Digital Counties 2019: Winners Push Shared, Citizen Services

In the 17th annual Digital Counties Survey, the top 58 counties nationwide stand out for their commitment to using tech to improve quality of life, shore up cybersecurity, support municipal resources and more.

Google map of the US showing the five most digital counties


Click through the rest of our story for detailed write-ups on each winner.

County-level technology leaders get it from all sides. Headlines spur cries for tighter cybersecurity. Lean budgets mean the IT buck has to stretch further. Competing business needs put pressure on the CIO to prioritize effectively. 

The winners of the 17th Annual Digital Counties Survey, conducted by the Center for Digital Government,* have successfully navigated these shifting currents. They’ve juggled competing interests, implemented innovative solutions and found creative ways to keep the budget in line. 

Here’s how the best and brightest are making IT work at the county level.

Nevada County, Calif., 1st Place, Up to 150,000 Population Category

Smaller counties can sometimes face bigger IT challenges. 

“We are a smaller shop, but we still have to deliver the same breadth of services that a larger organization has to deliver,” said Steve Monaghan, CIO of Nevada County, Calif. (pop. 100,000). “Instead of doing 10,000 permits a year we might only do 2,000 permits, but we still have to support the same permit system.”

Monaghan makes it work by empowering his customers to take ownership of their IT systems. “Instead of IT having to do all the care and feeding, the customer really owns their own business processes. They work directly with their vendors to solve problems and support new functionality,” he said. “We’re there to support them, but we aren’t carrying all the water on that.” 

He points for example to the county’s recently expanded human resource system. “They’ve added an onboarding module, and HR did that with the vendor directly. Next up is a performance management module, and HR will do the rollout without any help from information services,” he said. 

To make it work, the IT team labors on the back end to guide a thoughtful selection of products and services. “We’re picking platforms where the customer can really be empowered to build them up and roll them out,” he said. 

That strategy has paid off as new business needs have emerged. Cannabis legalization, for instance, has created whole new workflows around land use. At the same time, a rising risk of wildfires has likewise brought land management to the fore. The countywide adoption of Accela’s land management software has made it easy for end users to get their needs met without having to overly burden the IT shop. “It’s the letters you send out, the fines and fees,” Monaghan said. “Everyone is able to process all the documentation for all those different inspections and other activities.” 

IT also has supported a wide-ranging deployment of GIS, including enhanced functionality to better track the local homeless population. IT effectively leveraged existing data to enable social services to better address the need. 

“By mapping the locations from the annual point-in-time count of homelessness, we are able to identify where clusters of people were,” he said. Overlaying transportation routes, health services and other key GIS information enabled the team to identify the optimal location for a new intake center in support of a new low-income housing initiative. 

By giving various business lines within the county access to these diverse technologies, Monaghan’s team has been able to extend the impact of its limited resources.

Click here to see all the winners in this category.

Cabarrus County, N.C., 1st Place, 150,000-249,999 Population Category

Debbie Brannan is laser-focused on ensuring that Cabarrus County, N.C., gets the most bang for its IT buck. She’s made that her mission as county CIO and recently brought it with her to her new role as manager of innovation in the County Manager’s Office. 

“We want to only spend a tax dollar once and use it multiple times,” she said. A few recent examples help to highlight how this can be achieved. 

The county has been using Accela’s land management software for a decade. Recently, the county’s largest city, Concord, signed on to use the system, and the next-biggest city is teed up to join as well. 

“We had developers who would come to the county and then pop across the street to the city, working with multiple zoning requirements and planning reviews,” Brannan said. “Now we’ve integrated our workflow processes, which speeds the plan review process and improves services to developers.” 

Along the same lines, the county has leveraged its existing data centers to support the needs of its two school districts. “If we have excess capacity in our data center, there is no reason to spend tax dollars to build additional data centers,” she said. “We can essentially act as cloud storage for the school systems.” 

In much the same way, the county has developed a multi-jurisdictional mass communication solution, migrating county and city systems from scattered Blackboard implementations to an Everbridge deployment. “Now we can have people text a keyword to Everbridge to sign up for emergency notifications in case there is a storm or flooding. We’ve already done a proof of concept with a parade, where people would opt in via text and then we would route them to the emergency portal to sign up for notifications,” Brannan said. 

In order to successfully leverage the IT spend across these diverse business functions, Brannan has taken a highly cooperative approach to systems development. 

“We do a lot of project meetings,” she said. “For the land management system, we did weekly meetings for two years with the representatives of all the jurisdictions. Getting all those people in the same room to talk about their processes can take some time, but eventually it helps people to realize that they don’t need to do everything themselves. They start to recognize the synergy.” 

That high level of engagement ultimately drives a better product. “By meeting frequently, we can be more agile. If something isn’t working, we can always make a change,” she said.

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Dutchess County, N.Y., 1st Place, 250,000-499,999 Population Category

Sometimes headlines help to drive the agenda. With all the news lately about election hacking and other digital vulnerabilities, Glenn Marchi felt compelled to make cybersecurity a top priority in 2019. 

“We know that we have a rising risk of security breaches. Everyone is highly concerned; there is a lot of awareness around that challenge,” said Marchi, commissioner of the Dutchess County Office of Central and Information Services (OCIS). 

To calm the fears, the IT team implemented a FireEye intrusion detection system, starting with the Board of Elections websites and then expanding out across the entire county network. The new system delivers 24/7 alerts to the county’s cyberteam, generating email and phone notifications any time there is suspicious activity on the network. “We did lots of training with the vendor, DynTek: ‘Here is what the alert is going to look like, here’s what you need to do, here’s how you can try and diagnose a possible breach,’” Marchi said. 

Hand in hand with the cyber push came an effort to beef up disaster recovery. Realizing that no protection is foolproof, Marchi wanted to have better tools in place in case of a breach.

“We implemented a hybrid solution including both cloud and on-premise, as a result of which our resiliency is dramatically improved,” he said. “We had been using a legacy approach where you go offsite, you carry your tapes with you and build the network from scratch. It was a very tedious approach and it wasn’t responsive at all to our current environment. Now we can recover in hours versus days.” 

The hybrid solution gives the IT team a higher level of control: In addition to backing up in the cloud, the new solution runs redundant iterations at the county’s law enforcement center and at the 911 call center — a “triple redundancy” approach that ensures rapid recovery. 

