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Digital Counties 2023: 250,000 to 499,999 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 Prince William County, Va.

Prince William County took first place in its population category this year, continuing the upward trend it has seen over the past several Digital Counties Surveys. In the final stages of a nearly $25 million technology modernization project, the county’s Department of Information Technology (DoIT) has in the last year turned toward some more nuanced aspects of delivering digital services. The county has invested in tech upgrades to improve communication with residents, including software from Granicus that improves engagement at Board of County Supervisors meetings and better regulates speakers, while also allowing for accurate publishing of voting records. The meetings are now accessible online via streaming video. The county reports that this in combination with a robust social media presence and active constituent outreach has resulted in residents’ deeper understanding of community projects.

A testament to Prince William’s strong cyber posture, DoIT’s security operations center recently helped a county department respond to a cybersecurity incident and recover more than $3 million in at-risk funds. DoIT then implemented a multifactor authentication solution that was already in use elsewhere in the county to help avoid a similar attack in the future. DoIT also did a thorough assessment of its cyber insurance needs and then created a guide to help other jurisdictions in the region determine the level of coverage best suited to them.

The county’s modernization effort was designed with resilience in mind, and its disaster recovery strategy uses two on-premises data centers as well as a public cloud solution. Prince William County also uses hyperconverged infrastructure and continuous replication, among other tools, so that in the event of a disaster DoIT could quickly and easily replicate affected systems. In other forward-looking tech, the county is using AI and machine learning in its contact centers to improve the resident experience, as well as to address some internal employee needs, like password resets.

2nd Placer County, Calif.

Placer County, one of California’s oldest local governments, makes another strong showing this year by focusing on its roughly 412,300 residents while modernizing key aspects of its IT infrastructure. Its IT Strategic Plan, approved in 2021, continues to guide the enterprise and the deployment of new technologies. The county recently debuted Workday Analytics, a new module in its Workday enterprise resource planning system with real-time data analysis and visualization and actionable insights. After a network assessment in spring 2022, the county began implementing next-generation network services throughout county offices and for remote users, updating firewalls, the network core, distribution and edge networks, and improving data backup.

The project will wrap in 2025 and also include roles-based access and software-defined wide-area networks. Technology greatly aided Placer’s response to the 2022 Mosquito wildfire. As it has done during recent states of emergency, the GIS team worked with emergency services to quickly do damage assessments and facilitated county-public engagement over maps and data illustrations. GIS technology also helped visualize a survey on countywide broadband and work to connect another 18,000 households is on the way. The county’s Ready Placer website, deployed in October 2021, provided life-saving real-time information on the Mosquito fire, generating nearly 3 million unique site visits and decreasing calls to county offices and 211. More than 66 percent of self-service resident issues now get resolved via the Frase virtual assistant, another point of contact during wildfires and winter storms. Placer is working with the state and other counties on implementing SmartCare, a semi-statewide electronic health record app, and on implementing a health information exchange. And the county for the first time in 2022 reached the recommended minimum maturity level across all functions of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Cybersecurity Framework.

3rd Dutchess County, N.Y.

Dutchess County, N.Y., has moved up in the ranks this year, as the county has invested in planning for a more secure future and a more positive constituent experience. This vision is outlined in the updated Cybersecurity Incident Response Policy and Plan, as well as in the comprehensive IT strategic plan that the county created for 2021 through 2025.

In the cybersecurity space, the county’s updated Cybersecurity Incident Response Policy and Plan includes policies and procedures to be implemented in the case of a cyber incident, as well as training to educate county staff — whom county leaders acknowledge as an important piece of cybersecurity response. Dutchess County was also the first in the state to participate in the New York state cybersecurity tabletop exercise, with 22 people from different departments participating.

One strong example of the county’s work to improve the constituent experience is the Department of Community and Family Services’ Path to Promise Youth Services program, which supports youth development, monitors factors related to their success, and provides access to a vast collection of community resources.

On the operations side, the county hosted the city of Poughkeepsie Police Department on the County Public Safety platform in a shared-service approach, saving about $500,000 in the first year. This occurred through a multi-jurisdictional, inter-municipal agreement, and is likely to expand to include other localities in the county that have shown interest in participating.

4th Chesterfield County, Va.

The last year or so brought a national recruiting push for IT leadership — the deputy chief information officer, business relationship ground manager and enterprise architect each retired within six months — but Chesterfield County continued to beef up areas such as cybersecurity.

