county with law enforcement and emergency services deployment, for which it is using GIS and computer-aided dispatch mapping to enhance preparedness, noting emergency management events “rely on data sharing, real-time mapping and data system integrations.” This is especially important with an aging nuclear power plant nearby. The county is also engaged in smaller improvements such as replacing its online court calendar system and deploying digital signage that displays docket information in its courthouse lobby. It’s also improving its online veteran services site and its parks reservation system. Moving forward, digital inclusion is also a priority. The past two years, the county has worked with the Connect Michigan Public Services Commission to complete a broadband assessment. That info is now being used by local city leaders to guide projects aimed at increasing broadband access within their communities.
4th Mono County, Calif.
Mono County, Calif., is home to 13,981 residents, and while it may be small in terms of its population, it has big plans for the future. Mono County, which tied for fourth place in its population category, is currently working with the California Department of Transportation to explore using the Highway 395 corridor and the fiber-optic network that runs alongside it as a testing site for smart transportation technologies. The county is envisioning using Highway 395 as a testbed for autonomous vehicles and other emerging technologies, given its two-hour proximity to Tesla’s Gigafactory in Reno, Nev.
In addition to its smart transportation aspirations, Mono County has several Web initiatives as well. The Transparent Mono County website portal is expected to roll out this month and consolidate its open and transparent applications into one location, which will also feature the capabilities to allow users to retrieve information in three clicks or fewer. The county’s website also has an area for contractors and vendors to bid on its projects using a platform where they can enter their business profile, respond to open RFPs and receive notification of new projects.
4th Montgomery County, Va.
Montgomery County, Va., population 98,509, managed to hold onto its fourth-place spot for a third year in a row, this year tying with Mono County, Calif. The county continued its focus on cybersecurity with the completion of two cybersecurity assessments, one by the Virginia National Guard’s Data Processing Unit and the other with a private entity. Recommendations from those assessments will be implemented in a three-phase cybersecurity plan, the first phase of which has already been completed. The county also this year hired a full-time network engineer/security analyst to oversee software and system patches and address vulnerability concerns.
The county has opened a couple of new buildings, including a state-of-the-art dispatching facility for the newly established New River Valley Emergency Communications Regional Authority (911 Authority). The 911 Authority centralizes dispatch functions for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, Virginia Tech Police Department, and the police departments for the towns of Blacksburg and Christiansburg. The Authority has plans to implement next-generation 911 capabilities, including text messaging, into its dispatch services in the future. The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office also got 30,000 square feet of office space in a new Public Safety Building, and the Animal Care and Adoption Center opened its new facility to the public in April 2017. Animal adoptions have increased thanks to the improved environment in the new facility, as well as the implementation of a cloud-based animal care management site and a pet finder site. The county’s dedication to social media paid off last summer during a dog food supply shortage — a “code red” Facebook post saw 1,500 pounds of food donated within two days. A second "code red" for kitten food a month later reached nearly 17,000 people and was so effective that some area stores were sold out.
5th Napa County, Calif.
Napa County has been through a lot in the past six months. Its population of 142,456 went through a month-long wildfire in October, where devastation eventually spread across multiple Northern California counties. Staying in fifth place for the second year, Napa County is working toward a citizen-centric approach for IT with constituent safety at the forefront. With the wildfire came shocking realizations about weaknesses in emergency operations. The Emergency Operations Center purchased additional GIS technology to gain more knowledge on pertinent geographical data. IT is also working with Health and Human Services to create a data warehouse to connect data analytics capabilities to different programs in Napa. The existing 911 system will also eventually be replaced, extending service to American Canyon and Yountville in the process. During the fire when people weren’t being notified of what was going on, officials knew change was needed. IT is in the process of purchasing InformaCast, a notification system, to provide enhanced staff notification during emergency events. Currently in place is a NIXLE channel used to communicate emergency alerts, recovery information and act as a key source for community messaging and connectivity. NIXLE is also used to send text alerts on road closures, evacuation orders, shelter information and recovery details.
And despite the focus on getting better prepared for emergencies, traditional IT also got some upgrades. The county website was redesigned and moved to a modern content management system, creating more efficient access to GIS data. Throughout the year, IT leadership will continue beefing up security practices to better safeguard county data, regardless of its location.
5th Roanoke County, Va.
Roanoke County, Va., retained its fifth-place spot this year, continuing to build on its impressive array of open data and citizen engagement efforts with a new app that provides its 93,655 residents with information about the new federal Mountain Valley Pipeline that will run through the county. Through the Mountain Valley Pipeline Viewer application, residents can use an interactive map to view layers of information about the project, including various routes, mile-post markers, workspace areas and tax parcels.
Roanoke County gathered some of the information for the Pipeline Viewer app through the efforts of its newly formed Drone Team, which did a flyover of the project site to map the area. Created under the auspices of the county Fire and Rescue Department in order to help evaluate fire areas and find lost hikers, the Drone Team has quickly proven that it has many more potential applications than were originally envisioned for it. The county is planning on using the team to conduct inspections and create orthomosaics, 3-D meshes and more that will assist in future projects.
The security breach that affected the city of Atlanta at the beginning of 2018 was enough of a wake-up call for Roanoke County to decide that it needed to take a serious look at its own cybersecurity posture. While the county received a good score on a vulnerability assessment conducted by the Virginia National Guard, just above a four on a five-point scale, it discovered that it needed to improve its security training for employees and is already making plans to do so.
6th Franklin County, Va.
In Franklin County, Va., supporting residents and government operations has most notably centered on public safety. These efforts include ongoing improvements to the fire and rescue radio system, and a 911 dispatch fail-over plan with neighboring Patrick County. Additionally Franklin County is leveraging mapping and data to assess response times and make improvements to how public safety crews are deployed. Mapping critical infrastructure, like gas lines, has also been an ongoing effort to keep the county’s 56,000 residents and public safety teams safe during emergency situations.
When it comes to Internet connectivity, Franklin County is taking a proactive approach to broadband through public-private partnerships. The county is currently assessing where technology and service is most lacking and using that information to prompt conversations with service providers about how to fill gaps and design an inclusive coverage plan.
Cybersecurity continues to be a work in progress in the county. Awareness training and cybersecurity insurance are part of the plan, but the county’s detailed strategy continues to evolve as its needs are identified and change. Like many other counties, Franklin is not doing this work unhampered. The state continues to add requirements while funding recedes, and changes to the tax base have prompted discussions about where to go next. A rapidly aging population is compounding the issue of revenue and taxable income. In spite of these challenges, the county is looking to redevelop a business park to move the needle and create more opportunity for tax revenue to make its way into county coffers.
6th York County, Va.
For a county in the smallest population category, York County, Va., has a surprising number of leading technology efforts underway. Many endeavors underline a strategy of upgrading and streamlining systems to operate as efficiently as possible. Examples include consolidating data centers and a new financial management system. York County’s commitment to transparency is demonstrated by a public portal now in development that will offer timely financial information, including tax and real-estate data, on a public dashboard. Engagement tools in regular use include online surveys, a resident notification service, video streaming and an active Facebook presence that has increased its followers by more than 200 percent over the past year and a half. When it comes to public safety, the county sheriff’s department is using drone technology to enhance crime-fighting efforts and lobbying to allow the use of drone-captured data in judicial proceedings. High marks also go to York County for its cybersecurity practices, which it has built upon significantly in recent months. An additional layer of intrusion detection now safeguards police bodycam video on its way to the cloud, as well as the county’s open Wi-Fi network. In-depth traffic analysis helps keep tabs on user activity and ongoing awareness training is continually enhanced to meet evolving threats.
7th Skagit County, Wash.
Located north of Seattle, Skagit County, Wash., faces a host of issues despite the state’s overall healthy economy. Technology is expected to play a key role in improving the county’s public health concerns, for example, with the deployment of a software tool that will evaluate the effectiveness of county health initiatives. New mapping and analytics software will also help the county prevent drug overdoses and deaths. Skagit is mounting a major community engagement initiative that will make meetings more productive and draw in underrepresented groups, and technology will make the county’s engagement more interactive. For example, the government expects to have an online survey tool that will allow commissioners to see how well they are engaging the community, and how they can improve engagement and measure feedback around such issues as new infrastructure for ferry service. The county has also modernized service operations with the Information Technology Infrastructure Library service models, and is the first county to implement a “one-stop” property search that integrates data from separate internal systems to provide a common view of information on its public website.
8th Summit County, Utah
With a population of just under 40,000, Summit County comes in eighth place in its population category for its work in public safety and emergency preparedness, among other initiatives. In reviewing its disaster recovery plan in 2016, the county found they it did have not the computer power to set up a hot site during a disaster. The county purchased the necessary equipment and installed it in late 2017. It included three Dell R630 servers running VMware VSphere 6.5 and a Dell Compellent SC4020 Storage Array with 30 TB of usable disk space. This was a small build, but major for a smaller county and significant, as the county can now run all its applications and storage on it if the main systems were to go down. The setup is a mirror image to the current one and can be flipped and installed in a few hours.
