Digital Counties 2022: 250,000-499,999 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 Placer County, Calif.Placer County, one of California’s original “gold country” local governments, rises from fourth place in its category last year to first place as it builds on work around consolidation and accessibility. Among its accomplishments, Placer has a cloud-first application strategy and has moved many crucial enterprise- and department-level apps to the cloud. Its Ready Placer website, deployed in October, offers disaster preparedness for wildfires, earthquakes and other incidents while the Ready Placer GIS dashboard has citizen-facing preparedness information like evacuation tips. To enable dashboard-style analytics and performance metrics, officials have made expanding the county’s Microsoft Power BI platform a priority. In response to dissatisfaction charted in a community survey last fall, officials set up the Placer County Broadband Equity Program to drive digital accessibility and connected fiber to more than 2,000 households and businesses. Last year, the county became a Zencity subscriber, to improve its social listening and engagement with residents, and now uses machine learning to better respond to users of its HR system.
October saw the launch of the Placer County Probation Outreach Vehicle, a mobile probation office, courtroom, and assessment center to bring services right to residents that’s believed to be a state first. Underpinning all things IT is the 2021 Information Technology Strategic Plan charting technology’s course for three years. Cybersecurity is also a top priority — Placer evaluates its program yearly against the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Cybersecurity Framework, this year meeting the minimum maturity level across all five functions. County IT also created a document to guide the response to a cyber incident and aligned that with Roseville, Placer’s largest city.
2nd Prince William County, Va.
Prince William County also made strides in its attempts to close the digital divide with the creation of its Technology Inclusion Initiative (TII). Through TII, the Department of Information Technology (DoIT) conducted detailed canvassing to determine areas unserved and/or underserved by broadband. Service was expanded to more than 100 homes throughout the county as a result. The TII is also sponsoring free public courses on technology literacy.
Internally, the county also expanded its own broadband capabilities, building out fiber connectivity between its data centers and colocation facilities. They have also begun deploying dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM) to increase the capacity of fiber lines without actually having to add more fiber itself. Prince William County also improved its cybersecurity posture, implementing an integrated dashboard for security operations center (SOC) monitoring using Splunk. Analysts can now view synchronized SOC data across multiple sources, improving insight into network activity and incident response.
3rd Chesterfield County, Va.
Like every other local government in the U.S., Chesterfield County was forced to adapt to the flood of IT challenges brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. The shift to remote work forced changes to how staff delivered basic IT services while still defending the county’s most sensitive data across the more than 500 servers and 4,900 PCs and laptops. A focus on teaching personnel “the basics” of cybersecurity, coupled with a proactive approach to risk management, resulted in a 75 percent decline in phishing test click-throughs. Moreover, regular penetration testing is conducted by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to ensure network strength is up to modern threats.
Access to the tools staff need to do their work has also seen significant improvements. Approval for an app for a county-owned smartphone or tablet used to take staff a month to process; through a county app store, personnel can now get access to the tools they need in less than a week. A willingness on the part of leadership to pursue cloud technology is also streamlining service delivery and records management processes.
The shift to a more remote workforce has come with its benefits. Where staffing and retention are concerned, work-from-home capabilities have allowed the county to pull from a talent pool that stretches far beyond its borders and into other states.
4th Leon County, Fla.
Last year Leon County IT was hit with an extraordinary number of vacancies almost at once, needing to fill 10 positions making up about 15 percent of the overall staff. The agency got creative, using a “contract-to-hire” approach to bring in people more quickly with a path toward permanent employment. That aside, the county managed some other heavy lifts, including noteworthy support for the hosting of the 2021 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships — the first time the event has been held in Florida. That involved developing a 3D model of the venue to pitch to the selection committee, as well as providing Wi-Fi for about 8,500 athletes and attendees plus fiber-optic lines to allow camera coverage of the entire course. The county also earned praise from the U.S. Treasury for becoming one of the most efficient distributors of emergency rental assistance funds during the pandemic, an effort which IT supported.
Leon County IT is in the process of assessing and implementing many new technologies, including network access control that will allow for better endpoint visibility, enterprise-wide multi-factor authentication and a deep learning solution that could save money by automating the process of generating building footprints using aerial imagery.
5th Dutchess County, N.Y.
Climbing one spot on the list this year, Dutchess County made several proactive efforts in the interest of closing gaps and serving the underserved. Crucially, it conducted a feasibility survey for external broadband infrastructure for both businesses and residences, identifying areas in need and action plans to get them high-speed Internet. For county youth, the Office of Central and Information Services (OCIS) created a “Path to Promise” website with an inventory of youth services and worked with Poughkeepsie City School District on a data system that tracks out-of-school factors that impact learning and creates individualized success plans for students.
It was also a year of digital transformation for many departments: a new app to track equal employment opportunity complaints; a cloud-based electronic health record management system; a constituent-relationship management system that reduced response time and improved county services; a cloud-based professional development system for HR with over 1,500 pre-built courses on NEOGOV; a centralized control system to manage wireless infrastructure, allowing the county to respond to wireless requests faster and have redundant Internet connections that reduce network access failures; and the piloting of a digital MCIS, or mobile case intake system, to help public defenders manage cases and serve clients more efficiently. Dutchess County OCIS even helped other local governments modernize, including providing shared services for the town of Amenia in the form of a public outreach website, implemented using WP Engine.
