This year's winners use tech to improve government, even when the odds are stacked against them.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.