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Digital Counties 2022: 500,000-999,999 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 Prince George's County, Md.

Prince George’s County’s smart use of technology to further countywide goals is evident throughout the organization, explaining why they held the top spot in their population category for the second year running. To elaborate in just a few areas, the county used federal grant funds from the American Rescue Plan to enhance cybersecurity in several ways. They more than tripled their dedicated cyber team and added a virtual security operations center. In terms of tools, Prince George’s expanded its virtual private network offering due to increased telework, and added firewall management, endpoint protection and SEIM (security event and incident management) capabilities. Looking forward, officials plan to expand multi-factor authentication as one element of their quest for a zero-trust approach.

Turning to digital services, Prince George’s County modernized its 311 system using Salesforce. The PGC311 mobile app, call center and web portal now offer status updates and enhanced transparency for residents on issues they report. The feature-rich upgrade routes issues to multiple agencies (Inspections, Permits, Environment, Public Works and Transportation), and integrates with new tools for work order management, bringing more efficiency throughout the service request process. In addition, post-incident surveys tell officials where to focus troubleshooting resources in the future. Efforts like these are supported by the county’s newly created Digital Government Division, charged with optimizing customer-facing digital services and looking for opportunities to bring new process efficiencies through automation.

All patrol officers now have body-worn cameras, and Prince George’s County has some solid policies to support them. They have governance in place for video storage, as well as access rules for all visual evidence held by county law enforcement and its partner agencies. They were the first county in the state to migrate to Next-Gen 911 — a significant undertaking that now provides more accurate routing for emergency calls.

2nd DeKalb County, Ga.

Ranking second in its population category, DeKalb County, Ga., maintains its position from last year’s survey after shifting to a cloud-first strategy, a move that came after the onset of the pandemic. Having successfully adapted to the initial demand for reliable government services and ability for employees to telework, the IT team is ensuring that other county departments have the option to select a hybrid workforce now that the pandemic has begun to ease. From a technology standpoint, equipping all other county departments with the capabilities to work remotely, in-person or a combination of both allows county departments to discern what is most suitable for them to accomplish their goals.

In an interview with GT, DeKalb County CIO John Matelski, who oversees the county’s Innovation and Technology Department, explained that shoring up cybersecurity with staff training was one of the top IT priorities. Despite the rise in opportunities for bad actors to break into systems, Matelski pointed out that “the biggest [cyber] threats are actually inside the firewall.” The IT department also implemented significant cybersecurity safeguards by updating an IT policy that regulates how county services are being accessed — now employees located outside of the county are required to make formal requests to the IT team if they need to access county resources.

DeKalb County’s IT department made notable upgrades to its website as well. The site’s web portal acts as a gateway allowing users to access services from any other county departments and agencies. Additionally, the latest update enabled the IT department to revisit its content management strategy with new components to delete expired data, work with new forms management tools and add interfaces with a simpler design. The website also features new cybersecurity features including multi-factor authentication for administrators, IP blocking and more.

3rd Snohomish County, Wash.

In keeping with its top goal of enhancing the constituent customer experience, and in alignment with the county’s vision statement, which includes offering “healthy and preserved natural areas, forests and waters,” in 2021 Snohomish County launched a new Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. This provided the IT department with an opportunity to change the “people structure” of the government organization from a technical perspective. That meant moving 810 resources from four different departments into the new department and reorganizing the entire data and organizational structure of those agencies with new data repositories. It also meant restructuring all identity and access management for these areas.

Another priority for Snohomish County was reorganizing the IT department to ensure all functions are focused around protecting and securing data and information. To that end, the Enterprise Data Management division was formed and appointed a new division leader and a team of IT resources. The team developed a data governance plan that includes proactive planning sessions with county department leaders and has created a strategy to establish knowledge and training to empower staff in management of county assets, as well as a tech solution supported by Microsoft Azure Information Protection.

4th Cobb County, Ga.

After coming in 10th place in its population category last year, Cobb County has jumped to fourth, despite facing new challenges and shifting priorities among the county’s leadership. The past year saw a number of new faces in elected positions, all of whom brought new priorities for their office with implications for the county’s IT infrastructure. This is in addition to the county’s shift toward a hybrid work model, requiring new methods of managing the county’s more than 20,000 technology assets.

The Information Services Department report that they have been able to meet their priorities head on. Their No. 1 goal: improve the county's cybersecurity. In 2021, the county faced a wide-ranging phishing attempt. In response, the county’s Board of Commissioners funded four new positions, allowing IT to form a six-person dedicated cybersecurity team. The county has also implemented a countywide multifactor authentication system.

Cobb County has also been settling into its new $6.7 million data center, which was completed in late 2021, with the data center’s infrastructure build-out finishing earlier this year. The data center was built to accommodate the county’s continued growth in business applications and handle the large growth in data that it has seen in recent years. The county has also been hard at work collaborating across departments, including building new recruitment websites for the county’s police and fire forces, a new application to help citizens file homestead exemptions for their property taxes and expanding a pandemic-era online appointment scheduling system to the county’s court system.

5th New Castle County, Del.

New Castle County stood out in this year’s survey for its planning around public transparency, civic engagement, economic development and departmental IT collaboration, among other aims. Despite last year’s challenges of continued telework, heightened cybersecurity threats and supply chain issues, the county managed to update its policies to establish a foundation for county services and fiscal planning.

Recent IT objectives included encouraging community dialog in government decision-making and maintaining a diverse and skilled workforce. To expand information transparency, county IT leaders also began to develop a website for American Rescue Plan Act allocations and started work to create an upgraded county website with improved navigation. IT leadership also submitted legislation to county officials to amend the current budget to purchase a cloud backup service, which was critical due to the growing threat of ransomware attacks. In addition, IT instituted cybersecurity awareness training and acceptable computer use policies into annual compliance training conducted through Human Resources to strengthen cyber hygiene without additional operating costs.