One of Summit County Council’s top strategic goals is to improve the transportation system by reducing traffic congestion. The Bike Share mobile app was a pilot started in 2017 in the hopes of reducing traffic in the summer. It allows residents to register by website or smartphone and pay for rentals, and the “electric bike share” was a huge success. The public signs up easily via smartphone and the website provides statistics on the usage of bikes.
9th Chatham County, N.C.
Chatham County, N.C., is a newcomer to the rankings, finishing 9th for jurisdictions in its population category. Located in the Piedmont area of the state, just west of Raleigh, Chatham County adopted a new comprehensive plan in late 2017. The county notes that “until that plan was adopted the efforts of Chatham County tech efforts have been pretty traditional.” In the months since it has been put in place, however, the tech team has been rebranded "Chatham IT" and now includes representatives from all county agencies that service other departments. This helps to align tech efforts with ongoing work to improve the overall county government while also continuing traditional IT support. Technologists in Chatham have worked hard to make themselves more visible so that their work is included in all ideas and vendor efforts.
In terms of public-facing work, the comprehensive plan has been published online in its entirety to foster transparency and accountability. While discussions have been had around providing more open data, work has not progressed past the discussion phase. The county website, however, is being reworked with a citizen-centric vision that has already led to the additions of a permitting portal and e-notices. Chatham is also working to collaborate with local municipalities to help bring broadband to unserved and underserved areas, with one specific effort taking the form of grant applications for funding. Throughout the survey, however, what is perhaps most striking about Chatham is its potential for the future. Tech and innovation work at the moment is a bit modest, but with the comprehensive plan now in place, a commitment is being made to incorporating it into more efforts moving forward.
10th Gloucester County, Va.
A sparsely populated coastal region, Gloucester County, Va., cites developing wireless broadband throughout the area as one of its top priorities, an effort that recently resulted in a new public-private agreement with Cox Communications. And in January 2018, broadband was made available for 96 residential and 20 commercial properties in the northern half of the small county, home to a total of fewer than 37,000 citizens.
County meetings are streamed live to residents via the Granicus platform, while other avenues to encourage citizen engagement include text-to-voice Readspeaker via the county website, which also makes more information around budgets and compensation available. In additional engagement efforts, Gloucester County is active on social media, communicating with constituents on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn. This year the county also updated its website, streamlining services to citizens and making content ADA compliant.
Gloucester County is in the process of syncing currently siloed databases and systems, an effort that could lead to the development of dashboards, data-consolidation and error-proofing. They are also working toward implementing a central ERP system to create efficiencies across the agency. In the interest of creating strong cybersecurity with a small footprint, the county has moved several key applications to software-as-a-service and other hosted environments.
150,000-249,999 Population Category
Click 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 Arlington County, Va.
Arlington County is a first-place digital county for the third year running. Of note among an impressive array of comprehensive initiatives are the county’s engagement efforts, where they continually demonstrate a commitment to service delivery that aligns with citizen priorities. To standardize on their own proven strategies, the county has published a six-step public engagement guide outlining a process for capital projects guided by principles including inclusion and mutual respect, timely and accessible communication, transparency, and accountability. The county is also making strides on open data, with an advisory group weighing in on efforts like an inventory of countywide data, identifying data-sharing opportunities, establishing governance policies and partnering with local universities to extend analytics capabilities. New online tools include an internally developed library app that offers users geolocation, bar code scanning, notifications, meeting room booking and catalog search features.
Collaborative endeavors include serving as host to the first regional government chief information officer summit to facilitate coordination between local jurisdictions on technology and innovation-related issues. Along those same lines, the county is looking into a partnership with area public schools to share network and telephone systems to make operations more efficient. When it comes to cybersecurity, Arlington County has added many new and upgraded tools to its arsenal to guard against phishing emails, ransomware and malware, as well as other threats to the network. A “quick-step” button gives staff a simple way of passing suspicious emails along to IT staff as attachments. To fortify its disaster recovery posture, the county is transitioning from its two county-based data centers to an “active-active” data center setup off-premise in colocation facilities.
2nd Charles County, Md.
Advancing into second place since last year, Charles County has a long-running history with the Digital Counties survey — and 2018 is no different. The county’s ability to build upon its citizen-centric focus plays a large part in its success. Transparency between the locality and constituents is key — and making strides to connect broadband in rural communities is a big piece of the effort. Charles County has been working with cable TV franchises as well as private Internet service providers (ISPs) to help extend connectivity to rural areas.
Expansive online initiatives also help get citizens involved. The county website provides easily navigable resources, including a transparency page to view county budget information, audit reports, and salary data at any time and an interactive checkbook. The GetConnected program also became a mobile-friendly tool that helps connect residents and most of the county’s social media links, all on one page. Internally, the county’s Institutional Network (INet) connects over 120 anchor sites and city departments.
Strengthening cybersecurity efforts continues to be an area of focus for Charles County IT. The Cybersecurity Awareness Training program provides a curriculum for and assessment of full-time and part-time employees in best cybersecurity practices. As mentioned last year, the county chose to retain its cybersecurity insurance to guard against breaches. Taking it one step further, the county will test its own network by undergoing a Comprehensive Risk Assessment.
3rd Cabarrus County, N.C.
Though investing heavily in education and school construction, Cabarrus County, N.C., has continued to support and fund technology initiatives to automate and consolidate services, create shared services, and increase collaboration between departments and jurisdictions. The county partnered with SeamlessGov to transform the way citizens interact with the government and complete a mobile-friendly website redesign with user-optimized content. The new site offers an intuitive and consistent user experience that modernizes citizen/staff interactions. The site provides an integrated live chat feature with a chatbot that offers articles from a new help portal. And if the article doesn’t meet the citizen’s needs, they are connected to an integrated help desk contact form.
The county’s Open Data platform, using Esri ArcGIS online subscriptions, was redesigned for mobile access to provide county data; support local, regional and national collaboration; and provide self-service access to residents, businesses, municipalities, researchers and economic developers. The county also boasts new informational video vignettes to engage and inform citizens about government activities, services and events.
4th Boone County, Mo.
Boone County, Mo., home of the University of Missouri, rose from 10th place in its category in 2017 to fourth place in this year’s survey. Located in the literal heart of the state about midway between Kansas City, Mo., and St. Louis, Mo., Boone County is just a short drive north of the state’s capital. The jurisdiction’s most significant accomplishment in the past 12 months was perhaps the ongoing redesign of its website, more than half of which is now live and available to the public. Like many jurisdictions, Boone is using this redesign to make its overall Web presence more user-friendly, complete with enhanced access to services and data. To that end, the redesign is being guided by citizen-centric research, which has already led to new features such as embedded social media feeds, mobile-friendly functionality, and consolidated menus. Work on the website will continue moving forward in phases.
In terms of internal improvements, much has been done for emergency responsiveness. Last year, the city and county 911 services were consolidated, and they have now moved into a new centralized crisis management hub. Responders and adjacent personnel have also transitioned to new software and a new database that make it easier to share information and do things in the field such as record road closures with a mobile device for subsequent upload to public-facing platforms. Hiring processes have also become more efficient throughout the county, with many moving from paperwork to a digital portal. Although much of the work in Boone is practical, there is innovation underway as well. One such project includes a collaborative effort between Boone County IT, the University of Chicago and the Corporation for Supportive Housing to develop a data aggregation tool to identify citizens in need of homelessness assistance or other services.
5th Davidson County, N.C.
Davidson County, located adjacent to Winston-Salem, N.C., has been a leader in performance-based budgeting for more than 15 years. By focusing on outcomes and evaluating programs by measuring the relationship between resources and results, the county has saved over $29 million during that time period. A key driver in performance budgeting has been technology. For example, Davidson has invested in document management software for its human resources department that has eliminated inefficient paper management while freeing up valuable space once occupied by filing cabinets.
The county also attributes its open, transparent government policies and practices to the success of performance-based budgeting. Examples include live streaming of all commissioner board meetings and a public-facing budget and financial dashboard that shows citizens how and where county funds are being used. To bolster its IT security needs, the county has been carrying cyberinsurance for the past six years. This is in addition to several comprehensive cybersecurity measures taken by the county to protect its information assets.
5th Pitt County
When it comes to providing improved health care for citizens, Pitt County, N.C., which serves 175,842 residents and ranked fifth in the 150,000-249,000 population category, took on two health-care-related initiatives.
In a public-private partnership, Pitt County teamed up with Vidant Health to leverage the company’s investment in electronic health records. In 2017, the county finalized an agreement with Vidant to service resident needs by using the company's hosted electronic health record system. The county found it provided a better health outcome for residents while keeping a lid on costs. PulsePoint, which launched earlier this year, is a public-facing mobile app that lets CPR-trained residents volunteer as first responders in emergencies by connecting to Pitt County’s 911 data system. This app, along with the Vidant partnership, aids the county in its three-year Technology Strategic Plan, which aligns technology initiatives with the county’s mission and goals.
Other initiatives from Pitt County include the addition of a location-based open data platform from Esri, which features frequently-requested information in user-friendly formats. Self-service tools allow citizens to filter, sort and export many types of data, including planning and permitting, land records, education and parks and recreation. The tool is a vastly improved resource compared to the previous county data portal. In addition, a new complaint tracking tool for environmental health allows staff to better monitor conditions and predict future outbreaks.
