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Digital Counties 2022: 150,000-249,999 Population Category

The 52 top jurisdictions in this year's Digital Counties Survey from the Center for Digital Government are using new strategies for cybersecurity, workforce and digital services to move toward the future.

1st Arlington County, Va.

A perennial top performer in the Digital Counties Survey, Arlington County takes first in its category this year thanks to a commitment to equity and a focus on innovation. The county cites closing the digital divide as its top priority and has identified a correlation between equitable, affordable access to high-speed Internet and community resilience. To that end, Arlington has struck a deal with a large real estate developer to build out 10 miles of affordable dark fiber to underserved communities. Further serving residents is the county’s new website, launched in October 2021, that prioritizes ease of interactions with government. The site was built on data analytics to maximize user experience, equity and accessibility, and can be automatically translated into 15 languages. The Department of Technology Services (DTS) will next look toward a single sign-on capability for residents, which it has already developed internally for staff. An additional site, Engage Arlington, is an easy platform for residents to give the county government feedback and includes a virtual tour of a discussion of the county’s FY2023 operating budget.

With the planned opening of Amazon’s HQ2 in 2023, Arlington County will work with AT&T to launch 5G throughout the area, which it anticipates will bring even more tech firms. While DTS is concerned that those firms, as well as proximity to federal government, make it less attractive to tech talent, Arlington works to remain competitive by maintaining a flexible work environment and supplementing staff with automation for repetitive tasks. The county also takes smart advantage of strategic partnerships, and together with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments led the charge on the first joint cyber tabletop exercise for the National Capital Region in January 2022. DTS has also explored a regional cyber-as-a-service program that will strengthen not only Arlington County, but also its neighbors.

2nd Cabarrus County, N.C.

Cabarrus County, N.C., landed its spot on this year’s list for its projects prioritizing cybersecurity, hiring and retaining competent IT personnel, community engagement, IT governance and data transparency, among other goals.

The county is focused on establishing multiple communication channels for citizen engagement and providing technical resources to boost government program delivery and visibility to residents. They have made notable strides in data sharing across departments and jurisdictions, balancing open and secure access to data, and establishing resilient emergency communications and technology services for residents. The county also recently went live with a new website.

In terms of cybersecurity, the county’s IT leaders developed an incident response procedure to address phishing threats, and county leaders have committed funding and support to bolstering IT security even further. The county has also shown itself to be resilient in the face of growing cyber threats, such as when officials used archived records to maintain operations when their cloud provider Kronos was down for six weeks because of a cyber attack.

To further bolster its IT workforce, the county has placed an emphasis on training and recruitment. Among those efforts, the county offers tuition reimbursement and flexible schedules, and officials encourage IT staff to pursue degree programs for further professional development.

3rd Columbia County, Ga.

Columbia County, Ga., landed in third in its population category. Open and fully staffed through the pandemic since May 2020, the county identifies budget and cost control as its top priority, with cybersecurity and disaster recovery and continuity of operations rounding out its top three areas of focus for IT over the next year and a half.

Following a December 2020 request by the county’s Board of Commissioners to the Georgia state Legislature, Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill into law allowing Columbia County to become a single-county judicial circuit effective July 1, 2021. The new circuit directly addressed the top priority of the county, giving it additional fiscal accountability, but it also had major implications for county IT. The Technology Services Division weighed in on the site for the new circuit based on its available technology infrastructure, and IT staff also played a major role in ensuring that the many offices that were expanded were properly equipped with the necessary devices and software.

In November 2021, the Columbia County Commission approved a Technology Physical Security Policy which expands on the county’s Information Security Policy that mandated policies that adhere to NIST-based security categories. The new policy limits physical access to information systems, equipment and operating environments to authorized personnel; requires departments and divisions to address policy requirements and document them appropriately; calls for the county to maintain a list of personnel who require access to the facilities; and requires that the county maintain an inventory of facilities that house technology assets.

4th Pitt County, N.C.

Pitt County, N.C., has moved up another spot, marking a rise of three positions in the past two years. Previously noted for its strong alignment of IT services with county leadership’s priorities, that certainly remained the case this year. New this year, however, was how well Pitt County used its $35 million in American Rescue Plan funds, applying it to bolstering fiber connectivity in rural areas. Also, as it relates to these funds, the county continued using technology to foster better communication with constituents, using a mix of in-person meetings as well as virtual workshops and even an online survey to solicit community input on where the money should go. Ultimately, these sessions were part of the reason that $8 million went to support broadband.

Cybersecurity was, of course, a priority for Pitt this past year as well, as it tends to be for essentially every jurisdiction in the country. Pitt County worked with its contracted business partners to develop a cyber incident response plan, as well as to participate in a statewide audit of 911 installations. The central IT shop in Pitt County also partnered with other county agencies, including the department of public health, to develop an analytics dashboard around health screening data, complete with graphic charts. Resultant performance measurement reports will now be published on the county website annually. Finally, retention of talent is an issue for Pitt County as it is for most government organizations, and Pitt used tech to care for its staff by enhancing its employee portal to include personalized health screening results, history and recommendations.

5th Washington County, Ark.

Washington County garnered praise in last year’s Digital Counties survey for its dedicated cybersecurity efforts. The county continues to push forward, and with plans to hire its first-ever CISO. It further aims to bring multifactor authentication (MFA) to all county departments by the end of 2022 and to fully realize a zero-trust security approach by 2023. Washington County's zero-trust plan also includes steps like micro-segmenting the county network and adopting the principle of least privileged access.

The county expected to implement offline backups at an off-site location in July 2022 – to improve resilience in case of a ransomware attack – and prepare each county campus to serve as a backup for the other, should a facility become inaccessible.