On the front end, the team also redesigned all the county websites in order to enhance citizen access. “The key was using plain-language guidelines, showing each department exactly what language they could use on a government website to support the end user who is looking for that data,” Marchi said. The net result was a 51 percent increase in visitors and a 206 percent increase in page views.

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Snohomish County, Wash., 1st Place, 500,000-999,999 Population Category

Viggo Forde made the leap in early 2019. After 30 years in the private sector, including two decades with Microsoft, he entered government service as CIO and director of IT for fast-growing Snohomish County, Wash. 

Before tackling the county’s varied IT challenges, he set out to change the culture of government technology. 

“In government, IT can sometimes be a hammer that gets used to drive a set of solutions based on one person’s wishes,” he said. In business, on the other hand, “you think about problem-solving and you think about why you are doing what you are doing, with a view toward the customer. So in my first few months my work was about defining the culture and setting expectations.” 

A collaborative approach has helped him to make some headway. “We’ve worked with the business lines to better understand: ‘What are you working on? What are your problems? How can IT help with that?’ It leads to a different set of conversations and ultimately a different set of solutions,” he said. 

That approach helped to escalate a number of “burning platform needs,” starting with a new applicant tracking system for the Sheriff’s Office, which was struggling under the burden of recruiting. “We put a tiger team on it and set up some solutions using dynamic CRM to give them more transparency and better ability to manage that situation,” he said. 

Forde also took a deep dive into the county’s current digital holdings. He discovered a wealth of data that he felt the IT team could leverage to deliver a higher level of citizen service. The planning department has been a big beneficiary of that push. When the metrics disclosed high public interest in that department’s Web offerings, IT moved to make those products more accessible. “Once we understood that this was a high-traffic area, we could tailor that experience in order to expose that information to the user more effectively,” Forde said. 

Meanwhile, Forde has learned to find a silver lining in the fact that public-sector IT happens at an inherently slower pace. “It isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” he said. “We have to be thoughtful as stewards of taxpayer money, and this allows us to take the time to do it well.”

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Montgomery County, Md., 1st Place, 1,000,000 or More Population Category

Over the past year, Montgomery County, Md., CIO Sonny Segal has focused his attention on metrics. The better he is able to measure, he said, the better he can deliver meaningful IT outcomes. He’s especially interested in the numbers that describe the impact of technology on both citizens and internal teams. 

“We are taking a more measurable approach to outcomes at the population level, rather than at the system level or the enterprise level,” he said. 

In support of easing the morning commute, Segal led the implementation of a transportation-on-demand system where citizens use a mobile app to request a ride from the county. That effort grew out of a detailed examination of transportation data, and fresh metrics from user surveys help the IT team to refine it further. “The idea is ultimately to impact economic development. It gets people to work and it allows employers to occupy vacant space and be confident that they will have access to workers,” Segal said. 

The IT team likewise dug deep into metrics surrounding the recruiting process, in an effort to speed the hiring pipeline. That data led to the creation of an online candidate assessment tool. “This is the kind of technology that online recruiting firms use to stir up interest in job openings and to prequalify people online before getting them in front of recruiters,” he said. “When we analyzed the latency in our previous recruitment process, we realized this was the step that was needed to help connect the candidate with the county.” 

In much the same way, Segal led an effort to analyze procurement times for items ranging in cost from $50,000 to $5 million. Countywide, such buys were taking anywhere from 60 to 120 days. Based on the data, the county put a new system in place: For procurements up to $500,000 departments can now buy direct from a list of competing, prequalified vendors. The system has already facilitated more than $24 million in purchases. 

In support of all these metrics-based IT initiatives, Segal has worked closely with the county’s Office of Performance and Innovation, which specializes in crunching data. “For the technology department, there are so many curves to turn,” he said. “Having an office that understands metrics and measurements, that knows how to facilitate performance in that way — that is key to determining where investment needs to be made.” 

Click here to see all the winners in this category.

*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, Government Technology’s parent company.

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Click points on the map above to learn more about each winner. Red indicates 1st place winners, yellow indicates 2nd place winners, green indicates 3rd place winners, and blue indicates winners that placed 4th through 10th.

1st Nevada County, Calif.

Nevada County, Calif., once again finished first for the up to 150,000 population category, doing so for the third time in the past four years. In the past, Nevada County — which is home to roughly 98,000 and located north of both Lake Tahoe and Sacramento — has been lauded for doing tech work that would be right at home in a larger jurisdiction. This year is no different.

Indeed, Nevada County continues to build on its forward-facing tech work, including its Participate Nevada County crowdsourcing website, which it uses to spur constituent feedback and comments on government business. This established culture of using online platforms to better serve residents has helped the county respond to ongoing public concerns, namely wildfires that have in recent years afflicted the region. The IT team in Nevada County this year developed a new website specifically for fire preparedness and related emergency information. Part of what made this natural work for the team there is that the CIO also serves as the county’s emergency services officer. The preparedness site is part of a more comprehensive digital effort to keep residents safe from wildfires, one that includes online surveys, dead tree assessment tools for mobile devices and GIS maps of things like green waste drop zones, all of which were developed for public use. This is just one example of the type of responsive, agile and impressive work being done in Nevada County, and many larger jurisdictions would surely love to be on this level.

2nd Montgomery County, Va.

Montgomery County, Va., IT has been shining bright in several areas, but perhaps none of them more so than cybersecurity. In 2017’s Digital Counties Survey, we noted the completion of two security assessments and the creation of a three-phase plan to turn it into action. The county has been making good on that plan, completing the first phase and well on its way to wrapping up the second. Among the upgrades in place are a new firewall, vulnerability scanning and patch management software, intrusion detection and prevention systems, an email filter, and the formation of a cybersecurity discussion group with other regional governments. The county is using Splunk to monitor systems and create situational awareness, while planning to use the tool to create alerts for other systems like power use and HVAC. County IT has also racked up some impressive cost-cutting measures, saving about $66,000 per year with a new VoIP phone system rollout and an anticipated $11,500 per year by moving the website from public cloud to on-premise private hybrid cloud.

Public safety has been a big focus, with IT assisting in setting up systems to upload body, dash and interview camera footage for law enforcement, as well as helping hook up a new consolidated dispatch center, emergency communications center and sheriff’s building. Montgomery County is testing out an “Automatic Injury Detection” system in bulletproof vests that will notify dispatchers and law enforcement when a sheriff’s deputy has been shot or injured and send along their information — including name, location and any medical allergies.