6th Delaware County, Ohio
Delaware County has taken a number of steps to better communicate and engage with constituents. A farming community north of Columbus, Delaware County is also the fastest-growing county in the state, making improved opportunities to connect with residents all the more essential. Some of these improvements include rebranded visuals such as the county website, which was relaunched in April 2018 after a seven-month overhaul. Public meetings are live-streamed via YouTube, which allows for viewing on mobile devices. The county has also turned to Survey Monkey as well as social media platforms for feedback from residents related to county infrastructure needs.
In June 2018, the county plans to have launched its Text 911 service, which allows the public to send text messages to the Emergency Communications Dispatch Center. And in the Clerk of Court office, court documents can now be e-filed, and search capabilities are now available for attorneys and the public.
Meanwhile, the Delaware County Auditor is now using remotely sensed infrared imagery technology to detect crop types, total acreage and other information. The county is also putting drone technology to work, using UAV imaging tools to inform status updates for the public on various county projects. Other notable efforts include tangible steps toward reducing paper use, and tablet computers issued to county assessors to encourage increased productivity in the field.
7th Union County, N.C.
In Union County, N.C., technology is not about the shiniest new tools or throwing money at problems — it’s about meeting the needs of the more than 222,740 residents and county staff. With a dedicated IT team of just 14, the county has been able to meet the demands of a rapidly changing environment while investing in areas that will serve as the foundation for future innovations. One such example is efforts to implement data standards to ensure that digital records are not only secure, but accessible for future users. In a similar vein, IT staff are evaluating outdated legacy systems for retirement and pushing to digitize physical documents. County staff are also working to create an interdepartmental form and file structure for the planning, inspection, tax and registrar departments. This will improve efficiencies and simplify home purchase paperwork across the four departments.
When it comes to cybersecurity and resilience, Union County makes a valiant effort to defend its IT infrastructure — even in the face of harsh and sometimes dangerous weather. In addition to having a full-time cybersecurity professional dedicated to securing tech assets, an off-site location protects county data from the likes of hurricanes, tornadoes, severe winter weather and even earthquakes. Data is backed up nightly and checked to ensure it is intact and uncorrupted. Plans are in the works to relocate the backup center.
8th Onslow County, N.C.
Onslow County has appeared on lists of the places in the U.S. where opioid abuse is at its worst, and in response its leaders directed IT to help set up a detox center in cooperation with a group of public and private organizations. The department has helped establish the necessary IT infrastructure to run the center when it opens later this year.
The county has committed to opening its GIS data and has published some very utilitarian data sets online, such as permits, health inspections, flood ratings and video of county commission meetings. It’s on its way to a more general approach to open data beyond the geospatial offerings.
In an effort to drive innovation, the county has set up an idea incubator meant to act like an internal startup where employees can put forward creative suggestions. That atmosphere of support for thoughtfulness extends to IT’s methods for staff retention and growth; it prides itself on listening to employees’ ideas and treating mistakes as “paths to growth.” It is also working on setting up an academy where employees can hone leadership and management skills.
Going forward, performance measurement and management will be a big area of emphasis for Onslow County. It is planning to convene a committee that will work on aligning performance metrics with goals. The IT staff will support that effort by using cloud-based business intelligence software and setting up internal and external performance dashboards.
9th Paulding County, Ga.
Paulding County, Ga., which has nearly doubled in population since 2000, earned ninth place in its size category for an emphasis on connecting more than 152,000 residents to services around the clock, expanding its level of cybersecurity training to staff, and updating its existing Internet presence. Officials in the suburban county outside Atlanta already reach citizens via virtual town halls, live-streaming board meetings, and on social media, including via their Facebook site and YouTube channel. Residents can make service requests, register for programs, pay fees, and research voting, land and parcel data via the county website.
But officials are enhancing the city website to aggregate social media connections and include a blog from the chairman. The new site is expected to go live later this year. During the next 12 to 18 months, officials will also improve their expense transparency with the deployment of an Open Checkbook application; and make additional use of voice messaging apps. Also on the way in the next two years are self-service kiosks for citizens and expanded use of digital signage.
The county maintains 12 miles of fiber-optic cable underground and its fiber plant connects to a Tier 1 provider, but future plans are to use special tax monies to connect the plant to a second Tier 1 provider for redundancy. The agency backs up its data nightly, and maintains disaster recovery and continuity plans, but has hired an outside cybersecurity firm to assess staff — and has noticed improvement as a result. Additionally officials have secured their firewalls, and have conducted annual penetration testing.
10th Jackson County, Mich.
A shift in IT leadership this spring means Jackson County, Mich., is in a bit of transitional period, but it has big plans for using technology to help move the county forward. IT’s goals are aligned well with the county’s strategic plan, with particular emphasis on economic development, safe and healthy communities, and government efficiency. The agency is focused on making as many citizen services available online as possible to avoid any unnecessary trips to county offices. Going forward, plans include continuing to update online offerings, developing their GIS division, and implementing mobile apps and Google Home capabilities.
Strengthening the county’s cybersecurity posture tops the IT department’s list of priorities, and staff members are looking into cyberinsurance, as well as ransomware prevention tools, security-as-a-service and data encryption enforcement. Jackson County is also working on its disaster recovery plan, identifying what operations would be mission-critical in the event of a major outage and actively using GIS to determine points of need in its infrastructure and network. On the public safety front, the county has plans to implement next-gen 911 and video surveillance in the near future, along with some use of drones.
250,000-499,999 Population Category
Click 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 Dutchess County, N.Y.
Dutchess County, N.Y., claimed the top spot in its population category this year by putting significant emphasis on connecting with residents and finding new ways to innovate and create efficiencies countywide. The county’s Office of Central and Information Services (OCIS) lists citizen engagement as its No. 1 priority, an effort clearly evident in its robust social media presence to communicate and maintain transparency with residents. Expansion of online services, including GIS, electronic payments and more, has created $15 million in annual savings for the public. Further, OCIS is working on redesigning its online presence with a focus on mobile-first and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as industry standard best practices for county Web applications, including headlines that can be read by Amazon Echo devices. Citizen-centric plans for the next one to two years also include texting, Google Home capabilities, chatbots and more.
Shared services are key to OCIS’ work and include the appointment of a county shared services coordinator and 32 shared services available for cities. The county also offers a $1 million annual grant program to incentivize cities to use more shared services. Along these lines, one of Dutchess County’s big projects for 2018 is to upgrade its Emergency Public Safety Program, including 911 computer-aided dispatch among other public safety technologies. The county has announced an agreement to partner with the city of Poughkeepsie Police on these upgrades, which has already saved the town $500,000 before the system even goes live later this year.
To strengthen its workforce, OCIS is expanding business partnerships with area colleges to recruit diverse tech talent and foster an inclusive environment. The agency has also invested heavily in cybersecurity training for county staff, and has made investments in cyberinsurance, as well as ransomware prevention and response to bolster its security enterprisewide.
2nd Chesterfield County, Va.
Chesterfield County recently updated its open data policy and created an enterprise data governance strategy, a backdrop on which it can encourage more information sharing between departments.
The county has worked with regional partners on several projects, including a cross-jurisdictional cybersecurity partnership, creating a website to promote education and awareness about opioids in the area, participating in a health and human services-related platform to share data and help cut down on duplicate entry, and police department teamwork on mapping crime.
Chesterfield IT has invested real resources into establishing a culture of creativity and relationships, setting up the technology infrastructure to allow telecommuting, which 65 percent of its staff takes advantage of for parts of each week. The department also uses a competency tool to identify specific areas where staff could use training or career development, and then recognizes and rewards them for pursuing that new knowledge. There’s also a mentorship program that pairs up employees with leaders. Since 2013, the vacancy rate has dropped from 18 percent to 7 percent.
The teleworking option, along with the county’s heavy use of the cloud for email, file storage and other applications, is also central to its plans to keep working in case of emergency.
The county’s budget for the next fiscal year includes a $1 million increase to support innovation and enterprise initiatives. Among the work it’s taking on: Setting up a cloud-based enterprise business intelligence platform, setting up big data analytics for police and fire department sensors and identifying commonly-FOIA’d information so it can be published on the county’s open data platform.
3rd Frederick County, Md.
Frederick County, Md., which ranked third among agencies with 150,000-249,999 residents in the 2016 Digital Counties Survey, leveraged agency collaborations, citizen engagement, key new tools and population growth to earn third place this year in the 250,000-499,999 population category. Its IT organization leads an IT Technology Council to further interagency collaboration between county and municipal public safety, library and education agencies. The Livable Frederick Master Plan offers a collaboration framework for other agencies, the private sector and community groups. In the next year, county emergency management will link its computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system to adjoining counties to reduce dispatch times.
