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Digital Counties 2023: 150,000 to 249,999 Population Category

The leading jurisdictions in this year's Digital Counties Survey are redefining the boundaries of tech advancements with their agile adoption of new tools, commitment to digital equity and digitization of critical processes.

Click here to see our full coverage of the 2023 Digital Counties Survey.

1st Arlington County, Va.

Arlington County, part of the greater Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, exhibits a thorough, measured, collaborative and thoughtful approach to IT leadership that permeates virtually all its work. A few monumental, multiyear projects illustrate this well: In the last year, Arlington County has updated its procurement process to offer earlier data gathering on key questions important to different stakeholders, and it has standardized continuity of operations planning for all departments. Arlington has also migrated from a fractured suite of legacy VPN solutions to one shared cloud-based VPN and made significant progress on its journey to move all applications to the cloud that can be moved. All those efforts required strong partnership and leadership with other departments.

Underpinning that success is a focus on engaging stakeholders in planning; the county has recently updated its privacy principles, its digital strategy and its approach to testing and procuring emerging technology.

The county also exhibits a strong focus on data and performance. Recent work that has paid dividends includes deployment of welcome center and call center chatbots, the rollout of digital permitting, the move from voice over IP to as-a-service phone and call center technology for 3,000 users, a move to wireless access points and the support of a paperless service initiative for certain financial operations.

2nd Cabarrus County, N.C.

An annual staple of the Digital Counties Survey, Cabarrus County holds the No. 2 spot again this year with a wide-ranging website overhaul, new cybersecurity practices and various projects to prepare staff and infrastructure for innovation in the long term. Perhaps most publicly, with implications for many departments, the county used the OpenCities/Granicus platform to launch a new, more searchable website that staff could edit directly, leading to more current and accurate content instead of relying on a small number of staff or social media to share information with the public. The county also implemented OpenGov for budgeting, reporting, workforce planning and public transparency. Procurement was another focus area, as the county ITS Department created a “bid scraper” to pull relevant bids off the state’s website and share them on the county’s, and a custom program to integrate data on vendors with the county’s records.

Cabarrus County revisited its data security strategy with a combination of new software for daily backups, Palo Alto 440 firewalls and direct Internet connections to increase micro-segmentation of the network, and archiving backups on magnetic tape. Also for cybersecurity, the team created an isolated network for management with highly protected, multifactor-authenticated access. And when cybersecurity staff realized a critical data system at the Sheriff’s Office couldn’t be exported and couldn’t be upgraded, because it was no longer supported by the vendor, they created a new, isolated network specifically for that system that wasn’t connected to the Internet. Collaboratively, the county worked with the National Guard on a cyber hygiene assessment and gained access to the state’s cybersecurity task force. To find buildings from which they could restore voice and digital services in the event of an emergency, for continuity-of-operations planning, ITS built a web application with which several departments could continuously update their facilities inventory.

In an effort to build its in-house expertise, the county added a network administrator, cybersecurity analyst and a fellowship; drafted a new application process for the county’s career and leadership institute; and used executive masterclasses and department-level workshops through the Centre for Public Impact’s Failing Forward in Local Government program to foster a culture of innovation.

3rd Union County, N.C.

Broadband is being expanded in Union County to nearly 2,000 additional residences. This is happening as part of an Internet service provider agreement between the county, Charter/Spectrum and other partners, which secured a $1 million investment that allowed the project to receive an additional $5 million from the state. Union-Bibb County is also increasing its cybersecurity posture by introducing multi-factor authentication for employees and a fully managed Security Information and Event Management (SEIM) solution with 24-hour monitoring for cybersecurity threats, as well as partnering with a third-party Security Operations Center. The SEIM has helped the county to identify potential threats and respond accordingly.