Finally, the county has been improving citizen experience, embracing e-signatures and setting up a digital appeals process for last year’s real-estate reassessment. That project has allowed Montgomery to handle more appeals in less time and store related documents online.

3rd Allegan County, Mich.

The Information Services department in Allegan County, Mich., leads the county’s “project management” operations, overseeing service agreements and capital project planning. This has led to a centralized IT approach, eliminating the sort of institutional silos that can stifle innovation and run up costs. In public safety, a $10 million emergency communications radio system that supports 1,000 users across multiple agencies was deployed in 2017, and the rollout of NextGen 911 will be completed in 2019.

In an effort to better engage with residents, the county included a “share this” feature on its website, which allows users to quickly and easily post the content to their social media sites. Meanwhile, during the last year, online PDFs have been made mobile-friendly. And during election seasons, voters can take advantage of a new interactive map to display results. The county’s website has also been redesigned to feature services around courts, the sheriff’s office, and health and human services more prominently. Internally, Allegan has begun the process of deploying the Microsoft Office 365 cloud-based platform enterprisewide, and within the next two years, all of the county’s Web presence is expected to transition to the cloud.

Last year, Allegan improved the digital signage in its court facilities to display docket information through the integration of the court management system. The county also worked with the state of Michigan to update video conferencing in the courtrooms.

3rd County of York, Va.

York County, Va., jumped from sixth place to third this year in its population category due to its increased focus on security education, cost savings and increased interagency collaboration. Like many counties, York is putting a lot of focus on cybersecurity, and its Personal Cybersecurity Program — which instructs the county’s internal staff, as well as local business leaders and the public, on safe and secure practices — is a great example of what’s distinctive about this county. The program, which began in 2018, is growing in size and attendance, with numerous targeted presentations at multiple community locations, some seeing standing-room-only attendance. Since the program’s inception, there has also been a drastic uptick in awareness on the part of internal staff, with a 500 percent increase in reported malicious emails to the IT Department, according to officials.

In more innovative work, the county recently replaced its phone system with Avaya IP Office, the all-in-one unified communications software. This has led to big savings in maintenance costs. The maintenance for the old system was $57,000, while the new system costs only $28,000 to keep up, giving the county a net profit of $29,000 for its general fund. York also recently invested in updating its financial accounting system, getting rid of its legacy system and replacing it with a modernized software solution that can be used as a shared service and is currently being utilized by the county, public schools and a critical local mental health agency. The system offers built-in workflows and integrations, allowing for interagency collaboration and more efficient, shared decision-making. The county’s Department of Information Technology, in addition to taking charge of a lot of these new, innovative initiatives, has also seen important expansions and integrations recently, including the integration of the county’s video services technology section.

4th Albemarle County, Va.

Albemarle County, Va., had a transformative year, from IT reorganization to new programs to shoring up the county’s data and infrastructure. County leadership conducted a use-of-technology assessment that led to several changes. One was the creation of a Project Management Office, an Information Technology Consulting Services group, an Enterprise Architecture Council and a set of procedures for technology projects. The assessment also led to a basic restructuring of the IT department into three divisions: Enterprise Resource Planning group, Knowledge Management and Communications, and Data Architecture and Data Governance.

The county tackled two major cybersecurity initiatives last year: multi-agency staff training on cybersecurity through KnowBe4, and creating a Cyber Incident Response Plan (CIRP). The county also worked with a Microsoft SQL partner to review the security and performance of 10 major ERP systems, yielding recommendations for 2019, and IT staff made a list of major systems and pursued new service-level agreements with key business owners for each one. Albemarle’s many internal IT projects include the purchase of Power BI for data management and building reports from multiple sources; and the creation of a virtual private network into the Microsoft Azure Gov cloud, archiving video and saving 60 cents a gigabyte on storage.

Externally, the county took over networking for the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitor's Bureau (CACVB), and full management, including IT, of the rural Yancey School; finished connecting Greenwood, Va., to Comcast; and launched a tax incentive program with the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative to bring fiber to 3,400 co-op members.

5th James City County, Va.

James City County, Va.’s IT priorities are closely aligned with leadership goals, and in the last year the county has seen overhauls in technology infrastructure that have bolstered efforts enterprise-wide. IT wanted to upgrade their online services for residents, so they turned to analytics to see what their approximately 73,000 citizens wanted. Staff noticed about 50 percent of users were visiting the county website on a mobile device, but the portal wasn’t completely mobile-friendly. Building content that would be responsive on any device while implementing measures to increase the longevity of the program became a top priority.

Analytics helped guide staff to move to a more service-driven structure, which made the website more user-friendly. In the past year, the county has been working to eliminate PDFs from the website because resident feedback showed people didn’t want to download them to access what they were searching for. James City County IT also recognized PDFs are not designed for smaller screens and took longer to load than an interactive online form. The James City County website averages about 172,000 users per month and offers more than 150 resident services.

Each county department is encouraged to manage and update its content with trained coordinators who interact directly with website staff to ensure website continuity. Within the next year, James City County IT plans to fully implement an API-based Headless Content Management System from CivicPlus, which is built from the ground up and features just the content portion of a website instead of the layers, templates, site structure or design components. 

6th Gloucester County, Va.

Gloucester, Va., jumped from 10th place to sixth this year due to its relatively small IT staff’s bold commitment to expanding broadband access throughout its many communities, as well as their efforts to invest in migrating services and systems to the cloud. 

To expand broadband capabilities, the county has focused on establishing public-private partnerships and securing grants, while also pushing forward with its own resources. In particular, with the help of a VATI — a Virginia state grant geared towards telecommunications infrastructure development — Gloucester was able to partner with Cox Cable to bring an expansion of broadband access to 96 residential and 20 commercial properties along the Gloucester/Middlesex county line. Looking to the future, county officials say they are currently trying to identify the few remaining unserved and underserved citizens — some 2,000 households — and ultimately bring support and service to those homes or families as well. 

While focused on bolstering connectivity in its communities, Gloucester has also managed to migrate 21 to 30 percent of its services and systems to the cloud; the county projects a goal of some 50 percent of those services to be eventually headed there.

