Digital Counties 2022: Up to 150,000 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 Nevada County, Calif.
A perennial contender on this list, Nevada County, Calif., retook the No. 1 rank in the under 150,000 population category with a range of projects both foundational and incremental. In January 2022, the county board declared broadband to be critical community infrastructure, and several departments did their part to streamline the deployment process for laying new fiber: new land use policies, new road standards to allow for trench digging and a new team led by the CIO to help local providers complete last-mile projects. As another part of its broadband strategy, the county implemented a new local last-mile broadband grant program funded by county general funds, which has served as a model for other local governments.
For disaster recovery in a region known for wildfires, Nevada County implemented an off-site enterprise backup system, Rubrik, with multiple backups in different locations that can restore services remotely or by running them in the cloud, and with point-in-time recovery to restore lost data. The county installed a new diesel-powered generator to power the main building in event of a shutdown and to keep public safety and data centers operational, and it moved several enterprise applications to the cloud, including endpoint detection and response, anti-malware tools, the phone system VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) and the DA’s case management system. To protect against outages and equipment failures, the county implemented redundant ISP services using border gateway protocol and dual routers.
Amidst redundancies for its physical infrastructure, Nevada County’s cybersecurity initiatives were also critical, including the implementation of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework and multifactor authentication for all access outside the network, the use of Albert from MS-ISAC for 24/7 threat monitoring, the replacement of the county’s enterprise data storage platform, and the creation of a management-level IT security position. IT staff also started the process of inventorying all applications and data, classifying all data sets and reviewing who has permission to access them in order to create a comprehensive dashboard to yield insights about data-sharing opportunities as well as security vulnerabilities across five departments.
For citizens, the county built a website for fire information and preparedness, readynevadacounty.org, including a dashboard of apps and websites in an ArcGIS-tabbed story map; a system for evacuation warnings and orders called Zonehaven; a new CRM portal for county services; and a self-serve system at the library, so patrons with a card number and PIN can access it outside normal hours.
2nd Coconino County, Ariz.
Since last year’s survey, Coconino County, Ariz., has jumped six spots, earning second place in this year’s 150,000 population category. During this time, the county focused on five specific areas: enhanced services, IT security, service delivery, community partnerships, and people and culture. Officials also concentrated on improving fiber and high-speed Internet connections in unserved and underserved rural communities across northern Arizona to boost digital equality.
To improve Internet connections, the county conducted a feasibility study to understand the challenges of implementing fiber across rural northern Arizona, more specifically identifying middle- and last-mile construction build-outs that would address the problem. The first phase would implement 432 strands of fiber from Flagstaff, Ariz., to the border of Utah. The second phase would add 432 more fiber strands connecting Tuba City to the Four Corners region. However, the county is awaiting approval on formal right-of-way requests from several landowners before moving forward.
In other efforts that touch technology, Coconino County developed an information security program to ensure the confidentiality, integrity and availability of the county’s information assets. Additionally, an IT service delivery model has been created to improve the customer experience and provide transparent cost information to stakeholders.
3rd Montgomery County, Va.
Counties can take various paths toward more digital access for residents. Montgomery County, Va., has a particularly unique approach using vehicles with renewable energy. The Wireless on Wheels program deployed 18 solar-powered carts that provide Internet connections via cellular connections or satellite dishes. The idea sprung from the pandemic and the need to provide testing, assessment and referral services to residents. County officials also set up nearly 1,000 mobile hot spots for parents of school children for remote education — capabilities that also supported remote workers.
The county’s technology workforce also has focused on public safety, reflecting larger trends across the country. Montgomery’s IT Department deployed the IN FORCE911 app — already used by the public schools there — on every PC and laptop used by a county government employee. The tool is designed to reduce the response time for law enforcement during an active threat via real-time direct communication. IT workers worked with the county sheriff to train individual departments and agencies to use the software.
Meanwhile, the county is working with regional organizations, such as 911 Authority and schools, to consolidate technology resources like data storage, server infrastructure and telecommunications equipment.