6th San Joaquin County, Calif.

San Joaquin County took sixth place in its population category this year. The county in 2020 adopted its Digital Services and Innovation Strategy, and in its second year of the three-year plan, San Joaquin made great strides and built a foundation to enable the digital transformation of county services. The county lists constituent safety as a top priority and, to support that, IT leadership has partnered with leaders in the law and justice fields to create modernization road maps, including updating the county’s public safety radio system; rolling out a new juvenile justice system for probation; and implementing a new district attorney case management system.

With the everchanging state and county health policies and OSHA guidelines in mind, the county looked to ways to remain flexible while providing quality service to the public. To that end, San Joaquin County developed a hybrid telework policy, which addressed remote access technologies, cybersecurity and work-from-home conditions. The Information Systems Division is continuing to work on creating a permanent telework policy for a post-pandemic world.

7th Gwinnett County, Ga.

Gwinnett County, Ga., is a jurisdiction that knows what it wants, establishing both clear shared values and a set of related priorities. In this year’s survey, the suburban Atlanta county — which at more than 900,000 residents is home to roughly 9 percent of the state’s population — had cybersecurity at the top of its priority list. With this in mind, in 2021 Gwinnett built on the creation of its cybersecurity division three years ago by also adding a new in-house security operations center. While space is at a premium for the central IT shop, this new center was given its own dedicated room capable of fitting up to 12 staffers. To date, four new security analysts have been hired, with a fifth position waiting to be filled as part of the county’s 2022 budget. In addition, Gwinnett is aiming for its new center to use automation to rapidly and consistently respond to potential cyber incidents. Part of the goal there is also to conduct threat hunting that will proactively identify unusual activity.

Another top priority for Gwinnett County in the past year was talent retention, particularly as it relates to remote employment. In 2021, Gwinnett established training and supervisory requirements for its telecommuters, and it also continued practices it established during the pandemic. This past year the county also launched a new division of Emerging Technology and Digital Transformation, aimed at harnessing innovation in the service of Gwinnett’s values and priorities.

8th Ventura, Calif.

The Ventura County IT team has been hard at work over the last year with a number of upgrades. A new network virtualization platform, NSX from VMware, has enhanced network security and performance. And using its new enterprise geospatial data reference architecture, which guides the management and delivery of GIS data, the county built a GeoHub site for its open data initiative. As far as planned upgrades go, in the last year the county partnered with numerous cities within its borders — as well as a number of local organizations and agencies, including transportation departments and utility providers — to develop the Ventura County Broadband Plan. This plan lays the groundwork for a middle-mile fiber loop to connect all cities and public facilities countywide so that Internet service providers can then build their networks off that into unserved and underserved areas.

Another of Ventura County’s achievements in the last year was the rollout of its Business Assistance Grants Program to help small businesses struggling with the impacts of COVID-19. The enterprise GIS team within the IT Services Department stood up an application for this program, developing web map, dashboard and editor modules. The former visualizes how the grant funding is disbursed, while the latter two display business profiles and allow the County Executive Office to update information, respectively.

And last but certainly not least, Ventura County made cybersecurity improvements in the last year, including the rollout of two-factor authentication for all staff. In just 180 days, the county foiled 4,800 suspicious login attempts, and its robust email security is stopping 6.5 million malicious emails each month.

9th Polk County, Fla.

Recently, Polk County established a more transparent and user-friendly public finance dashboard that reduces spreadsheets and other cumbersome approaches at conveying finance data. Improving public engagement is also envisioned through plans to offer web features like real-time chat channels and bots, as well as to implement a customer relationship management platform.

In a more back-of-house improvement, the county has been involved in a data migration project to store data from multiple departments onto the same system, which makes it easier to create reports and perform essential functions related to procurement, payroll and more. Similarly, a Polk “cabinet” was developed as a custom cloud-based file-sharing tool to make it easier to share sensitive documents, automatically encrypting and decrypting the files as they are uploaded and downloaded. With cybersecurity a heightened concern, Polk County has taken steps like the implementation of zero-trust architecture, encrypting data and the micro-segmentation between users and servers.

The county is also working with Florida officials to form a broadband committee to begin the process of planning for broadband expansion as a result of the federal infrastructure package.

10th Chester County, Pa.

Much of Chester County’s recent IT work has gone into automating systems so that processes are made easier and faster for both staff and residents. In the beginning of 2022, the county saw a 97 percent increase in open jobs, an issue IT is using technology to overcome so that online services can be maintained for residents. IT currently uses a chatbot for internal IT requests, which has reduced staff time spent on help desk issues, and they are actively looking for a vendor that can supply a similar system to automatically respond to questions from users interested in county programs and services based on website FAQs. Chester County is hiring with an innovation mindset, looking toward new and cloud-first solutions, rather than staffing that takes a break-fix approach to maintaining outdated systems and processes. After establishing a program in which IT met with all county departments to identify their tech needs, a common theme that emerged was the need for electronic signatures to expedite transactions. In response, IT is moving to DocuSign for contracting and grants.

This year the county will complete a $3.3 million refresh of its CAD system and is working to update its 911 phone system in preparation for a statewide rollout of Next-Gen 911. In late 2022, IT plans to introduce an update to the court case management system that will allow the clerk’s office to go paperless over the next several years, and the county treasurer’s office is exploring a system that will allow them to send property tax bills online, as well as allow for online payments.

Click here to see all Digital Counties 2022 categories.