7th Skagit County, Wash.

Skagit County, Wash., leveraged technology this year to improve its cybersecurity and public safety efforts. The county began discussing creating a regional cybersecurity consortium with neighboring jurisdictions, driven by inadequate funding for cybersecurity initiatives. The counties hope that if they can work together and share costs and services, they will be able to take a much more robust cybersecurity stance than they could individually. Skagit County hopes to base the structure of this consortium off its current shared public safety system, which allows multiple agencies in the area to share their public safety services with one another.

Also in public safety, Skagit County is working on establishing a Tableau software platform for first responders to monitor incident response times. The system will be updated daily, if not more often, from the county’s public safety system with call arrival times and other information. This information will be presented in a mapping dashboard and will be statistically analyzed for response times that fall short of established goals. Currently in the contractual phase, the tool will be available to local cities, fire districts and the county.

Skagit County has also doubled down on its efforts to combat the opioid crisis with an ordinance requiring first responders to report opioid incidents. The county partnered with the Washington/Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area to submit incident information to its nationwide ODMAP application application beginning in April 2019. Skagit County is building its own opioid incident tracking system that will interface with ODMAP and automatically update the system with new information.

8th Rowan County, N.C.

Rowan County, once a rural region in central North Carolina, has seen significant population growth since the 1980s and is now considered part of the Charlotte metro area. Yet one of its signature policy directives is to promote broadband, particularly in the county’s remaining rural areas where Internet access is a problem. At the same time, the county has set policies that are linked to data-driven results, and to meet those objectives, the county’s IT department has put resources into establishing business intelligence tools and geospatial systems — core technologies for any robust county.

Rowan relies heavily on its webpages to support overall transparency and economic development. It has also established a mobile-first strategy to strengthen its citizen-centric services, and it has been an aggressive user of social media to leverage information for a wide range of county operations, resulting in improved collaboration and better governance overall. To expand efficiency, Rowan’s IT department has begun to rid itself of legacy IT systems, such as its AS/400, and has been using CentralSquare’s software suite to integrate public safety throughout the county, including EMS, fire, sheriff’s operations and local police departments.

9th Dodge County, Wis.

Wisconsin’s Dodge County, just northwest of Milwaukee, is making strides in a lot of fundamental areas of government IT. The county cites as its No. 1 priority a new enterprise resource planning project that was anticipated to go live at the beginning of July 2019. It includes migration to a new countywide financial system, and the Information Technology Department expected that the new system will improve not only alignment of county resources and policies, but also data governance by automating internal workflows. Another high-priority area is the Dodge County High Availability and Disaster Recovery project, which comprises two data centers in the county seat of Juneau, as well as a remote site 16 miles away. A distributed virtualization layer allows all data centers to have real-time redundancy in case of an emergency or breach.

Also in security, the county has upgraded its firewalls and email security, including an artificial intelligence solution to prevent malicious files from getting into the network, which has reduced reports of ransomware and malware attacks since its installation. Other recent advances include upgrading the technology in county courts, which will help serve an increasingly aging population, improvements to the electronic voting system to improve security and a concerted effort to make citizens aware of how many services are available on the county website

10th Franklin County, Va.

In Franklin County, Va., information technology permeates government and offers a way to better serve the public, and officials have their eyes fixed on the future. The county has an ongoing goal of implementing a more reliable public safety radio system. This effort prompted a partnership with Motorola and local providers to push out more access to microwave radio services. Efforts are also underway to expand access to high-speed Internet. The IT department is working with the local planning office and public safety as part of the Franklin County Broadband Authority and has pushed out an RFP for services in the county. Various grants are being utilized to support this effort, and significant headway has been made toward developing a prioritized approach to multi-provider solutions.

A partnership with the state has helped the county standardize its cybersecurity approach to monitoring and response. The county has also teamed up with a neighboring jurisdiction to back up its data in the event of a natural disaster or cyberattack. Previously, this data was backed up with a private company, which added unnecessary cost. The new arrangement is not only significantly cheaper, but there is a better connection as well.

To better serve residents, the county is working to consolidate its online presence into one easy-to-navigate website. The services available through the new portal will include customer relationship management, an alert center, a form center and citizen notification services. The project is expected to be completed this year. 

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Click points on the map above to learn more about each winner. Red indicates 1st place winners, yellow indicates 2nd place winners, green indicates 3rd place winners, and blue indicates winners that placed 4th through 10th.

1st Cabarrus County, N.C.

Ascending from third to first place in its population category, Cabarrus County has continued to invest in technology to connect citizens to services, enable remote business transactions and reduce emergency response times.

Nearly half the county’s 2019 budget will go toward schools to accommodate population growth, which has put pressure on the county to automate, share or consolidate services and collaborate wherever possible, with non-IT departments as well as other jurisdictions. For example, the county merged its plan review process with that of the cities of Concord and Kannapolis, shares its data center with all its schools, and initiated an agreement to use Concord’s fiber to connect to a senior center and a new parking deck, saving $26,400 while increasing bandwidth.

Many of Cabarrus County’s innovations in 2019 were citizen-facing initiatives. These include new dashboards to measure biodiversity, zoning and property taxes, and how citizens are using county services online; websites to track county budget and financial information, connect people with resources for mental health or substance abuse problems, and report child abuse; automated calls to citizens about federal food assistance, which reduced overtime for case workers; an e-newsletter and crowdsourcing app for rescue animals; an online portal for tax processes; and apps for recycling and garbage-collection schedules, finding outdoor recreation, rating fire insurance, info on wait times at polling places, park and open-space planning, tracking crime data; a 911 Center app in case of a CAD outage; and an app that maps deployments of opioid-overdose treatments.

For its own staff, the county made a dashboard linked to Accela that helped clear out a backlog of almost 2,000 construction plan reviews. It also integrated new tax software with its GIS master database to validate and “clean up” addresses on citizen tax records, saving considerable staff time.

2nd Arlington County, Va.

Consistently one of the top finishers in its population category, this year Arlington County doubled down on its efforts to address the digital divide. The new chair of the County Board made digital equity a top priority, and funding in that area is expected to get a 269 percent increase in the next year. In 2018-19, Arlington added 93 public school facilities to ConnectArlington, the county-owned fiber-optic network. That network also provides connections for 300 traffic signals, 250 traffic cameras, 10 fire stations, six 911 radio towers and six wireless hot spot zones. Additionally, in December 2018, Arlington launched a pilot program to use ConnectArlington to bring broadband access to low- and moderate-income residents of the Arlington Mill Residences affordable housing complex.