The county executive has made citizen engagement a priority; the agency surveyed residents in support of the agency’s budget and streams budget presentations and town halls, addressing comments in real time via Facebook Live. It also held an online chat with parks and recreation and reaches residents through many social media platforms. The county, which now serves more than 252,000 residents, reaches them via a responsively-designed website; online apps that use mapping to enable the reporting and tracking of road conditions and issues; and a Notify Me app that offers text or email notification on specific issues, job and bid postings and emergency alerts. The county is seeking a consultant to identify key performance indicators that could be displayed in public-facing dashboards.
The county’s IT organization is using a project portfolio management tool to prioritize and assign staff to key projects. It recently deployed a security incident event management tool using artificial intelligence and machine learning to scrutinize real-time information for potential security issues, and stood up a new Cyber Security Operations Center offering real-time assessment and analysis. Going forward, security officials plan to procure penetration testing tools and mount a phishing awareness campaign.
4th Douglas County, Colo.
After finishing first in last year’s 250,000-499,999 population category, Douglas County, Colo., has dropped to fourth in the current survey, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t progress being made there. In fact, the jurisdiction has a pretty long list of new tech and innovation projects that have gone live or into development this year, including an Ask Douglas County skill for Amazon’s Alexa, a multitude of new GIS apps for both internal and public use, an elaborate expansion of its existing open data portal, a new GeoHub with a wide breadth of layered maps, integrated Waze data to help new transportation projects, and more. As Douglas County notes, its population is tech savvy, and 90 percent of constituents have high-speed Internet connections at home, which has led to a situation where citizen demands require that the jurisdiction’s tech and innovation work keep pace. This is varied work, ranging from publication of financial data dating back five years to expanding the range and speed of Wi-Fi available at the Douglas County Fair.
Internally Douglas continues to do important work in the area of cybersecurity, faced as all jurisdictions are by an ever-evolving set of more complex threats. To this end, Douglas County is using new security technologies, extensive security awareness training for its IT staff and improved cyberincident response plans. As many jurisdictions have, the county has also moved to using DocuSign, which enables electronic signatures that lead to more efficient internal workflows, as well as new e-procurement systems. In terms of the future, innovation work continues. Douglas County is, for example, working to grow its GeoHub into its primary open data site by 2019. Drone usage also continues to expand, with new uses for that tech including for search and rescue and weed control.
5th Durham County, N.C.
Durham County, N.C. — population 312,000 — has jumped from its previous 10th place to fifth place this year in the Digital Counties Survey. The county’s strategic plan focuses on five goals: Community and Family, Health, Secure Community, Environment and Visionary Government. The Computers 4 Kids program is part of the Information Services and Technology department’s commitment to Community and Family. The program refurbishes computers and partners with local organizations to redistribute the computers to area nonprofits, Durham Public Schools and North Carolina Central University.
New apps from Durham County indicate its extensive efforts to meet citizen needs. The county Department of Social Services launched a mobile app to let citizens submit documents for Food and Nutrition Services, Medicaid, Work First (employment services) benefits or Crisis Services applications. The goal is to help people avoid multiple in-person trips to county offices.
A joint city-county portal and app, Durham One Call, gives residents information on the latest city/county services, and lets citizens report issues and request services such as trash pickup, recycling, potholes and other street repairs, blighted property, and water and storm services. Requests are routed to the appropriate city or county department.
Durham County runs more than 35 social media accounts from various agencies on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Nextdoor, Periscope and Pinterest. The county has utilized Facebook Live and YouTube to host interactive chat forums, which address citizen issues and highlight county programs. The county’s Nextdoor account reaches more than 38,000 residents regarding local issues.
6th Dakota County, Minn.
Dakota County wants to meet its constituents where they are — whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Nextdoor, YouTube or Instagram. The county has expanded its presence across these six social media platforms as part of its mission to use technology to better engage with residents. The IT department also developed an informational smartphone app in summer 2017. Users can check library events, park locations, scroll through the jail roster, locate property tax information and more. In November 2017 the Dakota County IT department implemented an online payment portal on its website, allowing residents to more easily make required payments.
Located just south of St. Paul, Dakota County is in the process of upgrading its boardroom equipment to allow for high-definition video as well as closed captioning. The county also plans to add touchscreen kiosks in the Law Enforcement Center as well as online payments for the Sheriff’s Civil Division services, birth and death certificates, licenses for marriage, and liquor and tobacco sales, among other payments.
The Dakota County Fleet was named the No. 1 small fleet and No. 2 overall municipal fleet in North America in 2017 by Government Fleet magazine and the American Public Works Association, in part because of the in-vehicle monitoring system that tracks fuel usage, mileage, driving behaviors, idling vehicles, maintenance, seat belt use and more. And in the smart cities area, Dakota County plans to upgrade its fiber-optic connectivity in the next 12 to 18 months. The improvements will connect 17 traffic signals and intersections.
6th Santa Cruz County, Calif.
Santa Cruz County, Calif., population 262,382, was one of the many California communities that faced wildfire and flooding this past year, and the county IT department was required to rise to the occasion. When mudslides caused by heavy rain disrupted roads, power and communications within the county, the IT team brought a business continuity center online in order to maintain important functions like payroll, accounting and tax systems. A loss of the wide area network connection, caused by a wildfire, led the county to begin implementing BGP (Border Gateway Protocol). This setup will establish a redundant link between two Internet service providers — AT&T, which currently provides Internet for county employees and services, and Cruzio, the local ISP with which Santa Cruz County partners to provide free public Wi-Fi — so that if one goes down, the other can continue to provide a connection.
Reorganization and modernization was a focus for the county IT department, which evaluated and rewrote all of its job classifications, thus attracting better applicants with modern job titles and descriptions. The IT team also finally finished a two-year effort to get everyone into the same room (literally). The improved work environment includes state-of-the-art workstations and equipment and a community space where everyone can get together.
Cannabis was recently made legal in the state of California, and Santa Cruz County IT has been lending its services in facilitating this new market. First, the team built a licensing system for cultivators, and then expanded it to include dispensaries. Countywide code enforcement for cannabis also just went live.
And an interesting piece of tech that the county adopted recently is a set of smart refrigerators for storing vaccines, which alert staff of temperature changes so they can save the vaccines from spoiling if the refrigerators malfunction or lose power.
7th Hamilton County, Ind.
Located near Indianapolis, Indiana’s state capital, Hamilton County has nearly 300,000 residents. Population growth has increased demands for government services, making technology and digital solutions more critical. The county relies on third-party solutions — both purchased and hosted — as well as shared IT services to increase collaboration while mitigating the cost of IT. Hamilton is pursuing data transparency on several fronts, most notably with its GIS data sets, which are now more accessible on an intuitive website. Residents and businesses also have easy access to property and tax reports, assessment documents, finance data and all meeting agendas and minutes.
Transparency has boosted citizen engagement, which is supported by a robust social media program that includes multiple ways for residents to interact with the county. In addition, Hamilton has added numerous online services, including nine new payment services, totaling 32 available forms for public use. While these may sound like standard features of any county, what makes Hamilton unique is how it has used responsive design and Lean methodologies to create a digital government that is both innovative and valuable. By using Lean processes, the county has made the role of its IT staff more interchangeable, while streamlining how systems are designed, boosting the number of hosted and shared services, and reducing the amount of in-house training that’s needed. Staff roles are more interchangeable, which has reduced the amount of time it takes to get critical tasks done.
8th Washoe County, Nev.
Washoe County, Nev., is facing a conundrum that a number of other counties face — a reduction in state funding coupled with a growing number of state-mandated responsibilities. But despite fewer state funds and other monetary issues, such as a repayment of $4.6 million to a taxpayer, $200 million in property tax abatement following the Great Recession, and two disasters in the past year that were declared worthy of federal assistance, Washoe County has managed to continue to innovate.
Home to more than 450,000 residents and ranked eighth in its Digital Counties population category in 2018, Washoe County completed its Quick Map application last year. The app allows citizens to save maps and data via integrated authentication and perform analysis in a range of areas from real estate sales to land development and more. With its new responsive and user-friendly design, citizens can locate information more easily.
And to keep things on track, Washoe County’s IT leaders also took the valuable step of linking plans and projects to county commissioners’ strategic objectives. The IT department also has its Technology Advisory Committee that serves as a governance board, which reviews proposed projects and prioritizes them, as well as monitoring their progress.
9th Erie County, Pa.
Although no major IT policy exists, the county touts open data/transparency as a major IT initiative. Visitors to the county website are able to access Open Budget and Open Spending to see county financial transactions. It’s a Socrata open data interface that is intuitive and easy to use, with updates on a weekly basis.
Another initiative was to digitize the job application process, both for outside applications and for internal processes. Security enhancement is another priority as employees undergo a robust security training program in relation to malware, phishing, spear phishing, etc. The IT department gauges employees’ responses to possible attacks by sending out fake, malicious emails through the application, Phishme. The county is using a signature software to combat spear phishing. The software creates a standard signature on all county emails combined with an official county image to verify its authenticity. Internal security has also been upgraded with a standardized process for employee activation, suspension and deletion of accounts in active directory and other applications. The systems are audited monthly by IT staff. The county will have a new, consolidated data center, taking over for six separate centers. The new center will have a geo-diverse secondary data center where information will be replicated in real time.