In another critical step, Dutchess County developed its first cybersecurity incident response policy and plan to detect and mitigate cyber attacks. In early 2021, the county implemented CrowdStrike endpoint security, Splunk Real-Time Infrastructure Monitoring, and new network devices, storage devices, servers and backup generators at data center facilities in the 911 response center and the sheriff’s building. The county was the first of New York’s 62 counties in January 2022 to participate in a cybersecurity tabletop exercise hosted by the state Division of Homeland Security. And in a joint committee with other state and local leaders, Dutchess County CIO Glenn Marchi developed the “Cybersecurity Primer for Local Government Leaders,” which formed the basis of workshops for other federal, state, local and private-sector staff.
6th Sarasota County, Fla.
Home to more than 400,000 Floridians, Sarasota County has embraced innovation by incorporating technologies like robotic process automation (RPA) and prioritizing developing capacity for data analytics. Through a partnership between the county’s Enterprise Information Technology (EIT) department and the Office of Financial Management, they’re using RPA to find savings, reduce data entry errors and proactively identify variances within the budget.
The county has matured its data analytics capabilities by developing governance infrastructure for different types of data, so that users can access and understand county data. EIT staff are also developing predictive and prescriptive models based on county data that can be vital information sources for county decision-makers. Sarasota County has seen practical results from these efforts. For example, staff can now better identify available funding within certain categories as well as when those funds will be spent, saving time processing applications that would exceed the county’s budget.
Outside of that, the county has implemented a cybersecurity-focused policy limiting the use of USB removable media on corporate networks. And in a nod to transparency along with improving the constituent experience, the county created a single website dedicated to the Sarasota County Surtax. The website includes individual web pages devoted to each municipality so citizens can view past and future projects. Since the website’s launch, there have been nearly 10,000 views.
7th Hamilton County, Ind.
Tax collection stands as one of the biggest jobs for any government – a task demanding accuracy and communication – and Hamilton County is using technology to help make that job more seamless. The county’s tech professionals created a Microsoft Teams “Tax Billing Team” that eliminates email chain responses and keeps conversation threads together. All that has resulted in fewer delayed, unclear and misdirected communications. The system also lets participants share documents in a way that reduces overwrites and inadvertent edits – potential mistakes that can introduce other errors into tax collection.
Hamilton County also replaced Skype for Business with Microsoft Teams, and it uses that tool to keep projects and collaborations in logical and concise groups – an example of how technological progress for public agencies relies not only on software and hardware but also well-organized teamwork. So far, more than 200 teams have been created and users have hosted more than 11,500 meetings.
8th Clayton County, Ga.
Clayton County made cybersecurity a top priority in the last year, hiring its first-ever chief information security officer. The CISO co-leads the regional Cybersecurity Committee for the Urban Area Strategic Initiative (UASI), providing valuable cybersecurity collaboration opportunities for Clayton County. And through testing exercises with UASI, the county is now following the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework.
But cybersecurity wasn’t the only thing that saw an increased focus in Clayton County recently. The county has launched a number of initiatives aimed at improving constituents’ ability to communicate with the county. Through the Click Clayton app, residents can report non-emergency issues like potholes just by dropping a pin on a map and answering a few quick questions. And on the county website, constituents can subscribe to receive information by subject either through email or text.
Back behind the scenes, Clayton County made a number of improvements to various aspects of its IT infrastructure. The data center locations got a network capacity upgrade that improves disaster resilience by adding a load balancer, eliminating the chance of a single point of failure while also increasing service availability. The county also implemented its own fiber-optic network to connect all county buildings, saving about $400,000 annually. The 100-mile-long network also benefits residents and visitors, providing public Wi-Fi at 30 different buildings.
9th Anoka County, Minn.
Anoka County, Minn., placed ninth in its population category, landing it a spot on this year’s survey for the first time since 2012. This past year, the county focused on enhancing citizen-centric services, bolstering cybersecurity efforts and upgrading IT systems. Anoka County stood out for providing innovative solutions to citizen problems. For example, to assist citizens displaced from employment during the pandemic, the county hosted online job fair events that were virtually attended by both employers and job seekers. The events listed descriptions for available positions and even included instant messaging capabilities for job seekers to communicate with employers in real time.
To drive the county’s cyber strategy forward, a separate cybersecurity unit within the IT department was created. Considering the reality of rising cyber threats, the county hopes to grow the cybersecurity unit’s staff. Additionally, the county partnered with vendors to increase understanding of zero-trust networks and cyber insurance. County staff also participated in a NACo cyber incident simulation training.
The IT department is in the process of searching for upgrades for the current ERP system and a variety of procurement systems. Although the county is working with limited resources, the team has already begun laying the groundwork for replacing these technologies.
10th Erie County, Pa.
Budget issues rank as a top priority for Erie County. The IT department is unique in that it has an administrative budget that supports its main objectives, but it must rely on other departments to fund multiple positions, capital projects and the costs of new initiatives that don’t fall under the IT budget. Even without an increased budget over the last eight years, the IT department is tasked with maintaining adequate budgeting for cybersecurity, staff retention and development, data retention and disaster recovery, recurring software licenses and fees, and equipment modernization.
In striving to ensure transparency for its constituents, the department has dedicated a full-time Internet and social media administrator to help with the Two Minutes of Transparency series, in which the county executive discusses county government solutions every week. The department also acts as a liaison between the elections department and County Council to provide real-time election results. IT also helps increase collaboration between planning, assessment and public safety in the use of GIS, interactive tax map improvements and other public initiatives.
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