Arlington also earned its second-place ranking with its focus on citizen engagement. When Amazon chose to locate its second headquarters (HQ2) in Arlington, the county set up a page on its website with multiple information channels to keep residents informed of the project’s development. It hosted county meetings via Facebook Live so that residents could ask questions and offer thoughts. Also on the county’s website is Engage Arlington, a designated location where residents can learn about community events, give feedback, and find other ways to get involved in the local community. And last but not least, in the last year the county recorded two more sessions for its Defining Arlington’s Digital Destiny series, “Shaping Arlington for a Smart and Secure Future Community” and “The Future of Work,” which discuss how technology will affect the county’s future.

3rd Onslow County, N.C.

A major goal of the Onslow County Board of Commissioners is to find more efficient ways of doing business and avoid raising property taxes, following the aftereffects of 2018’s Hurricane Florence. In response to this and other objectives, county management is realigning the entire organization according to the High Performance Organization Model as outlined by the University of Virginia's Senior Executive Institute.

The Information Technology Services/Geographical Information Services Department (ITS/GIS) is doing its part to reduce costs and increase efficiency by renegotiating contracts and streamlining enterprise operations. The department also partners with internal county departments to better understand their processes. By working closely and building these relationships, the department becomes a reliable partner and vital resource to innovation and process improvement. ITS has also stayed active on security concerns. Testing and enhancing cybersecurity helps the tech department to avoid costly work interruptions and data loss caused by such issues as ransomware and phishing.

One innovation developed by the department is the Citizen Incident and Self Reporting tool, an Esri cloud-based application developed during Hurricane Florence by staff that was deployed as part of the Disaster Ready Team. This app let citizens report damage to their homes, with pictures, that would have gone unnoticed in a street-level, drive-by assessment.

The county’s primary mobile data vendor suffered extensive losses in coverage due to fiber damage and other storm-related outages. Such extreme communication loss made ITS/GIS seriously reconsider its approach to emergency communications. The department has started expanding its pool of communications vendors, and has strengthened its relationships with current vendors, which are now committed to deploying staff at the county emergency operations center for the next event. ITS/GIS is also diversifying the mobile data fleet to include other vendors and is giving first responders priority radio bandwidth.

Another goal of Onslow’s commissioners is to adequately fund public safety, including jail personnel and courthouse needs. The county recently completed expansion of the courthouse, for which ITS/GIS provided the technical needs, including wired and wireless networking, proximity card door access, security cameras and video signage.

4th Charles County, Md.

Officials in Charles County, Md., thought the permitting process was taking too long and decided to modernize it with Tyler Technologies’ EnerGov Community Development software in October 2018. The solution gave departments new tools to manage permits, inspections, reviews, approvals, licensing and enforcement.

Residents and contractors can apply online for permits and submit plans for home improvements. Staff from multiple agencies can use the platform to collaborate on projects either from their desktop or by using a PDF iPad app, Bluebeam Revu. The EnerGov portal provides homeowners and builders with a transparent look at county feedback after they create an account. Necessary changes can then be made to the original submission and the plans can be resubmitted. The self-service portal handles about 1,500 users per month.

Additional EnerGov apps for inspections and code enforcement now allow inspectors to review construction and property maintenance issues while in the field where they can take and upload pictures; residents can digitally sign documents and receive immediate feedback.

Before the deployment of EnerGov, county and software staff worked in tandem to analyze, update and streamline the business process, eliminating unnecessary steps as they were identified.  From April 2018 to July 2018, the county collaborated with third-party inspectors and selected residents applying for permits to test the design and functionality of the self-service portal. Since its launch, EnerGov has saved Charles County almost eight man-hours per day searching for printed documents and has cut the permit review timeframe in half.

5th Boone County, Mo.

Boone County, home to the University of Missouri, and with a population of some 170,000 people, has put itself ahead of the competition this year by leveraging innovative IT solutions towards the ends of heightened security, law enforcement and public safety.

The county, which is in the midst of a three-year IT strategic plan, is creating an innovative, inter-municipal digital law enforcement record-keeping system, which will allow different police departments to share information more seamlessly. The Information Technology Department is developing, installing and testing a law enforcement records management system (RMS) and jail management system (JMS) in coordination with other municipalities and its software vendor.

The county has also said it will prioritize cybersecurity operations in the coming year — with plans to develop a Cybersecurity Response Plan, which will give officials a road map for responsive measures in the event of a cyberattack. A ransomware response plan is also in the works. Boone recently engaged with a third-party company for ongoing phishing testing, while also accomplishing a security audit of all its public-facing applications that use sensitive consumer information like birthdays or social security numbers — an effort to hunt for and plug potential vulnerabilities.

Along similar lines, the county has also invested heavily in emergency response and continuity of operations, which are being augmented by the county’s geographic information system. Officials partnered this year with Surdex Corporation to produce updated orthographic and lidar images of the local area, which could be utilized by the GIS Department as a resource for emergency and resource management planning.

5th Pitt County, N.C.

In Pitt County, N.C., technology plays an integral role in governing. Officials have set goals to make it a more responsive and accessible government, not to mention a safer place to live for its residents. The county’s Pulsepoint CPR app has helped it shake the less than 1 percent heart attack survival rate, helping citizen responders in the most critical moments of a medical emergency. The application alerts the public to an emergency in their area in the hopes that a CPR-qualified individual can help until first responders arrive.

The need for on-the-go access to county systems saw investment in remote access capability. This was especially useful in the public safety space, as the Sheriff’s Department and the narcotics team were able to log in from the field. In a similar vein, the outdated enterprise content management system was recently replaced with a Laserfiche solution, simplifying document access and management across the regional government.

Faced with the same mounting threat as governments of all sizes, the county made an “intentional investment” in bolstering cybersecurity. This took the form of a security-as-a-service model, in which a virtual chief information security officer advises on the latest threat trends and where a security vendor runs threat detection and prevention measures. Policies and best practices are being developed to ensure proper response in the event of an attack.

Among the many efforts to make government more responsive, the county is providing more accurate information in a region often touched by hurricane activity. The Joint Information Center serves as a one-stop resource for information about emergency response, road closures and available resources. The website is only active during an emergency situation.