9th Leon County, Fla.
In Leon County, Fla., technology plays an increasing role in the delivery of internal and external services. While residents rely on access to the suite of open data sets, county employees and partner agencies rely on resilient and reliable solutions from the county’s Office of Information and Technology (OIT). In addition to serving the needs of the Board of County Commissioners, OIT has taken point in several other areas including shared services agreements with the state attorney’s office, the supervisor of elections, office of the sheriff, tax appraiser and others. The county also manages an enterprise Justice Information System and the Northwest Florida Pawn Shop portal for law enforcement coordination with local shops across 30 counties in Florida and Georgia.
When it comes to protecting the resources and data OIT manages across 72 buildings in six counties, cybersecurity efforts are not overlooked. The county maintains cyberinsurance, has implemented intrusion prevention systems and undergoes regular cybersecurity audits every three to five years. Additionally, county staff are encouraged to seek degrees with the promise of pay increases, and a liberal training budget is maintained.
The efforts, however, have not been without challenge. Homestead exemptions created a $7 million shortfall in property tax revenues and resulted in stagnant operating and capital budgets, forcing the county to think more creatively. Additionally, the state has continued to load more responsibilities on counties, meaning modernizations are needed for agency case management systems and changing service models.
10th Bell County, Texas
Located in the booming area of Central Texas, Bell County is dealing with fast population growth and a lot of new economic activity. At the same time, the county needs to meet unfunded mandates from the state and federal governments while simultaneously dealing with narrow revenue options because of state tax limits.
So the county’s leadership has given its IT staff a directive: Make sure the government can handle it by automating services where possible and making others flexible enough to accommodate expanding use.
IT has made paper-based processes more digital and automated, and worked with outside partners to develop a new legal defense system for the poor that saved on both direct costs and employee time. Recognizing its success, the Texas Conference of Urban Counties went on to spread that system to other jurisdictions. The staff has also moved citizen services such as vehicle registration, taxes and fine and fee payment online to make those processes more efficient.
The county shows solid use of best practices, such as using IT Infrastructure Library standards and leaning on technology to ensure adherence to governance processes. It’s also demonstrated a collaborative spirit, involving putting together a good lineup of experts for a large procurement effort for a new court case management system and partnering with local and state agencies on cybersecurity as well as infrastructure consolidation.
10th Clackamas County, Ore.
Clackamas County (population 420,000) is Oregon’s third-most populous county, and the Technology Services Department embraces several policy priorities established by the county Board of Commissioners, including: Grow a vibrant economy; build a strong infrastructure; and ensure safe, healthy and secure communities. The Clackamas Broadband Exchange (CBX), the county’s fiber backbone, supports these particular priorities by extending new and increased services throughout the county. The CBX has become a self-sustaining dark fiber service with revenues from private and public agencies using the network. Population growth in the rural parts of the county has increased the demand for Internet connectivity. Rescue services also benefit from improved connectivity, with greater ability to locate emergencies that happen in the rural Mt. Hood area. Fire districts in the county get better information en route to remote areas via the CBX and new software as well.
The county also offers GIS services to constituents through its open data portal. Users can get voting information, public services information, survey documents and natural hazard information using a map interface or address lookup. Other Web-based services offer additional convenience for residents, such as dog licensing, county fairground reservations, tax payments, traffic ticket payments, and building and alarm permits.
500,000-999,999 Population Category
1st Sonoma County, Calif.
Sonoma County takes the top spot in its population category this year, despite significant struggles: In October, Sonoma became the site of the most destructive wildfire in California’s history, and the government faced some pretty steep challenges — like 5,300 destroyed houses. Its IT staff met these challenges with hard work and cooperation. The county worked with its largest city, Santa Rosa, to create a co-branded website to help citizens find temporary housing, and to communicate information to them quickly and coordinate recovery operations. The AccessSonoma project gave agencies the ability to work together to identify the people who needed help the most. On its open data portal the county released data on emergency alerts and homelessness. As recovery continues, it will add data on debris removed from damaged areas, public service requests and capital projects.
That ethos of cooperation extends to IT’s support of the county’s various operations, too. It has helped set up technology to support abandoned vehicle reporting, vegetation mapping, data sharing and backup, and more. Its cannabis business website has created a resource to help aspiring entrepreneurs in the newly legal field step-by-step to set up a successful enterprise and make their way through all the licensing and permitting requirements at various levels of government.
The county is working on a broadband development plan, including a “dig once” policy that aims to take advantage of opportunities to bury fiber while the ground is open. As it builds more infrastructure, the county is planning to make sure that it not only supports public access but creates government resiliency in the face of disaster as well.
2nd Gwinnett County, Ga.
Gwinnett County, Ga., made a significant leap in this year’s survey, rising from seventh place in 2017 to second place in 2018. As noted last year, Gwinnett has spent years building a solid foundation for gov tech, especially as it relates to cybersecurity, open data, purchasing and other vital areas. That work has continued. In the past 12 months, however, Gwinnett has also shown itself to be moving toward the future of gov tech, wherein public agencies strive to evolve into user-centered digital service hubs. Gwinnett has made major progress in this area, adding a host of new features such as interactive online public transit maps with up-to-date construction info, a responsive tax portal with pay online functionality, and self-service kiosks residents can use to renew auto tags at all hours of the day, among other projects.
Part of this success has come through coordinating tech efforts across departments, thereby using expertise in various offices to create comprehensive new value for constituents. Take, for example, the county’s new amenity search feature. With it, users can quickly find 32 amenities spread throughout 49 parks. It’s a simple feature, but it took six county sections and departments to build, the coordination of which was, presumably, no easy feat. Gwinnett is also collaborating closely with local colleges to indoctrinate students into government service, specifically in work related to tech.
Looking forward, progress seems likely to continue in Gwinnett County. In addition to the citizen-centric products being rolled out, the county government launched a new strategy and performance management structure in 2017. Now, Gwinnett is also starting to integrate data from all throughout the county government, aiming to identify and address ongoing civic challenges in an effort to better solve them. This is, essentially, what effective data-driven governance is all about.
3rd San Mateo County, Calif.
In keeping with its Silicon Valley roots, San Mateo County does not disappoint when it comes to using tech to serve its more than 764,000 residents. From efforts to push out better Internet connections and tools to its 7,600 employees to efforts to perfect performance-driven government, the county’s IT services is pushing the envelope to deliver the best services possible. Open data plays a critical role in not only the transparency of the government, but also in areas like connecting residents to food-related benefits and public safety initiatives. Through training programs with local organizations and Code for America, the county is better able to create data sets that directly impact residents in tangible ways.
San Mateo is also making great strides in its smart city work. The San Mateo County Telecommunications Authority is being repurposed to promote collaboration around smart cities efforts, policies and strategies. In spring 2018, the county launched SMC Labs at the County Center government campus, which serves as a regional IoT and smart city innovation zone. However, technological innovations also spill over into areas like using drones to assess microwave radio signal strength and using virtual reality in the pain clinic to treat acute and chronic pain.
As open as the county is with data, it's also committed to intensive countywide cybersecurity efforts. From multi-factor authentication requirements and remote access enhancements to social engineering and awareness trainings, cybersecurity is not taken lightly. San Mateo has also focused on leveraging new partnerships to meet increasing demands. Nestled between the city and county of San Francisco and Mountain View and San Jose, population increases have forced the county to think more critically about how it serves the public. While the region is home to some of the wealthiest Californians, it is also home to some of the most disadvantaged. Bridging the digital divide in these communities is paramount.
4th Ventura County, Calif.
This year Ventura County, Calif., continues to push forward technology initiatives that improve processes for both the government and its citizens. The county’s efforts to leverage technology and grow and provide transparency are reflected in a new website that employs artificial intelligence through Microsoft’s chatbot services. The site allows the public to engage with the county via varied, accessible technologies and is aimed at supporting transparency by providing an open data financial site to share the county’s financial priorities and transactions. The OpenGov.com-powered portal is a financial transparency tool that presents the county’s revenues and expenses and includes multi-year trends as well as line-item details. The portal also provides budget management features for county leaders. The county continues to invest in technical training for its workforce to allow for more mobile and analytic solutions for the public.
In its effort to grow and sustain a vibrant economy, the county participates in a local grant program through its Office of Education called VC Innovates. The program aims to advance science, technology, math and engineering (STEM) and entrepreneurial programs at local high schools and encourage students to pursue careers in IT. The county also partners with local community colleges on technology internships and participates in a local IT Guild, consisting of local education and business representatives in an effort to align business needs with university and education curriculums to help generate more job-ready talent. And on the emerging tech front, the county this year created an augmented reality virtual training simulator for firefighters in partnership with a local private-sector company.
5th Prince George's County, Md.
Prince George’s County, the second-most populous county in Maryland at more than 912,000 residents, held fifth place for the second consecutive year by continuing to use technology to collaborate and communicate with residents. An emphasis on seven strategic policies and IT initiatives enabled the agency to connect residents with data that would educate them about the community and offer new choices. In education, Tech Prince George’s aims to cultivate IT students; in health care, WebChart lets residents securely schedule appointments and access medical records online.
