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Digital Counties 2023: 500,000 to 999,999 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 George's County, Md.

Prince George’s County, Md., took first place in its population category for the third year running, demonstrating its continued commitment to improving services through technology. The county doubled down on its efforts to expand broadband access, joining the state-sponsored Broadband Local Jurisdiction Workgroup to enhance communications and collaborations with neighboring jurisdictions to identify best practices and expand on projects that are working well.

Also in the realm of citizen-facing tech, the county made improvements to its PG Atlas GIS website. The new EagleView tool allows users to see orthogonal and oblique imagery for any address within the county, and the images are updated annually. Additionally, the new CycloMedia Street Smart tool shows 5,000 linear miles of street view imagery from 2020 and 2023, and the images will be updated bi-annually.

On the streets themselves, Prince George’s County looked to technology in support of its Vision Zero strategy. Several high-volume intersections were outfitted with adaptive traffic signal control that responds to traffic patterns in real time and optimizes safety. And in the interest of encouraging electric vehicle adoption, the county has developed a data-driven deployment strategy that uses GIS data to analyze demand for charging and determine optimal locations to install charging infrastructure.

2nd DeKalb County, Ga.

DeKalb County, Ga., finished second in its population category for the third consecutive year. The county established a 24-hour cybersecurity operations center and expanded its cloud-first strategy for most departments. More than 700 computers and 250 wireless access points were replaced as the work environment across several departments shifted to a hybrid model.

Public safety and public works were prioritized. The county improved fleet management capabilities by selecting a cloud-based vendor that can support vehicle maintenance for emergency vehicles and garbage trucks, police surveillance functions, and E-911 technology upgrades. A plan was also implemented to fuel some vehicles with natural gas from the county landfill.

For cybersecurity improvements, the county began rolling out multifactor authentication requirements for all employees. And as older phones and tablets are replaced, newer devices containing mobile device management technology will be phased in. “Best-in-class” purchases for more secure software and hardware is the new standard to guard against threats, and the county has partnered with Microsoft for an additional ring of security around its Office 365 platform.

The county also enjoyed significant progress in customer service. DeKalb is shifting away from mobile apps, which proved to be unpopular with constituents, and instead upgraded its website with chatbots and more “portal of portal” functions that make it easier for constituents to pay bills, apply for permits or obtain court documents online. For other public records requests, the county has almost finished streamlining a digital process where constituent requests are processed quicker with less oversight from the law department. In addition, the IT department upgraded software for coding, compliance, planning and development functions to keep up with DeKalb County’s increasing population. Communities there are becoming less rural and more urban, requiring the centralized government to establish new guidelines for responsible growth.

2nd Jefferson County, Colo.

An innovative tool to lessen DMV headaches has helped earn Jefferson County, Colo., one of the top spots on the list this year. The county’s Business Innovation and Technology department (BIT) created an online chat function that serves constituents around the clock. While live employees can assist DMV customers in real time during business hours, the tool also employs an AI-powered chatbot that has handled more than 55 percent of incoming citizen chats. Since its launch, the chat function has served more than 100,000 constituents, significantly reducing pressure on the call center and resulting in shorter phone wait times. The Web Services Team played a key role in onboarding departments to the chatbot software. Work is underway to expand the tool to serve Human Services and other departments.

When overseas hackers used a BlackCat ransomware attack to demand $5 million from the nearby city of Wheat Ridge, Jefferson County BIT stepped in and sent three employees to assist in rebuilding the city’s systems and bringing services back online quickly without paying the ransom. Jefferson County’s 12-step incident response plan, created and implemented by BIT, helped minimize the impact of the attack. BIT has also installed Crowdstrike on all county workstations to help detect and prevent cyber attacks before they can cause significant damage.

Among other accomplishments, BIT launched YourJeffco, a website and app that enables the public to report issues and concerns about roads and bridges maintained by Jefferson County. And to build a strong workforce, BIT has launched an internship program that allows interns to work with county employees for a semester to experiment with technology and create business cases for their projects.

3rd New Castle County, Del.

New Castle County earned its spot on this year’s list following digital transformation efforts focusing on constituent-centric engagement and making municipal services more accessible for residents, among other key goals. According to New Castle officials, the county recently modernized its website with AI-powered tools and implemented an e-payment cloud solution complete with mobile and digital payment options, as well as digital self-service channels to check for updates on the status of municipal projects.

The county also adopted new strategies for managing municipal funds awarded by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which included new digital grant application channels for ARPA-funded project proposals. In addition, the county is working to improve local cellular network coverage for underserved residents. Part of the plan is to build mobile broadband infrastructure throughout strategic locations and erect towers so that local cellular providers will have places to construct additional antennas.

3rd San Joaquin County, Calif.

San Joaquin County climbed from sixth place in 2022 to third in its category this year as it modernized various aspects of the enterprise and synced IT to leaders’ strategic direction. The local government of around 807,000 continues working from a three-year Digital Services and Innovation Strategy set out in 2020, surveying staff last year on their connections with their work. Leaders also surveyed tech partners and primary stakeholders, and reviewed department strategic plans to create a three-year technology road map.