6th County of Davidson, N.C.

Cybersecurity has been one of the top priorities of Davidson County leadership following a February 2018 ransomware attack that shut down more than 90 county servers and systems for six days. The IT staff has since put in place several safeguards like desktop antivirus protections, two-factor authentication for IT staff and domain accounts with far-reaching network access, as well as closer monitoring of all public-facing systems. More than 150 cyberthreats have been averted since the changes were put in place. Funding for cybersecurity efforts increased 75 percent in the last 12 to 18 months.

The Information Technology Department worked on a joint project with the Davidson County Sheriff’s Department to create a protected and secure network for forensic research: Cellebrite's Universal Forensic Extraction Device (UFED). The network gives officers access to the dark web and has now handled more than 240 electronic devices and acquired data from 86 percent of those.

Another top priority has been emergency communications. The county partnered with the state to expand the Viper system, a statewide emergency communication system for public safety agencies. Following hurricanes Florence and Michael in 2018, Davidson County created a mobile-friendly assessment and reporting tool available to all residents.

7th Charlotte County, Fla.

This Gulf Coast county, with a population of 182,000, has been impacted by severe weather in recent years. It also has to manage large swings in demographics, thanks to heavy tourism during the winter season. These two factors help drive major policymaking decisions that require responses from IT. Complicating the picture is the county’s struggles to fund new IT endeavors and innovation, especially for mobile services. Nonetheless, Charlotte has taken strides to modernize how it serves its citizens. A new commercial and residential development software application has opened up access to information that had been unavailable at the public level in the past. The program’s versatility and flexibility in providing permitting information, which is updated daily, has been a high mark in the county’s IT achievements.

To help with damage assessments, the county relies on geospatial data from its ArcGIS platform and from its Accela land management platform, which can help inspectors detail type and location of damage, as well as other kinds of information that can be uploaded to create specialized damage assessment permits. Charlotte has also leveraged its GIS platform to create several new applications, ranging from recent construction data and critical facility locations in the county to apps that deliver up-to-date tourism-related information on fishing, coral reefs and boat launches. Other mapping apps support emergency response, property and local regulations.

8th Delaware County, Ohio

Delaware County, Ohio, in its fourth consecutive year of ranking, is one of the fastest-growing areas in the country. Not surprisingly, much of the county’s IT work is related to the influx of new residents. Located just north of Columbus, Ohio, Delaware has been tasked with expanding the scope of its work in a fiscally responsible way. To help with this, county IT has begun to provide shared services to many publicly funded agencies, a move that aims to create more consistency and less overall spending. The county’s growing tax base has helped make this possible.

Meanwhile, Delaware is also preparing for the future by creating infrastructure aimed at easier adaptation of new technologies, specifically 5G. Delaware has accomplished this in a couple of ways. First, the county recently contracted with an outside company to help it create an optimized local telecommunications network. Second, through zoning restrictions aimed at not overbuilding redundant infrastructure, Delaware has worked to pave the way for 5G while also preserving streetscapes and natural environments. Moving forward, the county is also working to adjust its tech-related communications work to account for how many of its residents are active on social media. This work is being augmented by the creation of a new communications position that will manage the county’s social media channels. There is also a plan in place to establish a social media review committee.

9th Washington County, Ark.

The Washington County Judge has prioritized the focus on infrastructure, destination of choice (services) education around the county, and security. The IT department has made infrastructure a major focus by implementing a plan for sustaining and replenishing the county’s electronic resources.

The IT department is helping educate county employees by providing cybersecurity awareness and training to all county employees each quarter and by encouraging collaboration and the use of project management practices for sound decision-making. The department is also striving to protect infrastructure, both from the inside out and outside in and by protecting the official records of the county.

One of Washington’s top initiatives is the finance committee’s call for budget reductions in each department. The IT department works to identify and differentiate financial and non-financial goals and prioritize projects and improve efficiencies through technology. To improve efficiency, the county moved to a five-year replacement cycle of its desktop computers from a three-year cycle and moved to centralize all IT-related purchases across the county.

The IT department has become creative over the years in reducing costs by providing in-house solutions to expenses from outside vendors and suppliers, as well as utilizing contract reviews for further cost reductions. For example, the county reviewed its contract with a broadband provider to substantially reduce annual costs.

10th Union County, N.C.

North Carolina’s Union County is making steady changes in its technology posture to better serve citizens. A top priority has been upgrading the audio and video systems so the county can livestream all public board meetings and be as transparent to residents as possible. Another area of focus is data governance. The IT agency plans to stand up a more robust data analytics program in the next year and has created guidelines and standards around that to ensure initiatives are secure and accessible. This has helped reduce the cost of physical documents and their storage. In similar cost-saving measures, a move to paperless workflows has saved upward of $15,000. Union County cites funding as its biggest IT challenge as the department works to do more with less, especially as their population grows by about 2 percent each year. Focusing on smart staffing choices and planning for anticipated retirements in the next five years will help ensure the agency can continue providing services enterprise-wide.

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Click points on the map above to learn more about each winner. Red indicates 1st place winners, yellow indicates 2nd place winners, green indicates 3rd place winners, and blue indicates winners that placed 4th through 10th.

1st Dutchess County, N.Y.

Dutchess County, N.Y., once again takes the top spot in its population category this year by strongly aligning its priorities with technology to effectively advance county goals. The Office of Central and Information Services (OCIS) launched a new county website that is mobile-ready and also compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act standards, making it accessible for all residents.

The county’s shared IT services have been a success and include a public safety service that is used by the Poughkeepsie Police Department, which saved the city more than $500,000 and has attracted interest from other municipalities. Dutchess County’s GIS shared services has saved $2.2 million annually for cities, such as by assisting the Department of Planning and Development to update its address database ahead of the census next year. OCIS also has a shared services coordinator, and the county offers $1 million in annual grants to incentivize cities to use shared services, including IT options.

To improve cybersecurity, OCIS has recently implemented a data classification system from Varonis that helps identify potential cybersecurity risks across the enterprise, and then works to isolate and eliminate those threats. The county also has cyber-insurance and makes sure that particularly sensitive information is stored on-premise, rather than in the cloud. This year a staff member was appointed the first cybersecurity administrator and is the first person there to hold a specific cyber-degree. Last year, Dutchess County also participated in two statewide tabletop exercises to secure elections systems for upcoming votes.