The CountyClick311 online citizen service request portal and mobile app continues to offer residents a quick, effective way to use their government services and give feedback, which is routed directly to the agency’s deputy chief administrative officers. The county’s SAP Work Order Management system enables a real-time look at cost data, as well as managing and prioritizing tech and contractor work. Prince George’s successfully leveraged construction of an Institutional Network, I-Net, required per a TV franchise pact, to connect more than 100 facilities via more than 100 miles of county-owned fiber.
Elsewhere, the county's fire and emergency medical services departments are working with tech partners to offer a 911 Integrated Smartphone App that identifies the closest automated external defibrillator in an emergency. Digital docket and courtroom displays enable to the public to locate where cases are being heard and check statuses. The county’s Department of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement plans to introduce a new countywide permitting and licensing system that will feature two-way integration with other county apps, to streamline workflows and enhance communication. County agencies are leveraging fiber-optic cable to increase the bandwidth at traffic signals, further setting the stage for connected vehicles. The county will also expand its disaster recovery backup, replicating data at a third site during the next year.
6th Snohomish County, Wash.
Serving a region of just over 801,000 residents, the Snohomish County, Wash., Department of Information Technology (DoIT) has a strategic plan that takes into account county goals and needs as it continues to grow and become more efficient. Shared services to numerous public agencies include Community Transit, the county’s regional transit provider, as well as some 20 other government entities. The county has leveraged this shared service model to partner with Verizon to provide wireless services for critical, regionwide services. Transit buses, sheriff patrol vehicles and emergency vehicles receive reliable cell service across the county. Plus, Snohomish County is participating in a Vision Zero project by providing traffic camera data to researchers studying behavior patterns, crosswalks and more. The county is installing an adaptive signal control system along four major traffic corridors. The upgrade will allow traffic planners the ability to make real-time changes to signal timing, depending on traffic conditions.
The Snohomish County Enterprise GIS Collaboration Team is involved with developing high-resolution aerial imagery on a two-year cycle as part of a public-private partnership with Hexagon AB, a maker of IoT and digital imaging technologies. County IT will also provide support for the regional Community Transit agency in the form of improved bus stop location mapping. DoIT is also providing mapping expertise for the government entities analyzing the county’s landscape, development plans, stormwater mapping, and natural resources.
7th DeKalb County, Ga.
DeKalb County, Ga., ranks seventh among digital counties in its population category as it lays the groundwork for meeting the increasing demands of its residents. DeKalb lists population demographics as one of the challenges it faces, so IT is working to change its investment strategy to include a strong mobility focus to serve a younger, more mobile-centric demographic that is moving into the area.
Currently, the county has a citizen-centric website that is enabled for interactive use via mobile devices, and mobile device management is reflected in IT's policy framework. Among its best practices, when new applications or existing programs are due for an upgrade, the county takes a mobile- and cloud-first strategy. DeKalb also has a number of mobile initiatives it is planning in the next year and beyond. For example, in the next 12 to 18 months, the county will be using mobile apps to allow its citizens to make public comments. Within the same time frame, it also plans to launch mobile payments for government businesses and e-services to improve government efficiency. The county also intends to revisit and review the use of native mobile applications after 24 months.
With cybersecurity earmarked as the No. 1 item that will receive increased focus in the next year, mobile security goes along with it. Security for mobile devices and Internet of Things devices remains at the top of the county’s agenda. DeKalb is also shifting to greater use of software-as-a-service subscriptions for many of its products. The county, for example, is tapping into Microsoft Azure's government cloud as its infrastructure-as-a-service backbone and will be looking into advanced threat detection systems and artificial intelligence cybersecurity tools under Microsoft's umbrella.
8th Douglas County, Neb.
The largest county in Nebraska, Douglas County is home to Omaha, as well as many leading technology practices. Chief among them is the fact that Douglas County and the city of Omaha operate one consolidated IT organization, eliminating many redundancies and allowing them to put more resources toward applications, infrastructure and personnel. In another beneficial partnership, the state of Nebraska has recently become a revenue source for Douglas County through its use of the county’s excess data center space. Douglas County has also recently implemented a new HR system, enabling more self-service options online as well as giving supervisors tools to track employees’ individual talents and training needs. Flexible schedules, remote work options and enhanced benefits are among the county’s policies aimed at retaining personnel.
The county has a significant relationship with Amazon Web Services, using the cloud platform to host more than 100 websites, with more to come. Each cloud-hosted website has a backup site in a different area of the country to ensure availability in the event of a disaster. The county also uses AWS to build and deploy applications that serve the public, giving IT staff the ability to focus on app development rather than server provisioning and maintenance.
9th Baltimore County, Md.
Three “pillars” stand at the center of Baltimore County, Md.’s IT strategy: responsibility, connectivity and dynamic environment. Those are all apparent in the work the county has been doing recently, particularly in IT’s efforts to close the digital divide and create equity among its 805,000 residents. For example, Baltimore County found that citizens were not aware of the government services available to them, so the Office of Information Technology (OIT) created a mobile app that allows residents one point of contact for all county agencies without knowing which department they need to contact. This freed agencies from taking calls, both correctly and incorrectly directed, and allowed them to use their time and energy elsewhere.
In an impressive collaboration with the county library system and public schools, IT worked to download student files to the library customer database, automatically creating a public library account and card for them. With no additional effort or need for a parental signature, students have access to all library resources, which helped increase access across the county. In other equity and digital divide efforts, OIT offers Wi-Fi at more than 200 public locations, and schools participate in grant programs with broadband carriers to get in-home Internet access to families and students who need it. They have also created a “loaner device initiative” to create access to computers equipped with free broadband for residents who need them.
This year the county upgraded its Virtual 911 Call Center, set up to ensure they can receive 100 percent of emergency calls, to Next-Gen 911. They are also piloting drone use in emergency events. And as evidence of strong citizen engagement through social media, the county’s animal services agency has had such success with its online outreach that they have seen more than a 60 percent increase in animal adoption rates as a result.
9th Chester County, Pa.
The digital achievements of Chester County start with its commitment to sound governance strategies, first prioritized in 2016 and now solidified around the use of technology to enable the delivery of cost-effective services for customers and staff, anytime and anywhere. Most importantly, the county has prioritized information as a key asset that must be secure. Practical examples of how the county is leveraging information assets include its open data strategy that has made budgeting transparent while providing public access to information on everything from restaurant inspections, open space protections and, because of the fracking industry, transparency around pipeline data and water quality.
The county has a robust social media operation that is focused on wellness issues. IT security is also a strong priority. Even though Chester County has less than 100 IT staff, it has its own chief security officer, whose services are collaboratively used by neighboring jurisdictions. It has also strengthened its business processes that have improved competitive pricing for technology and saved the county significant amounts of taxpayer dollars.
10th San Joaquin County, Calif.
Holding steady in its 10th place spot from last year, San Joaquin County is keeping its pace. A key partnership with Google's Government Innovation Lab in the summer of 2015 sought to help the county speed up its hiring process and otherwise increase efficiency. This year, the program expanded to include new and robust employee training. “TechTalks” provide information on new software and systems being implemented to help with day-to-day tasks.
Along with advancing efficiency inside government walls, the county has kept up strides to make life easier for its constituents. The county website has gone through an internal and external makeover, keeping open data initiatives and enhancing the availability of resources and information to multiple departments within the county. To stir more participation from citizens, San Joaquin has packaged mobile meeting kits to facilitate bringing town hall meetings to wherever a citizen is, while also creating an important presence on social media.
Google, along with other tech giants like Oracle and AT&T, has their sights set on helping San Joaquin County become a model for smart innovation. Within the next 12-18 months, San Joaquin plans to deploy 5G technology throughout the county. Other partnerships, like one with neighboring Stanislaus County, have helped migrate Disaster Recovery (DR) to a more geographically diverse location. The county is also migrating to Next-Generation 911 in the next 12 to 18 months.
1,000,000 or More Population Category
1st Montgomery County, Md.
To become the No. 1 digital county in the largest population category requires an unprecedented level of achievement across a broad set of categories, a stellar workforce and a willingness to push the technological envelope. Montgomery County has done this and more. That point is driven home by the fact that Montgomery is the only county to be a finalist in Amazon’s search for a second headquarters, in part because of its robust digital infrastructure.
The county’s tech achievements are rock solid. It was the first large county to establish an open government program, which has resulted in in more than 150 published data sets that are widely consumed by third-party apps. The county is a national leader when it comes to setting practical standards for publishing data relating to public safety, budgeting, spending and performance. It has robust cybersecurity practices in place. The county also has set a high bar with its citizen-centric practices that allow citizens and agencies to interact through a variety of channels that can be found in its 311 platform, an AI-assisted website and on social media.
Montgomery County spends $2 million annually on cyberpractices and is a nationally recognized leader for its response and coordination center. The impact on cyber has been clear: security vulnerabilities have plunged, thanks to analytics and aggressive endpoint management, and will be further improved by a planned upgrade to identity management. The county’s digital infrastructure also stands out for its exceptional broadband planning, execution and capability.