Officials have also matured the work of their IT Executive Steering Committee to help shape tech investments. The county last year implemented new case management systems for the district attorney and probation departments. Working with the D.A.’s and sheriff’s offices, the Information Services Division (ISD) designed and stood up a new master name index to cut down on duplication and do a better job of tracking case histories. During the 2022-2023 fiscal year, officials updated the county’s public safety radio system, replacing infrastructure and adding channel encryption. In the last year, ISD trained department webmasters on the new Sitefinity platform and migrated legacy sites over.

This year, the county procured an IT and Enterprise Service Management System that, when deployed, will enable residents and staff to access services through portals with responsive user interfaces, find self-service options and get automated chatbot responses. A new digital permits and licensing system is set to go live this summer and will make the process available 24/7. Officials last year updated countywide information security policy, adding a new area on cyber crime and ransomware; this year, they’ll offer training on this new area. ISD is updating the county’s cybersecurity strategy to align with Cal-Secure, the state’s cybersecurity road map.

4th Chester County, Pa.

Chester County has bolstered its judicial work with IT. That includes enabling e-filing for civilian court cases and implementing a new, cloud-based case management system at the Sheriff’s Office and Register of Wills, and, later, for the county’s Civil Court and Juvenile Probation services. A data sharing initiative among human services agencies and law enforcement also aims to reduce incarceration of people with substance abuse disorders and mental illnesses, instead directing them to alternative programming. Such programming can better meet their needs and reduce the likelihood of a repeat incident.

As Chester works to automate repetitive, routine processes, it has turned a focus on how cremation requests are submitted, authorized and paid for at funeral homes. A robotics processing automation solution, once it’s moved from prototype to implementation, should streamline the processes and save time. In another automation-related move, Chester is exploring using ChatGPT to help prepare social media posts. If all goes well there, the county will consider using the generative AI tool for crafting web content and press releases.

As for cybersecurity, the county contracts third-party cyber advising, security assessments, and vulnerability monitoring and remediation. The county also aims to stay on top of its cyber posture with continuous threat and vulnerability assessments and ransomware preparedness assessments. Faced with a rise in attacks that attempted to take advantage of multifactor authentication fatigue, the county began using push notifications as its second authentication factor to create a less burdensome user experience.

Chester also adopted more digital services, enabling e-signatures for grants, contracts and other documents. Additionally, IT provided staff with cloud storage both for shared files and personal ones. The county currently is working to end any dependencies on paper forms and enable all forms to be completed online, and it also is looking to acquire a tool to make online payments smoother.

5th Snohomish County, Wash.

Snohomish County took fifth place in its category this year with a focus on improving transparency and services through technology. County IT completed a major undertaking in the last year with the reorganization of the Snohomish Health District into a department in county government. County IT completed 12-18 months of work in just 137 days, with tasks including onboarding nearly 200 employees, assessing 37 contracts and 18 IT solutions, and a host of other requirements. The transition was effectively completed by Jan. 1 of this year.

In the realm of public safety, Snohomish County implemented a number of initiatives meant to increase public transparency for the sheriff’s department. The County Council awarded $3.8 million for body-worn cameras for deputies, and county IT was actively involved in the procurement process for securing the cameras and their supporting systems. Also with county IT’s support, the sheriff’s department built and launched a public-facing Crime Data Dashboard that displays statistics and data related to their work.

In the interest of serving residents by closing the digital divide, the county’s Broadband Action Team is on the leading edge of efforts to expand broadband access, including actions like encouraging all county residents to challenge inaccuracies in the Federal Communications Commission’s recently released national broadband coverage maps. Additionally, Snohomish County is implementing a $16 million grant to provide high-speed broadband to 4,150 households in an unserved community. And with all that new broadband access, more residents will be able to access things like the new open data GIS portal, permitting records portal and the updated data sets in the Snohomish County Hazard Explorer.

6th Ventura County, Calif.

Ventura County’s IT work reflects a high degree of collaboration ranging from integrated applications supporting multiple agencies to a recently signed memorandum of understanding to provide various IT services to a non-county transit agency. Concurrently, the county has a mature and robust process for bringing together stakeholders to assess technology projects and business needs, including a new IT governance committee created in 2022 that quickly set to work developing and approving policies in areas such as e-signatures and asset management.

A range of projects in all stages of completion are geared toward improving the county’s resilience and security. The deployment of a network virtualization platform and a new disaster recovery strategy are bringing the county closer to a newfound ability to reduce downtime and quickly move workloads in case of disruption. Meanwhile, an integrated firewall, antivirus, antimalware and email security solution is giving the county better real-time threat detection and reducing the risk of malicious email.

Of note as well is the county’s GIS work, which includes a solution for tracking and validating COVID-19 statistics by hospital — one that hospitals have expressed strong interest in continuing to use even after so many years of a pandemic. Another solution, originally meant to plot information about flood control facilities, was repurposed to provide agencies in the continuum of care for people experiencing homelessness a common source of information to look at.

7th Gwinnett County, Ga.