Other achievements this year include a new enterprise content management system that has improved workflows, and a rollout of Microsoft Office 365 countywide, which further improves cybersecurity.

2nd Chesterfield County, Va.

Virginia’s Chesterfield County is home to more than 344,000 residents and is making efforts regionally to improve daily life through the thoughtful use of technology. The use of data to drive decisions around policing and public health is evident in an ongoing initiative to track and respond to opioid overdoses throughout the county. A Power BI dashboard gives county personnel previously unseen intelligence into the public health crisis. 

Elections have been given a leg up with investment in new voting technology, voter traffic analysis and precinct rebalancing through the use of GIS. In a similar vein, facility management now relies on a cloud-based system that monitors the cost and time of county-owned facilities. Before the system was in use, this reporting process would have taken weeks or months to complete. Moreover, migration to the cloud continues to be a priority for county IT personnel. Roughly 30 to 40 percent of county systems or applications are viable candidates for the cloud, and between 11 and 20 percent have already been migrated. Big investments have been made in not only this push toward the cloud, but also in the area of cybersecurity with tools like threat analytics and ransomware preparedness training.

Efforts to build a more citizen-centric government are best represented in the growing list of online services available through the county’s website. Residents can complete payments and register for services and programs, and plans are in the works to enable digital signatures and form automation features in the near term. The use of emerging tech has come to Chesterfield in the form of drones, which assisted public safety operations following Hurricane Michael in 2018. Since that time, a policy has been implemented and all county and school departments are free to use the technology.

2nd Durham County, N.C.

Durham County, N.C., has steadily risen in the ranks for Digital Counties — from 10th place in 2017, fifth place in 2018 to second this year — by building on new investments, plans and partnerships, and developing many of its latest initiatives around data.

Working with the city of Durham, the county updated its open data portal to a more user-friendly version. In response to feedback from an annual survey, county and city officials are launching a joint task force to measure citizen satisfaction with their respective services. They’re also starting a “data academy” aimed at training city and county employees on data tools and analysis that will have trained 35 people by the end of this year and is expected to train another 80-100 by 2020. Both Durham County and the city have been working with other neighboring governments on a series of open data websites, resulting in fewer data requests from the public and higher Web traffic.

Internally, County IT created a strategic plan last year to keep their annual budget, projects and daily work consistent with and accountable to the county’s; completed several modules in their new SAP enterprise resource planning software related to administration, recruitment, onboarding, offboarding and training; bought and installed Microsoft Office 365; and, conducted a pilot to measure IoT and client traffic at the county’s Health and Human Services building. They also upgraded network technology, which has reduced the time needed for changes in the DNA Center and allowing the network to be managed from a central location.

Last year, the county’s budget office launched a public website to give residents access to three informational dashboards: Budget-in-Brief, Departmental Performance Measures, and Community Indicators from the Strategic Plan. The county’s Department of Social Services also launched a mobile app that lets citizens report information for Medicaid or other support-program benefits without physically going to the building.

3rd Placer County, Calif.

Placer County, Calif., took a citizen-first stance with the 2019 deployment of a new website, using an interface developed by CivicPlus, and featuring a revamped design that provides residents with service-based navigation instead of a department-oriented website. Each department is responsible for managing its content on the website, and the Placer County Information Technology Division will expand the self-service functions throughout 2019. Traffic for the county website is about 152,200 users per month with 150 programs accessible to residents. 

The website launch aligns with the Placer County Board of Supervisors’ strategic goal of “Innovation, Implementation-focused, Integrated County Services,” which aims to improve people’s interactions with the local government. To support its goal of better overall service delivery experience, Placer County made the Information Technology Division its own department and created the role of chief information officer to lead IT provide new countywide technology solutions, and oversee investments and telecommunications. 

Also, Placer County became the first local government in California to deploy an AI chatbot for the Google Cloud Platform and Amazon’s Alexa. The chatbot has been programmed with more than 100 question-and-answer scenarios and is integrated with the county’s GIS, which can provide residents with zone and parcel information. The chatbot is currently limited to Community Development Resource Agency information, but Placer IT is working to expand its knowledge base to other agencies while continuing to integrate county systems.

4th Marin County, Calif.

Marin County placed well in this year’s Digital Counties Survey, propelled by thoughtful IT and strategic planning, community engagement via well-designed tools and apps, and execution of a comprehensive cybersecurity program connected across the enterprise. The agency hired new CIO Liza Massey in 2018 as it focused on deploying COMPASS, a new organizational performance management program, which uses data to drive performance, with the goal of displaying it in dashboards built atop the agency’s existing data tools from Socrata Public and Tableau. This year, departments are honing their mission, strategies, tools and process to engage employees, with the goal of showing data for all strategies via internal- and external-facing dashboards by April 2020.

Five-year county business and Department of Information Services and Technology (IST) <strategic plans will guide Marin through 2020, but tech-forward business processes are also helping connect officials to the residents they serve. The county has worked since 2017 to make engagements mobile, paperless and citizen-centric, deploying court calendar texting alerts and electronic signature for county contracts to support internal digital document workflows. IST will be totally paperless this year for recruitment.

IST’s five-year plan centers on security and the agency — reorganized last year — has tripled its security resources and updated its information security manager position to CISO. With county HR, IST has stood up the KnowBe4 cybersecurity awareness and training platform and made annual information security training mandatory for all employees. Internal monthly mock “phishing” campaigns continue, and staffers can now report suspected phishing via a tool implemented last year. An update to the county’s cybersecurity, incident and ransomware response plans will be complete by the end of 2019.

5th Leon County, Fla.

The Leon County IT department has designed and developed new technology systems to manage the Public Safety Complex, a campus housing the Tallahassee Regional Transportation Management, the Leon County Emergency Operations and other departments. IT also oversees tech support for the county’s six public libraries, public safety facilities, community centers and other areas. In the next 18 months, Leon County’s 911 system will go through significant upgrades with the launch of NextGen-911.

The county government engages with the community through its various social media channels as well as live-streaming events such as board meetings. Also, new digital signage at library branches offer real-time information related to weather, traffic, disaster recovery and more. During disaster events, the county provides up-to-the-minute reports via its mobile app at the Emergency Operations Center.