The county is reducing paperwork by modernizing its travel expense reporting and filing procedures using Laserfiche workflow tools. Prior to the upgrades officials were processing some 100 to 200 travel reimbursement forms a week, which required about 30 minutes per form. The new system reduces this processing time to 5 to 10 minutes per form. Union County’s public-facing website has been updated with a more robust content management system as part of the Granicus platform. This upgrade moves hand in hand with upgrades to the system handling public records requests, replacing a manual process with a more automated tool known as NextRequest.

Similarly, the county has turned to Engage Union County as a platform to gain feedback and other insights from residents related to projects the county is working on. The site provides information around timelines, updates and staff contact information. The IT team has begun the process of centralizing data storage and management by sunsetting single-use access databases across multiple departments and moving this data to the SQL management studio, accessible to all departments.

4th Onslow County, N.C.

Onslow County, N.C., once again finishes well in the Digital Counties Survey, moving up two places from last year. A coastal county that is home to just over 200,000 residents, Onslow boasts a tight-knit tech team that routinely punches above its weight, earning a number of mentions in the monthly shout-out emails sent governmentwide by the county manager. While Onslow’s population is still fairly modest, it has now earned the designation of being one of the fastest-growing counties in the state. It also has a relatively young population. This means, essentially, that tech work has never been so important for Onslow, and the team there must continue to rise to meet a new moment.

The focus over the past year has largely been on maintaining a stout cybersecurity stance while also improving IT infrastructure. Onslow has worked to be involved with statewide cybersecurity initiatives, as well as to bake security into any new projects that are started there, rather than having to retrofit or add new measures down the line. This is all relatively general, but Onslow has also made new progress on specific projects, too. For example, the team used grant funds to upgrade its data center, going from a disparate architecture to a homogenous infrastructure that fosters better emergency response, which is key for an area vulnerable to coastal storms. Finally, Onslow should also be lauded for its Tech Tuesday events, which sees a member of the IT team spend a day in another county department and facilitates mutual learning opportunities.

5th Columbia County, Ga.

The IT team in Columbia County, Ga., earned its fifth-place spot this year with its focus on supporting the growing county with necessary technical upgrades, guided by the organization’s strategic technology plan. One example is the SCADA security assessment that they worked with the water utility on, in addition to an upgrade to the agency’s legacy customer information software. They also partnered with the Traffic Engineering Department to meet the evolving needs of Columbia County’s intelligent transportation system. The GIS team helped create a website to educate voters on a proposal to raise money for various infrastructure projects, including broadband. Recent cybersecurity upgrades include an updated password policy, which ushered in a countywide multifactor authentication implementation. Other notable IT efforts of late include a redesigned website, complete with a chatbot; a new ERP with a more modern customer interface; an upgraded emergency operations center with advanced GIS capabilities; a new A/V system for the judicial center; and a real-time crime center brought online by the Sheriff’s Office.

6th Pitt County, N.C.

Pitt County, N.C., IT has invested significant time and resources in researching which systems will be losing capability and support in the next three to five years and focusing on improvements in those areas. A vendor management program helps evaluate vendors on how they meet county expectations as well as maintaining security standards as systems become increasingly hosted by partners. Legacy permitting, inspections and planning systems are being migrated to a hosted solution.

Like its peers, Pitt County cites cybersecurity as a top concern. Following a recent cyber assessment, the county created and filled a new position for an IT security manager, who has developed new policies and workflows that focus on risk management and mitigation. The security manager is also coordinating with county agencies on their disaster and resilience plans. To further strengthen its security efforts, Pitt County participates in StateRAMP and also takes advantage of a CISO-as-a-service program through which a virtual CISO has monthly calls with IT staff to cover any cyber issues at hand and to make plans in case of an incident.

Other recent developments in Pitt include the creation of a cloud-based backup system to supplement an existing physical secondary data center, as well as work toward expanding broadband to un- and underserved residents, particularly those pursuing higher education. In public safety, a new CAD system allows interoperation between Pitt County and city of Greenville, and a planned upgrade will enable communications between Pitt and Wilson counties; this will also allow Wilson to serve as a backup PSAP for Pitt in case of an outage.