Not one to rest on its laurels, the county has boosted its tech expertise by hiring a chief data officer, chief innovation officer and enterprise security officer. With sound tech leadership in place, Montgomery County continues to innovate, with projects underway that will test the capabilities of artificial intelligence and blockchain.
2nd Wake County, N.C.
Wake County, N.C., again finds itself near the top of the pack in this year’s Digital Counties Survey for its ongoing commitment to align IT with broader county strategies. The county has strong citizen engagement and inclusion efforts, like a program that automatically texts or phones appointment reminders for people enrolled in the WIC program, resulting in a cost savings of more than $50k annually. They also work to make sure resources are available on mobile devices for communities that primarily use smartphones to access the Internet. To expand accessibility, this year the county Board of Commissioners put into play its strategic fiber goal, overseen by the chief information and innovation officer. Among other initiatives, the board is developing a plan to extend fiber service to underconnected areas in the eastern part of the county.
The county cites cybersecurity as its No. 1 priority, and robust efforts include an emphasis on staff training and making information about phishing and other attacks as easy to use as possible. In March 2018, the county started using a hosted cloud data backup system to maintain resiliency, and in April it began planning a tabletop cybersecurity response drill.
As the second-fastest-growing county in the U.S. and home to Raleigh, Wake County has tough competition for hiring skilled tech talent. However, the IT department sees very low turnover, and staff members have worked with human resources to offer flexible benefits and pay that's on par with national averages. A data scientist hired in 2017 is working to continue the county’s data-driven initiatives, including implementing Next Request to streamline public records requests and other public portals that assist citizens, such as GIS-driven maps.
3rd Fairfax County, Va.
In Fairfax County, Va., a region with a population of more than 1.1 million, technology plays an integral role in how the regional government plans for growth and meets the needs of its increasingly diverse and digital citizenry. That mission relies on an agile strategy and the understanding that residents need and want online access to their government. Through online transparency tools, like the financial transparency and real estate tax applications, residents are offered a clear view into where the county invests tax dollars.
Projects like the CAD2CAD program, a coordinated effort between public safety dispatch systems in the region, is proof-positive of the county’s leadership and collaborative abilities. The system, which connects multiple dispatch centers for better information-sharing, serves a population of more than 5 million people and helps improve emergency responses.
Fairfax County is also using cutting-edge tools to protect the public. Predictive analytics is used by health and human services to head off communicable diseases and detect outbreaks in advance. In addition, eight health and human services departments are currently collaborating on an enterprise technology solution, which will need to overcome the fact that many of the approximately 20 information systems are not set up to share data effectively. Where it comes to supporting the resilience of the county’s mission-critical applications, officials have established state-of-the-art replication and recovery processes and tools.
But these efforts have not been without challenges — even from the state itself. The Dillon Rule, adopted in 1896, places a considerable financial burden on the county by capping non-real-estate revenue, while at the same time limiting its authority to collect revenue through other means. Along with the ongoing challenge of bringing in new IT talent, these issues force the county to look to technology to fill the gaps and support their mission. As with every other digital government, cybersecurity continues to pose challenges for the jurisdiction, but its focus on preparation, resilience and the deployment of next-gen tools has kept the county breach-free for more than 16 years.
3rd King County, Wash.
The Pacific Northwest’s most populous county fell from first place in its population category last year, but it still has plenty going on, including continued work on some of the same initiatives it took on in 2016, like setting up data warehouses that span entire departments and work between agencies as well.
King County underwent a round of capacity-building in the data arena in 2017, adding a Data Service that included a chief data officer, the establishment of a countywide data governance framework and investment in platforms to support business intelligence and data-driven operations. Meanwhile, it ramped up collaboration with the public — it’s crowdsourcing content translation work for its website and weaving user experience research into its development process — as well as regional governments, in the form of cloud on-ramping and cross-jurisdictional vehicle licensing.
The county has shown it is planning for the future as well, making business continuity planning part of its daily operations. So far, IT has completed continuity plans for about half of its identified essential services, including flexible cloud infrastructure to support resiliency in the event of emergencies.
Staff have found ways to pursue innovation as well, and in the last year they tried out augmented reality with the Microsoft HoloLens. Using the goggles, King County set up a program for training people to do work on specialized wastewater treatment equipment using 3-D imaging and sensor data. It’s also either testing or researching drones, AI chatbots, blockchain and other emerging technology.
4th Los Angeles County, Calif.
Easily the most populous county in the country, Los Angeles County serves its 10 million residents with coordinated approaches that share data and technology. Officials helped develop and advocate for a state law to facilitate data sharing among the many stakeholders, including external service providers, involved in providing services to the homeless. A similar coordinated approach is afoot for health-care services, with the aim of enabling a holistic view of the patient across different health departments and streamlining online services for users. The Department of Public Social Services has also automated many aspects of its public assistance eligibility and case management system. The new LEADER Replacement System, which distributes more than $4 billion in benefits per year, makes caseworkers more productive and serves clients more efficiently.
In Los Angeles County, two dedicated funds are earmarked for technology to encourage innovation and cross-agency efforts like the chatbots now in use by animal care and the library. Emerging tech is also being smartly deployed to convince residents to explore parks they haven’t visited before. The park experience has been gamified by county staff, with rare virtual items placed at parks with lower usage. The Public Works Department has a 311 app of sorts called The Works to give residents an easy route to report issues like illegal dumping and graffiti, and to track the county’s progress in dealing with them.
A major data center modernization effort is also in the works for L.A. County, in which many aging data centers will be rotated out of service and “mission-critical” applications will migrate to their own private cloud in a new facility. The process will begin in the next calendar year, with department data expected to move to the new facility by 2021.
4th Oakland County, Mich.
Oakland County tied with Montgomery County, Md., for second place in 2017 and remained a contender this year, tying Los Angeles County for fourth place with a commitment to engage citizens and governments on issues big and small. The agency has begun a Universal Communications and Collaboration strategy that will include a new phone system. It recently released an RFP for a new voice over Internet protocol system. The county sheriff’s office has joined FirstNet, already deploying more than 200 network-enabled smartphones, and is in the process of migrating mobile modems to AT&T. Its FirstNet pilot is the first in the state in public safety field use, and is the largest in the Midwest. The county also worked with a provider to stand up a secure next-gen 911 fiber ESiNET (emergency services IP network).
During 2017, the county made two-factor authentication the standard for administrative access to servers; going forward, it will implement an identity and access management tool for a consolidated approach to identity and single sign-on. Its reference architecture program uses modular infrastructure to facilitate the offering of IT services, efficient app deployment and real-time data replication at the storage level.
The agency went live in July with an open data portal educating its more than 1.2 million residents on the opioid epidemic, logging more than 4,400 sessions to date. It has also used crowdsourcing to reach residents, populating a geoform with data on alternative health resources; and at the holidays, creating a map identifying public light displays. Its Board of Commissioners promoted a human trafficking awareness event across county social media, drawing a sold-out crowd.
5th Sacramento County, Calif.
Sacramento County is fifth this year among jurisdictions of more than 1 million residents, and California’s capital has recently initiated plans to vastly overhaul its use of technology, with leadership voting to adopt its CIO’s Technology Improvement Plan. This plan calls for replacing a number of systems, including budget management, criminal justice, county clerk recording, voter registration equipment and county property tax information. The effort is slated to extend through 2023, with the CIO publishing annual updates as it progresses. Sacramento has also worked to add other public-facing tech improvements, including 311 capability for service requests, complete with a mobile app. Data from the 311 platform is also driving decision-making processes, subsequently being used to “implement holistic solutions to community problems.” Other ongoing efficiency work includes an internal effort to go paperless.
Another area of note for Sacramento County is its use of tech to solve problems, specifically to address homelessness via an online self-service portal developed for homeless families to register for emergency shelter services. This program has already yielded results, with 1,395 online reservations submitted in the first two months. Open data work has also progressed, with the county now publishing more than 100 open data sets online, as well as deploying a new online portal to make and track requests for public records. Sacramento County’s CIO also maintains the Sacramento Regional Radio Communications System, a network that supports regional public safety partnerships by providing two-way voice radio communications for more than 100 participating agencies. A multi-year project to enhance the current radio system with a 30-channel replacement is underway. Finally, Sacramento County has initiated an analysis of gaps in its cybersecurity, aiming to soon implement an improvement plan that adheres to industry best practices.
6th Miami-Dade County, Fla.
Miami-Dade County, which ranks sixth in its population category for the second year in a row, continues to make solid strides in tech, despite expecting 11 to 20 percent of its IT workforce to retire in the coming year. But as the county grapples with the prospect of losing such a large slug of its tech staff, it has developed a number of innovative workarounds. One is a teleworking program, which has helped with staff retention. Permanent employees with at least an “above satisfactory” evaluation performance rating are allowed to work from home at least once a week. The county also uses conference rooms equipped with WebEx or Skype capabilities, which not only keeps staff members in contact with one another, but also has the benefit of shifting the county to a paperless environment by eliminating paper faxes, agendas and files by sharing the information digitally through the teleconferencing programs.