The county, in fact, boosted its investment in digital defenses by 56 percent over the past two years and moved to hire two more full-time employees to help with that protection. Meanwhile, as the county’s annual technology project requests increased to more than 140 in 2023 from 103 in 2018, officials won $2 million in new funding for a scaled agile framework (SAFe) method for that increasing number of projects. Public safety, too, has earned more tech focus recently, including a fivefold increase in servers, databases and third-party products, along with fresh training and certifications for staff. The implementation of advanced routing and communication systems has also further strengthened bonds between county IT and the Chesterfield Fire and Emergency Medical Services unit.

4th Durham County, N.C.

Durham County demonstrated a commitment this year to both bridging the digital divide and modernizing its legacy technologies. An example of its success in the latter area is the county’s recent automation of public records requests. The new system was implemented this year and allows the county to collaborate remotely and asynchronously while managing records requests.

Among its efforts to bridge the digital divide is the partnership with the city of Durham. This involves hiring a digital inclusion program manager who will work to ensure that all residents have access to digital skills training and technology. The county has committed resources and developed funding initiatives to see this through to fruition with partnerships with local Internet service providers, local governments and other community organizations.

One of the main challenges the county faced over the last year was recruiting IT talent and filling new and vacant positions. With 18 percent of the county workforce eligible to retire within the next five years and a 20 percent vacancy rate on top of that, the county responded by officially sanctioning remote work and establishing hiring bonuses for hard-to-fill positions, while putting into place governance for hybrid work. Now, about 73 percent of the county workforce is working remotely.

5th Leon County, Fla.

This year, Leon County’s IT team zeroed in on using technology to efficiently provide public services, earning it fifth place within its population category. One example of this includes the county’s commitment to offering 100 percent online permitting. In 2019, Leon County’s Office of Information Technology (LCOIT) developed a multiyear plan to re-engineer its Accela permit tracking system to integrate DigEplan, a modernized solution that makes online permitting available for all permit types. The county implemented Phase I of the project in 2022 and expects to launch Phase II and DigEplan soon.

Another area LCOIT focused on was cybersecurity. Thanks to recently passed legislation, all Florida counties must report cyber incidents to the state and provide yearly cybersecurity training to all staff by January 2024. Leon County is currently in the middle of this process after deciding to implement 100 percent multifactor authentication across its entire enterprise. The implementation process started in mid-December and included 2,500 users. So far, county and constitutional users have achieved 99 percent and 75 percent completion. Lastly, the county is working on several tech projects, including using AI to discover and map new building footprints from geographic information systems (GIS) imagery and using GIS data to identify flood plains.

5th Sonoma County, Calif.

Sonoma County tied for fifth place this year for its use of technology to improve services both internally as well as citizen-facing. The county revamped its website for an improved and more accessible experience. A new web content management platform, Ingeniux, was employed to host the site, which is optimized for a wide range of devices, from mobile phones to tablets to computers. The new site is also capable of multilingual content conversion and has improved ADA compliance features. Sonoma County also made updates to its voting process last year to improve accessibility for voters. The Remote Accessible Vote by Mail (RAVBM) system allows those who cannot vote on paper in person such as disabled or elderly voters to do so with their own tools from the comfort of their own home. A new online RAVBM application released in 2022 eliminated the need to apply for the program in person, which was a barrier to many of the constituents that the program was created to serve.

Sonoma County also improved its technological offerings behind the scenes, transitioning 4,000 employees to Microsoft Office 365 in the cloud. This ensures that county employees can continue to provide vital services to residents in the event that the main data center goes down, a potential issue that was realized in the last few years when wildfires threatened the data center. And in the interest of improving security in the cyber realm, the county implemented multifactor authentication and advanced email security in February of last year. Since these security measures were adopted, not one employee account has been compromised by phishing emails.

6th Marin County, Calif.

In Marin County, IT improvements bolstered racial equity, improved the emergency response system, boosted customer service, and enhanced cybersecurity while also acknowledging the changing nature of a hybrid workforce. Digital Marin was established to increase broadband availability and access to computing for families and nonprofit agencies in underserved communities.

Regarding emergency response, the Office of Emergency Services was broadened to cover a wider range of responsibilities, and IT systems were expanded in the process as it moved to a cloud-based approach where personnel can operate from any location in emergency situations. Health and Human Services systems also saw an upgrade, allowing employees in that department greater outreach capabilities for vaccinating the public. In addition, that department incorporated wastewater testing technology to identify areas where illegal substances are being used.

For constituents, the county website was overhauled to better serve all devices, including smartphones, tablets and computers. Ongoing improvements will be made to provide better customer service access to various departments, and more transparency and accountability as it pertains to finances and policies. In the cybersecurity realm, Marin County took major steps to educate its workforce and raise awareness by launching a newsletter that reaches more than 7,000 employees across 27 agencies and departments. That newsletter is also available to all county residents. And for hybrid employees, the county established “hot seat” locations with network connectivity and phones that staff can share.

7th Cumberland County, N.C.

