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Albany, N.Y., Prioritizes Tech

New York's capital city has a redesigned website, a municipal service tracker and a new CIO.

When New York's capital city of Albany set out to enhance dialogue with constituents, there were no quick fixes. This year, the city welcomes a new CIO, a fresh website design and the integration of a municipal service tracker application -- all evidence that the city views technology as an important component of effective service delivery.

“One of the tenets of my administration has been the provision of opportunities for our citizens to have greater involvement with government and the services we provide,” said Albany’s Mayor Gerald D. Jennings. “The AlbanyWorks4U application is a tool, which, using the SeeClickFix platform, allows our citizenry the opportunity to do exactly this. By being the first major municipality in New York State to adopt this program, and in conjunction with our city’s recently updated website, we’ve placed Albany at the forefront of technological interaction. These initiatives are significant first steps in what will be an evolutionary process.”

In May, Mayor Jennings unveiled the updated website, designed to be more visual, user-friendly and easy to navigate. Prior to this version, information on the city's website was difficult to locate. The new design features a compact structure which highlights information without a lot of user scrolling.

“There is quite a bit to convey on this site, so making it easy for the viewer to find what they are looking for was of the utmost importance,” said Sarah Samson, project manager for the redesign.

The redesign project, a 9-month process, required coordination among multiple city departments. Priorities included the addition of a section to highlight the most frequently clicked or searched topics, adding a city service tracker application and creating a micro-site listing. Micro-sites include Albany Special Events, Capitalize Albany Corporation and the New York Open Data Portal.

“So far, we’ve received positive feedback,” Samson said. “Most people have been very supportive of the much more visual layout; however, we have received a few complaints about changing the overall organization. Change is hard, and when you’re used to accessing information a certain way, it becomes a challenge to adjust. But we are very open to criticism and want to ensure the website is set up and maintained in a way that makes the experience easy for each user.”

The city's openness to feedback is reflected by a new SeeClickFix application called AlbanyWorks4U. Like service trackers popping up in many cities across the country, the program uses GPS to recognize a reporting user’s location and provides a menu of common concerns from which to select. Users can upload pictures to accompany a report, and the application can be used for a variety of issues, such as graffiti, street maintenance, street light issues, damaged trees, parking meters and trash collection.

AlbanyWorks4U, available for iPhones and Androids, is a critical part of the city’s efforts to build transparency and better serve the people. Residents are able to track the status of reports submitted and view other reported issues in the area. They can follow an issue from the time it is reported until it is resolved.

“A more user-friendly city website coupled with the power of SeeClickFix gives our citizens the online and mobile reporting capabilities to voice their concerns about a variety of city issues through easy-to-use categories,” Samson said, “while also ensuring each city department is equipped with the best information possible to help resolve these concerns.”

To ensure that the city remains on the cusp of the technology evolution, Mayor Jennings recently appointed Mark Dorry to the position of Chief Information Technology Officer. Dorry will advise the Mayor and various departments on opportunities to provide higher quality, more timely and more cost-effective governmental services. He is also responsible for establishing citywide technology standards and procedures to guarantee cost-effective and useful retrieval and exchange of information, within and among the various city departments, as well as with residents and businesses.

“I am excited for the opportunity to provide the executive leadership,” Dorry said, “and introduce new technologies to ensure that every city department meets the high standards and cost-effective approach the citizens of Albany deserve.”

Washington Park in Albany, New York. Photo from Shutterstock

Government Technology editor Noelle Knell has more than 15 years of writing and editing experience, covering public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and on Twitter. Follow @GovTechNoelle