Automation has also aided the county in getting more work done with fewer people and has provided a way to work more efficiently. One solution includes using an automated skills assessment application to match priority needs with those employees who have the appropriate skills to perform the work.
Creation of online and self-service options is another way automation has allowed Miami-Dade County to provide extended hours to its 2.7 million residents despite a reduced staff level. For example, the county’s Waste Carts Inventory, Routing and Work Order processing application automates and streamlines the garbage division’s service request process. Additionally, the county’s redesign of its miamidade.gov website, which is currently in beta, is transforming it to a citizen-centric site featuring a mobile-friendly dashboard that can provide real-time information such as traffic congestion, road closure and signal problems, rather than its previous versions that featured specific department and agency information and focused on elected officials.
6th San Bernardino County, Calif.
Recent tech efforts in San Bernardino County, Calif., have secured it a sixth-place showing in this year's Digital Counties Survey. For example, an increasing number of face-to-face interactions with county government are migrating online. These include development and building permits, building inspections, requests for county supervisor appearances and other services that can be handled remotely, saving residents and businesses valuable travel time, rather than driving to the county seat. This is not insignificant, as San Bernardino County covers a larger area than any other county in the lower 48 states. In fact, it is larger than Massachusetts and New Hampshire combined. Further easing citizen interactions, the county also has an “automated receptionist” named Alice that can handle many traditional receptionist tasks, including making payments to the county, and is expected to handle medical marijuana permit processing as well.
To reduce its data center carbon footprint, San Bernardino County is virtualizing much of its environment so that only 10 percent of the data servers are physical. The data center is also able to respond to department needs much quicker, and the servers include high-speed, flash-storage platforms to reduce latency and speed up response times.
Keeping with its mission to better serve a large county, often covering rugged and mountainous terrain, the county surveyor recently began using drones to conduct aerial mapping, which has resulted in reducing time and costs, and enabled mapping to be completed on shorter notice. Elsewhere, San Bernardino County has taken on smart and sustainable initiatives by designing solar and thermal innovations into its new and retrofitted buildings, such as the County High Desert Government Center.
6th San Diego County, Calif.
A main thrust of San Diego County’s Strategic Plan is to make San Diego the “safest and most resilient community in the nation,” and a key enabler of that is technology. The “Tell Us Now” mobile app provides easy access to key services that promote safety for residents in the unincorporated areas of the county. In addition, the Office of Emergency Services created a Web-based application called “Know Your Hazards,” a localized, easy-to-use, public hazard risk map. With this app, residents can identify local hazards by entering an address to access local preparedness and response recommendations for earthquake, fire, flood and tsunami risk.
One of the county’s goals of “operational excellence” by providing top-notch customer service, is reached through the use of innovative technology, including the use of more than a dozen mobile applications on the County Apps Center. The County News Center provides up-to-date information on matters of public interest and is updated in real time. The county actively uses social media for both disseminating information and garnering feedback from stakeholders and provides a channel for “customer sentiment” to improve the delivery of services. An example is Animal Services, which uses Facebook to highlight animals available for adoption and to provide information about how the public can volunteer and participate in events.
7th Alameda County, Calif.
Home to more than 1.6 million citizens, the Bay Area’s Alameda County has a lot on its plate. Despite dropping three spots from its fourth-place position last year, Alameda still aims to stay as citizen-centric as possible — while also homing in on its roots and utilizing technology to improve countless services. In the next 12-24 months, a digital help desk system leveraging Cortana will be available online to answer questions and refer citizens to relevant information. Jumping on the blockchain train, new tech will be used to register land and properties, and ownership and title disputes can be tracked transparently, immediately creating a digital backup. To top it all off, a Mobile Citizen app was unveiled last year, allowing constituents to report community problems from their smartphones.
A strong IT workforce starts with strong recruitment. Posting job openings on sites such as LinkedIn, Careers in Government and Twitter help create a social media presence to spread the word about new positions. The county’s ability to retain staff also played a key part in the success of important projects. Perhaps part of its success in retention can be credited to the Training and Education Center, which provides year-round classroom training for county employees that 55 percent of personnel participate in.
On the safety side, California’s October 2017 wildfires provided the foundation for a partnership with Sonoma County and MapBox where they use aerial drone imagery to collect pertinent data during natural disasters. Another Sonoma County partnership provides a much-needed reciprocal host for Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity infrastructure, using the cloud to provide storage to support redundant services and back up data. With 311 already implemented, E-911 came next, allowing the county to track the location of 911 calls.
8th Cook County, Ill.
The second-most populous county in the U.S., Cook County, Ill., moved from fifth to eighth place this year. Among its notable IT achievements were two open data releases that were the first of their kind in the nation. In March 2018, the county published felony criminal case data dating back to 2010 on the Cook County Open Data Portal. The release consisted of more than 45 million data points covering 300,000 distinct cases. And in February 2017, the county released on its website tools that allow residents to create geographic visuals of Medical Examiner data as far back as 2014. These tools allow users to view dashboards and interactive maps with information on cases of death within the county.
A number of changes occurred within the Cook County Bureau of Technology (BoT). Most notably, the county hired a new chief information security officer, Charles Ruehling. The new head of the Information Security Office has a wealth of security experience, including time at the Department of Defense, Department of Energy and NASA. BoT also hired a director of systems architecture and a data center manager, and created the position of asset manager, which it hopes to fill soon.
Cook County also completed the backbone of its 10-gig broadband network, laying high-speed fiber cables to connect major county buildings. Thanks to an agreement with the Chicago Transit Authority, the county extended its fiber lines along CTA’s tracks to connect to core locations. Connected hospitals and courthouses are already seeing benefits from faster speeds and greater bandwidth. And on Dec. 1, 2017, the county launched Cook Central, a hub for sharing mapping and geographic data with residents — a one-stop shop for all things related to the Cook County Department of Geographic Information Systems.
8th Tarrant County, Texas
Tarrant County, Texas, is home to 1.9 million residents and is the sixth-fastest-growing county in the United States. From the county seat of Fort Worth, officials have worked diligently to make constituents a priority, which shows in the county’s move from 10th place to eighth place this year in the Digital Counties Survey. The county continues to implement its Vision 2020 Strategic Plan, which aims to align IT investments with ever-changing business concerns and county strategic goals. Objectives include investing wisely in IT solutions and giving county staff the skills and expertise necessary to meet citizen needs and expectations.
One such citizen-centric initiative is the Tarrant County Public Health Be Mosquito Free Campaign, which uses a vector map to inform the public of instances of diseases carried by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas, including West Nile virus and Lyme disease.
The county also offers a Waze website that lets users view road alerts and traffic congestion information in real time. Tarrant County further engages its residents online by maintaining a regular social media presence on Twitter, Facebook and Nextdoor at @TarrantCountyTX.
9th Orange County, Fla.
Home to more than 1.3 million residents and the city of Orlando, Orange County, Fla.’s technology must live up to its residents’ needs, and in 2017 it was put to the test. The IT department has been focused on how the agency handled the disaster that ensued during and after Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm that reached central Florida last September. The county was able to use several apps already in place to communicate with citizens in real time, including the mobile app OCFL Alert for emergency notifications, and OCFL311, which allowed residents to quickly report issues as they arose throughout the storm so they were fixed quickly. A GIS InfoMap system allowed communication of critical mapping information with county emergency operations and policymakers to keep county systems running during the hurricane. As part of ongoing public safety initiatives, the County Radio System is interoperable with several other jurisdictions, including the city of Orlando.
In other IT efforts, Orange County is being proactive with cybersecurity to combat the more than 30,000 hacking attempts it receives in a day and more than 16 million malicious emails each month, mostly phishing or ransomware attacks. The county's cybersecurity team uses analytics and data loss prevention tools to spot potential attacks, and staff have been trained to flag any suspicious activity. They are also looking into cyberinsurance and security-as-a-service options.
County IT remains committed to transparency for citizens, making county data available online, including streaming of board meetings. With more than 90,000 followers across multiple social platforms, citizen engagement efforts are strong, and online tools are available to streamline citizen services, such as the Fast Track Web portal, which allows 24-hour access to e-permitting for land developers and citizens.
10th Palm Beach County, Fla.
Tenth-place Palm Beach County, Fla., has an IT shop that handles most application and system development in house. This approach has led to an impressive list of internally developed tools to help the organization run smoothly for employees and citizens alike. Staff capabilities are especially noteworthy since the county has fewer IT staff today than it did in 2007 (before the Great Recession), despite a big population jump during that same period. Of particular note is an online public records request system that will go far to ensure the county is compliant with Florida’s transparency laws. The new system, which staff are currently working on, will issue a tracking number to people making records requests, allowing them to monitor status until the county provides the records they seek. Information System Services staff also created a performance measurement tool that helps them keep an eye on metrics by department and program. Information is available in text as well as visual formats. Efforts to engage beyond the confines of the Palm Beach County organization include technical partnerships, in the form of interlocal agreements, with cities, schools, medical facilities and nonprofits to share staff knowledge and county infrastructure in several areas, including GIS, hosting, applications and networking.