Making the list for the seventh year in a row, Gwinnett County’s innovations last year were driven by operational and data management changes as well as by software upgrades through Information Technology Services (ITS). Among its most significant projects was switching the county’s cybersecurity operations from managed services to in-house, using Microsoft Sentinel and Power Automate to automate certain response actions. Since the federal government started warning about potential Russian cyber attacks after the invasion of Ukraine, ITS made regular changes such as adding backups, disabling more inactive accounts and using a URL isolation tool to protect users who fall for phishing emails. It implemented Commvault’s Metallic Recovery Reserve cloud storage, which sends backup data to remote facilities in case of a cyber attack or other disaster, as well as a new data classification scanner for the county’s databases to identify sensitive data, encrypt it or purge it as needed.

As federally funded COVID-era programs are sunsetting, the county created a centralized ITS budget to handle technology procurement and management of end-user devices, resulting in more efficient supply chain management, cost savings and tracking of equipment life cycles. Infrastructure and other improvements included using Microsoft Exchange Online to migrate on-premises infrastructure to the cloud, upgrading county Wi-Fi networks to WLAN 6 to accommodate more devices and boost network performance, and upgrading the county’s ERP system to a new cloud-based one, for better supply chain management and data processing.

ITS also worked on a slew of projects for other departments: a KPI dashboard for county trash collection services, check validation for the online water bill payment application, an Accela mobile app for building inspectors and code enforcement teams, an e-signature tool for the Board of Equalization, an application to coordinate glass recycling pickup times, CentralSquare for public safety and the migration of 30 on-prem call centers to a cloud-based center by AT&T.

8th Polk County, Fla.

Polk County created a new position within the IT division to lead technical services such as application development, system architecture, network services, telecommunications and desktop support. Combining these efforts under a single operations team has freed up the IT director to focus on project management, policy and guidelines, as well as seeking the needed federal funding to build out new broadband services for county residents.

To aid this effort, IT is leading the Local Technology Planning Team (LTPT), a public-private group that includes local, county and state partners. LTPT is also assisting in the expansion of broadband across the county, a project proposal that would link more than 20 fire stations with fiber-optic communications, as well as provide low-cost broadband services to underserved communities.

A new land management system developed by Accela has made the building and permitting process faster and easier, too. Meanwhile, a new cloud-based budgeting tool has enabled a more transparent public-facing financial dashboard, reducing the need for spreadsheets and making the budgeting process more user-friendly for residents. Also, a new chatbot digital assistant on the county’s main website is being used by hundreds of residents a week, reducing calls to the Polk County switchboard. The county’s cybersecurity strategy has been a three-year initiative that includes training and a more hardened environment with zero-trust encrypted architecture, which required new hardware and virtual server management software. As part of this zero-trust transition, the IT department has begun phasing out VPN access to the county’s network and has deployed a private-access product known as Zscaler, which allows off-network workers to continue to function as though they were working internally. Finally, an enterprise-wide identity management system has been implemented which allows for a single sign-on across all county platforms, a welcome development for employees who no longer need to recall multiple passwords.

9th Cobb County, Ga.

Cobb County, Ga., part of the Atlanta metro area, returns to the Digital Counties Survey again this year. The county continued to prioritize cybersecurity, customer experience and modernization, among other things, doing so in the face of new staffing shortages — both for itself and among the vendors it works with. A major part of the work for IT folks in Cobb County, though, was contributing to the ongoing development of the new countywide five-year strategic plan. In addition, the tech shop held its own weeklong strategic plan workshop to update its strategy for the next five years, doing so with input from the county’s judicial system, community development agency, department of transportation and others about what it did well and what it needed to improve. Once the countywide strategic plan is finalized, the tech shop will then align its own strategy work with that one, doing so with the use of new plan management software called AchieveIt.

Looking ahead, improving the staffing challenge remains a major priority for Cobb County, as does better enabling data-driven decision-making for all county leadership. Doing the latter goes hand in hand with improving customer engagement, too. In the service of this, Cobb County has rolled out new ways for the public to conduct business with government digitally. Over the past year, the IT shop worked on implementing a customer relationship management/311 system with a work order component. This allowed citizens to report and track trash pickup and beautification requests. Another new touch for customers was a place online to check estimated wait times at the department of motor vehicles. Finally, all departments and most elected officials in Cobb County now use one CMS. Add to that a new PDF design guide, and it was a good year for consistent customer experiences in the county.

10th San Mateo County, Calif.

San Mateo County, coming in at 10th place this year, provides IT services to more than 25 county departments. Staff recently completed a website upgrade using Drupal, training nearly 150 staff members throughout the organization to keep content updated in the new platform. With a focus on customer experience, the new portal offers additional citizen services, including online permitting from the Building and Planning Department. The organization has made a shift in a data-driven direction in recent years, focusing on reporting performance and using data securely to inform program decisions. The Information Services Department maintains a performance portal on its own activities too, fostering greater transparency. Other notable projects for San Mateo County include a multiagency homeless outreach application designed for more effective service delivery and an internal innovation program to capture and implement creative ideas. Projects like website chatbots and a smart parking system for the staff parking garage came from the biennial Employee Innovation Challenge.

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