Hurricane Ian brought tropical-storm-force winds and heavy rain into Cumberland County just as a new 17,000-square-foot Emergency Services Center opened in October of 2022. The new facility is a cornerstone achievement for the county, which is on the list this year in large part for its strides in emergency management technology. Lessons learned from hurricanes Matthew and Florence helped develop a list of critical needs to provide emergency services in the event of a disaster. The IT team spearheaded the process of implementing next-generation 911 technology and rapid call routing in case of an evacuation of the facility. An advanced audio-visual system was installed that features a video wall that consists of 12 55-inch TVs, capable of more than 48 different video configurations. Eight conference rooms were programmed to be interconnected through the building’s AV system, allowing users to “cast” their screen to nearly any other monitor in the facility.

With an eye on cybersecurity, Cumberland County replaced an outdated system this year with a new, more robust system that minimizes the risk of system downtime or outages. The county participated in two cyber simulation exercises in the last year to continue to identify and improve gaps in their system’s cybersecurity. Cumberland County has also put a focus on hiring and retaining qualified staff by expanding remote work opportunities and establishing a recruitment plan to offer salary and pay increases commensurate with experience. They worked to increase wireless Internet access for all residents by purchasing 100 hot spot units available for free checkout through the Cumberland County Library.

8th Hamilton County, Ind.

Hamilton County ranked eighth this year for recent efforts to improve its cybersecurity posture and modernize infrastructure, as well as for projects prioritizing citizen engagement, departmental IT collaboration, updating legacy technologies, IT governance and addressing the digital divide.

The county implemented multifactor authentication and password management, certificate-based authentication for all desktops on its network and additional upgrades to its backup data center to improve network security, as well as a zero-trust approach to IT security protocol. The county also launched the Hamilton County GeoHub, which is a primary public resource site for the county’s geospatial data, web maps and building applications, including direct links to departments offering GIS support such as the Surveyor's Office and Planning Department.

In addition, the county set out to improve its citizen services, which include a county-developed veterans tracking application designated by the Indiana Office of Technology as the Best Application Serving an Organization's Business Needs.

9th Lane County, Ore.

Lane County put a focus on data, including launching a database and system to help the Technology Services Department more accurately and efficiently keep track of each department’s device inventory. That helps ensure each department pays the correct amount into the PC replacement fund each year. Lane also updated its fleet maintenance data set and dashboard. That initiative aims to help departments better monitor vehicles as well as to help the county identify opportunities to head off more expensive maintenance.

Helping with the latter project was the Office of Data and Analytics, which was staffed in 2022. Since kicking off, the office has created the county’s first data and analytics strategic plan and various data resources for departments, as well as launched a data analyst group. In the coming year, the county aims to relaunch its Data Governance Committee, which was established in 2018 but – after the pandemic disrupted plans – never convened. Another new tool aims to prevent unfair pay inequities based on employees’ ages, genders, race or other protected classes. The tool helps department managers and supervisors request a wage analysis before making an offer to job candidates.

Lane County also turned an eye to cybersecurity and resiliency. It established the Cyber Security and Compliance Division, improved cyber awareness training and participated in a tabletop exercise from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the Oregon state elections body. The county also adopted a stronger backup strategy, storing digital copies in several physical locations and in a geographically distant cloud as well as preserving an offline, tape-based version of backups. IT also has been using grant funding to create a cyber action plan and establish new policies and procedures.

Finally, Lane County is working to migrate more systems to the cloud, particularly with an eye to improving local network security and recovery capabilities. As it transitions, the county is working to ensure it has data loss prevention policies in place, to maintain compliance with regulatory, legal and industry standards.

10th Clayton County, Ga.

Clayton County, Ga., sits just to the south of the Atlanta metro region and serves nearly 300,000 citizens. Officials there are focused on closing the digital divide, investing in technology modernization and protecting critical systems from outside threats.

As part of their modernization efforts, the IT team has been focused on building an in-house, comprehensive justice management system over the course of the next 36 months. The effort has increased coordination across stakeholder departments. Officials have also established the Office of Digital Equity, which focuses on educating the public about technology tools and has partnered with nonprofits to expand access to laptops. The county’s modernized website also helps to boost constituent engagement and ensures information is accessible to the community as a whole.

Cybersecurity was ranked as one of the county’s top priorities for 2023. To meet challenges surrounding security government networks, the county hired a chief information security officer in 2020 and has aggressively worked to identify gaps in the systems and strategies. Most recently, Gartner Consulting was tapped to provide a security maturity assessment across all departments and develop a cybersecurity strategic plan to guide the next several years. Additionally, the county participated in the Atlanta Urban Area Strategic Initiative through Homeland Security to gain support penetration testing.

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