4th Franklin County, Va.
Franklin County jumped from 10th to fourth place this year, demonstrating a strong commitment to using tech to improve the lives of its residents. County IT aimed to improve cybersecurity countywide by implementing a citizen cyber awareness program. Through a partnership between The Franklin Center, the county library, the Sheriff’s Office, Parks and Recreation, the Family Resource Center and New College Institute, the county established events and resource materials to educate school-age families, small businesses and the elderly on cybersecurity. The county also redrafted its IT policies so that it is now in full compliance with the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Cybersecurity Framework.
Franklin County also improved its data governance in the last year, developing a three-year GIS strategic plan to govern the use of geospatial data. As an example, the county was able to merge its emergency response call data and its geospatial data and create a dashboard to visualize the results. The Department of Public Safety now has a countywide view of historical call data by location, allowing team members to determine where response is working well and where they need to improve.
Last but certainly not least, Franklin County made strides in the last year to improve engagement with and dissemination of information to its residents. The county engaged CivicPlus, a GovTech 100 company, to revamp its website, making it easier for residents to navigate. Franklin County also engages in widespread use of social media, from Facebook to Instagram to Twitter, to push information out to residents in a relatable and easily accessible format.
5th James City County, Va.
Fifth place James City County’s determination to provide quality services to its constituents is palpable. The IT department has adapted to the challenge of a growing local population by keeping its technology up to date and creating innovative solutions to deliver services. For example, the county is preparing to launch a 311 system to handle service requests, non-emergency inquiries, and complaints. And after receiving feedback from users, the county added an AI chatbot to its website to help citizens find information faster. The county is also constantly working to digitize documents and upload them into its online public document library.
On the cybersecurity front, James City County spent months creating detailed policies and procedures to address future cyber threats. In the event of a security incident, James City County has a disaster recovery system, infrastructure and processes in place to mitigate the disruption. The IT team also works with other departments to determine recovery priorities in the event of a major data breach. And with support from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the county IT department formed a cyber subcommittee. Using federal funding to help with cyber preparedness, the county developed proactive response plans, reviewed election security issues, and administered tabletop exercises for additional training. If the county receives more funding, next steps include regional efforts on incident response and information sharing.
As far as other modernization efforts, the county’s IT department recently replaced electrical and environmental systems in their primary data center. IT has also committed to regular updates of its ERP systems for accounting, land management and asset management.
5th Orange County, Va.
With a central goal of facilitating services that residents can interact with “anytime, anyplace and anywhere,” the Digital Citizen Initiative has taken top priority in Orange County, Va. This is supported by enterprise IT with strategic services for broadband design, citizen access and engagement, and general tech assistance to all county departments.
To aid in implementing the initiative, the county has taken steps to open dialog in the digital sphere by reviewing social media policies, increasing engagement through a shared management platform and publishing a monthly electronic newsletter. The county also created a new communications specialist position and deployed new GIS tools to streamline key services like voting and community development.
Cybersecurity is another priority, and to that end, the county more than doubled its cybersecurity spending between 2020 and 2021. That increase allows for a virtual information security officer, staff training and increased monitoring capabilities.
6th Dodge County, Wis.
For the third year in a row, Dodge County has placed sixth in its population category. This year, the county sought to be more responsive to its citizens and conducted a survey to better understand the Internet needs of its citizens. It found that almost half of residents are dissatisfied with their Internet speeds and 93 percent of survey respondents believed the county government should be involved in facilitating better broadband. In addition, the county conducted at least four other surveys to better identify citizen needs, using the results to adapt and sustain citizen-aligned programs.
Dodge County also successfully upgraded the county’s streaming and video conferencing abilities by enhancing conference rooms with new pan-tilt-zoom cameras. Using this new equipment, the county started livestreaming County Board of Supervisors meetings. Working with the installation firm, Dodge County was able to engineer a low-maintenance, sustainable solution requiring minimal ongoing technical support.