7th Davidson County, N.C.

Davidson County, N.C., completed myriad customer-centric projects while also keeping taxpayer costs at a minimum. The county IT team successfully launched a new online permitting system that allows users to view and track the status of their permit applications. This project is just one of many that the county has finished to improve accessibility and user experience for its residents. The county’s 911 center is operating a new software called Prepared Live which allows the dispatch center to livestream, as well as to receive multimedia and GPS location data in real time from callers. The software upgrade ultimately will equip emergency responders with better tools.

Another significant accomplishment Davidson County completed recently is its finished renovation of the Lexington Public Library, which began in 2018. The renovation includes a new computer lab area as well as upgrades to the computers. Also seeing the public need for wireless Internet connection, the county’s public library system expanded wireless access at five of its branch libraries to its parking lots. The county’s IT team worked alongside library staff to execute the necessary upgrades to the wireless infrastructure and to install the outdoor wireless hardware infrastructure.

8th Berkeley County, S.C.

For Berkeley County, S.C., collaboration is woven through various IT efforts. One priority for the county is improving communication with its CAD system. The county combined networks with its EMS and 911 departments and neighboring localities to enable expanded use of Berkeley County’s own CAD system. Upgrades to the dispatch center in recent years have increased the resilience of the county’s safety communications, also allowing it to serve other counties in the case of outages. Also, notably, the county is working to develop a CAD-to-CAD sharing system with four other counties and several municipalities in the area. Although this project is still underway, it would enable greater resilience and continued operations in the event that one locality’s system goes down.

Collaboration among county departments has also helped improve the county’s boat landings, for which the implementation of Internet access and security cameras has improved safety for individuals in the county. The county is working to simplify access to government services, currently getting constituent feedback primarily through a portal feature on the county website allowing constituents to contact officials with requests or questions. The county has plans to develop a mobile-friendly version for greater access to this feature.

9th Stafford County, Va.
One goal for Stafford County, Va., is to develop Stafford’s downtown, a new development that would offer the opportunity for a mix of both public and private spaces, all built from the ground up on smart technology. In working toward that goal, the county recently announced the Virginia Smart Community Testbed, which houses developing technologies for the commonwealth. These developments include Internet of Things platforms that will fully integrate with 5G and other new and emerging technologies for smart cities. The test bed is a “shared knowledge platform” to develop relevant smart technology solutions. It’s a public-private partnership with multiple industry partners that will focus on practical use cases to produce innovative solutions using smart technology.

The county currently also uses analytics and different dashboards to learn about how its constituents are gleaning information as well as to gauge what information they want. Through the county website and social media channels, the county’s chatbot, Ask Blu, collects data that it subsequently used to find what a visitor was looking for and whether they found it. If something stumps Blu, it can then be tweaked so that it will be more helpful moving forward.

10th Charlotte County, Fla.

For Charlotte County, Fla., moving to the cloud was one of its top priorities, and doing so helped it earn 10th place within its population category. The county’s IT team worked closely with various departments to move its land management program, Accela, to the cloud. The software oversees all daily permitting responsibilities, including inspections, damage assessments and plan reviews. As a result of this new program and other software updates, the county has also prioritized increasing data security. For example, the county has adopted regular assessments of its IT environment to identify areas of strengths and weaknesses. It has also incorporated a comprehensive approach that includes conducting risk assessments, implementing data protection policies and enforcing regular training and awareness programs.

The county has also worked on safeguarding mobile applications, like desktop and mobile device operating systems, through installed updates regularly pushed out via the county’s network. Lastly, the county’s Community Development Department introduced a new VuSpex Virtual Inspection software to enhance its building inspection process. The primary goal of this program is to improve overall efficiency while reducing the county’s carbon footprint, ensuring the safety of inspectors and providing flexible service to homeowners.

Click here to see our full coverage of the 2023 Digital Counties Survey.