A Jan. 2020 scare over personally identifiable information (PII) prompted tighter data security, and in 2021, the county adopted a solution to help employees encrypt such information in their emails. The tool also blocks sending or receiving unencrypted PII and restricts abilities to send even encrypted PII outside the county network. 2022 also marked the end of a two-year effort to improve the quality of data input.

Washington County also is paying attention to electric vehicle (EV) technologies and installed a solar-powered EV charging station at the county courthouse. The county will explore using EVs, with IT getting the first such vehicle. Other traffic-related efforts aim to more efficiently inform the county about repair needs, with an aerial data collections system and sensors installed on Road Department vehicles collecting and transmitting road condition information.

The county has also launched more resident resources, including a centralized portal for accessing various services - debuted in late 2021 - and an AI-powered chatbot that will launch in mid-2022 with capabilities in different languages.

6th Onslow County, N.C.

One of the ways Onslow County’s IT agency shines is in its collaborative spirit, which is interwoven into its structure. The agency’s staff consists mostly of generalists, which naturally fosters cooperation internally, while a highly consolidated enterprise means IT can support collaboration between other departments as well. The office is active in the North Carolina Property Mappers Association, the MUNIS user group, and notably, the state’s Joint Cybersecurity Task Force, through which it deploys personnel to assist local governments and education institutions when they have a cyber incident — an activity which has helped the county develop its own cyber response plans. The county has completed a successful migration of its aging data center to hyperconverged infrastructure, leading to lower costs, a smaller footprint and increased flexibility. It has also embraced innovation, trying out new software to help law enforcement in its approach to people with mental health issues, as well as a new email protection tool that uses real (neutralized) threats to achieve continuous user education.

7th Davidson County, N.C.

Keeping costs to the taxpayer low is a priority for seventh-place Davidson County, N.C. This year, the county successfully completed three major projects without increasing the county’s tax rate. The first was a $28 million courthouse expansion, requiring a complex integration of the new facility’s technology systems with two existing courthouse buildings.

The second is the implementation of a next-generation 911 system using an ESInet network, allowing for text- and video-to-911 capabilities. Thanks to a collaboration with county GIS staff, the new system also facilitates call routing based on the mobile caller’s precise location, not just the location of the cell tower.

Finally, Davidson County sought to save money by transitioning from 15- and 20-year-old on-site Mitel phone systems with 860 office telephones to a full-featured hosted VoIP system. The new system will be able to support the county’s ongoing teleworking needs by allowing county employees to use their phones remotely, which will save the county $96,000 annually. Keeping with the theme of updating existing communication systems, the county also transitioned the county’s more than 1,000 email users from an on-site Microsoft Exchange server to Office 365, allowing employees to access email and calendar services from anywhere.

8th Union County, N.C.

Eighth place Union County, N.C., IT is on the move, in the process of working toward a centralized operating model for most departments. But that’s far from the only evidence of transformation in this collaboration-focused organization. The county recently added a Department of Innovation and Strategy, focused in part on ushering in a new era of data-driven operations. Another addition of late is a chartered Change Management Board where staff in IT roles across the county coordinate on large projects, bringing improved network uptime and employee morale, among other benefits. The pandemic revealed that Union County wasn’t as agile as they could be, prompting a move to more cloud-based technologies that could better adjust to changing priorities. One example is a recent website refresh from a self-hosted portal to a cloud-based solution from Granicus.

Union County’s cyber efforts, led by an information security officer, include coordination with MS-ISAC and the state’s National Guard. In addition to seeing results from employee training efforts, they’ve deployed multi-factor authentication for staff with access to domain accounts with advanced privileges. The county has also demonstrated a commitment to further refining its cybersecurity environment by engaging in simulation events with nearby jurisdictions.

9th Charlotte County, Fla.

Charlotte County has made a substantial effort to improve the services it offers residents with modern tech solutions. A prime example is the introduction of ePermit Hub and the ability to apply for county permits online, through a one-stop process that does not require a visit to a county office. This came in handy during the pandemic when remote work and office shutdowns were commonplace. Similarly, building inspections have also been streamlined using Atlas software, which allows county staff to schedule inspections automatically. The switch to the Atlas system has saved staff several hours a day in routing assignments to inspectors in the field, while also reducing overtime costs. Esri mapping technology is also used to keep track of water quality assessments and related activities.

In terms of cybersecurity, the county has adopted a suite of modern tools and applications to better protect its data, while also leveraging multifactor authentication to protect primary systems. Similarly, the county has taken steps to improve IT resilience against the natural emergencies common to Florida, like storms, fires and floods. To build a more resilient workforce, the IT department has taken to less traditional means to attract the right talent. Online interviewing tools and social media have found a place in the recruitment process, and partnerships with area schools are giving students a clearer path into public service.

10th Berkeley County, S.C.

Berkeley County lands another top 10 spot in its population category for putting residents first and making consistent efforts to shore up cybersecurity. The county took on numerous IT projects, partially due to the pandemic but more importantly to improve convenience for its constituents. The county created more opportunities for users to access information online and make payments. Citizens can also sign up to receive county emergency alerts. One major IT project the county undertook involved designing an online tax sale application which streamlined payment processing and more. Additionally, the county made necessary modifications to online submission forms, such as adding online payment options for FOIA and GIS map requests. And to serve county staff better, the IT department implemented a new internal application allowing employees to create an electronic timesheet and import leave requests to its payroll system – resulting in improved electronic data management.

In the age of emerging cyber threats, it’s no surprise that fortifying cybersecurity was another top county priority. The IT department integrated a new anti-virus application within their network that protects against malware and phishing. Furthermore, the IT department subscribes to KnowBe4 security training programs and requires county staff to participate on a quarterly basis.

Click here to see all Digital Counties 2022 categories.