Using newly updated IT priorities developed by a committee of the county board, the IT department is looking forward to focusing on cybersecurity and risk management in the coming year.
7th York County, Va.
One of York County’s most notable projects involved an initiative to expand fiber networks through the northern region of the county to boost economic development, incentivize competition among Internet service providers and expand Internet access to underserved areas. Another priority was to improve communication after the county outgrew its previous phone system. The county rolled out a new Cisco Unified Messaging system, which allowed for clear and stable phone communications, even over a remote connection to employees’ homes or cellphones.
In terms of cybersecurity and IT modernization, the county partnered with Assura to update its Cyber Incident Response Plan, which now has a “checklist-based response” for detection, analysis, containment, eradication, recovery and post-incident protocol. The county also implemented new software security measures, stricter account controls and increased password complexity.
To better connect with residents, county officials began holding virtual public meetings using a combination of Zoom and traditional broadcast equipment. IT and public affairs officials also jointly developed a new process to review public emails, which improved responsiveness. The county also now uses tools like Google Analytics to evaluate how residents interact with their website and how easy it is to navigate.
8th Bedford County, Va.
Bedford County in Virginia is home to about 80,000 residents in 769 square miles. In the summer of 2021, county leaders in this largely agricultural county worked to develop a list of strategic priorities to roll out through 2024. High on their list is modernizing infrastructure and strengthening cybersecurity. The county gathered resident feedback on broadband and discovered that 64 percent of respondents had either no Internet or poor service. This survey led to the formation of a partnership in December 2021 between the county and three Internet service providers. Fueled by grants totaling more than $25 million, the group aims to bolster broadband coverage by bringing high-speed connectivity to nearly 12,000 underserved or unserved units.
The county has made some recent progress toward its cybersecurity goals, establishing acceptable use and password management policies last year. Tied into the county’s overall enterprise security framework and strategy, these guidelines are intended to guide staff toward best practices in cyber hygiene.
9th Albemarle County, Va.
Albemarle County has been working to modernize its systems and update internal processes. For example, it debuted a new contract management dashboard and modernized, third-party payroll and procurement systems. The updates are also a win for county cyber defenses, as the old procurement system was unable to provide the level of security Albemarle needed. Albemarle is also working toward adopting additional ERP systems, including by training up staff with the skills needed to implement the offerings.
Turning an eye to resident-facing services, the county also launched a new portal that guides users through filling out applications for purposes like building permits and architectural review board applications. The system aims to offer a swifter, streamlined experience, and users can also use the portal to submit digital payments and connect with relevant resources.
Addressing a public safety need, the county equipped first responder vehicles with wireless routers for connectivity and adopted a backup for the system used to alert its Fire Rescue stations. A new acquisition of body-worn cameras for police officers also could help Albemarle foster trust between residents and local law enforcement.
Cybersecurity is another priority, and the county adopted a new automated service that monitors Internet traffic and responds to potential malicious activity. This pairs with a 24/7 network operations center as well. The county is also more strongly embracing identity verification and the shift to cloud and adopted a tool that extends multifactor authentication to Office 365 and VPN users.
10th Sherburne County, Minn.
Improving cybersecurity protocols has been a top priority for Sherburne County, which has implemented improved VPN technologies as well as multifactor authentication for remote work staff. Sherburne County has found remote work to be fairly seamless, with some 30 percent of the workforce now working from home. With more tools and policies in place, this number could grow to more than 50 percent.
County departments now use a content management system from CivicPlus to help ensure a consistent website design across the organization and heighten engagement with the public. In partnership with the county communication department, IT refined the county’s data privacy policies and standards, conveying the detailed updates to residents, and other site users.
Modernization efforts include a new human resources management vendor, ADP, as well as an upgraded permitting system that offers a new design and integration with the county’s GIS system. In the next year or so, IT will be focusing on data analytics, application modernization and integration, as well as continued enhancements of its cybersecurity posture focused on data protection, compliance auditing and mobile and remote security.
Click here to see all Digital Counties 2022 categories.