County IT underwent an enterprise upgrade with Office 365, resulting in some 2,400 users migrating to the system with improved efficiencies and workflow.  Leon County also shares a Permits Portal with the city of Tallahassee, which serves as a “one-stop” location for the community and developers to learn about building projects, submit forms, and other research.

6th Loudoun County, Va.

Loudoun County, Va., is no stranger to placing on the survey. Although it was left off last year, the jurisdiction — which is just outside of Washington, D.C. — ranked seventh in 2017 and fourth in 2016. This year, many of Loudoun’s IT priorities have to do with maximizing cost efficiency, mainly by shifting to new commercial data centers in the county, a move the government estimates has brought with it roughly $13 million in cost avoidance.

Many of Loudoun’s other impressive IT accomplishments in the past year are related to its location. Loudoun has fostered and collaborated on sophisticated IT projects with local, state and federal partners. Meanwhile, Loudoun’s IT specialists have been called upon to help with ongoing transportation work in the area. One example of this is the county’s effort to build parking facilities to support the Washington Area Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s expansion of its subway lines into the area, which required new tech infrastructure to support workers. 

Overall, Loudoun is a county made up of both rural and heavily urban geography, creating interesting service challenges. Loudoun, however, has strategic plans in place to do just that, and if the county continues to execute, it is likely to not only appear on next year’s survey but to do so with a higher ranking.

7th Hamilton County, Ind.

This year, Hamilton County prioritized technology to improve how residents and internal staff use its services by creating two new systems that have reaped numerous operational benefits. First, the county used its current workflow system, POSSE, to build a new grant management system. Hamilton decided to build internally rather than purchase a third-party system because it was less costly and meant the staff didn’t need new training. The new system minimizes costs while providing full life-cycle grant management capabilities for all county agencies. 

The county also built an online version of its application process for Emergency Operations Center volunteers. Previously, individuals had to go to the Emergency Management office in person to fill out five to seven redundant forms. Now they can do it all online. Furthermore, the system automatically re-enters personal information on each form so the applicant doesn’t have to, and it only asks questions that are relevant to the applicant’s interests. This new system also improves operations for county staff because it stores all information in the cloud so they can access it from any location.

Hamilton County wants to improve the work environment for its staff by expanding cloud services and storage. Moving internal assets to the cloud allows for better recovery and security of county systems and facilitates a mobile work environment. Staff will be able to access information and interact with one another from multiple locations. Hamilton is also “using technology to improve [the] environment” by purchasing compressed natural gas vehicles and launching a solar project to reduce costs and inspire others to explore alternative energy sources.

8th Santa Cruz County, Calif.

The county crafted a new mission in 2018 — to create an open and responsive government that delivers quality, data-driven services. To that end, the county adopted a strategic plan that focused on six strategic areas and IT plays a major role in the operational excellence of each: comprehensive health and safety; attainable housing; reliable transportation; dynamic economy; sustainable environment; and county operational excellence.

Four priorities drive the strategic areas: customer experience; county workforce; county infrastructure; and continuous improvement. IT’s role will be online accessibility to county services, paperless processing, open government and business processing. County IT has developed tools and links, including a mobile app for issue reporting and information and a portal for commercial projects and building permits to be submitted.

The IT department is also updating its project management toolkit, which features new innovations and improvements in the documents used for tracking IT projects. Public communication is a key component of the county’s strategies and has increased the use of social media, including more than a dozen Facebook pages, several Twitter accounts and Instagram. For employee recruitment, the county has expanded the use of LinkedIn and Twitter. Santa Cruz continues to use Nextdoor to communicate with residents.

9th Cumberland County, N.C.

As a result of the efficiencies and IT improvements in the past few years, Cumberland County has made IT a major part of its Strategic Plan for fiscal 2018-20. 

One key goal of the plan is to use a capital planning model as a tool to help fund capital and large recurring expenses, like IT. This model was built into the annual budget process, which requires all tech purchases to be reviewed, justified and approved by the director of the Information Services and Technology Department before budget approval. It allows the IT department to assist with a technology road map for each department, as well as plan for upcoming major projects and predict technology needs countywide. The model ensures best use of county IT resources, greatly reduces unplanned events and lessens the impact of emergency situations.

Another goal of Cumberland’s Strategic Plan is to promote economic development. One stated objective is to "Acquire new software solution for central permits, inspections, code enforcement, land use, parcel/address management and environmental health.” The Information Services Department is currently implementing an all-inclusive solution to meet that objective. The department is also implementing a GIS-centric tax system, which will include major improvements to parcel/address management. The tax system will have an interface with the new comprehensive planning software. Both applications will generate major improvements for field operations, allowing IT to respond to customers more quickly, and provide citizen and vendor self-service features.

Cumberland County is considering merging other IT departments with the Information Services and Technology Department; continued technology investment to ensure that the county stays ahead of modern tech requirements and remains an innovative leader in public service; and to reach decisions related to projects that have been under long-term consideration, including the creation of a new 911 center, which the county IT department is currently greatly engaged in.

10th Buncombe County, N.C.

If there’s one word that resonates throughout Buncombe County’s digital survey, it’s “justice.” One of the county’s major policy initiatives has been to make its justice system more efficient, effective and equitable through better coordination of data. Buncombe has replaced its pre-trial system, integrated it with its jail management system and added a risk assessment tool. This has allowed the county to target potential diversion candidates, which has resulted in significant savings in labor costs, not to mention greater efficiencies in the justice system. The payoff has come in the form of a $2 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation. The county has also emphasized partnerships through its criminal justice system, which touches several key agencies, including the police, courts and the district attorney’s office.

Buncombe has made progress as far as developing citizen-centric services through a series of custom-developed applications, including an app that forecasts wait times at polling stations during elections, the first of its kind in the state. The county has also been busy extending its enterprise applications that are beginning to have far-reaching implications. A new ERP system has provided insights into previously unknown IT spending, resulting in the elimination of unneeded software; it also has led to improved governance around data issues, such as security, quality, usability, accessibility and standards.

10th Ottawa County, Mich.

Ottawa County, Mich., is going all in on modernization. The county, which hugs Lake Michigan to the west of Grand Rapids, is rolling out a new phone system which it will follow with new server infrastructure. That’s coupled with a multiyear push to retire and replace legacy systems and apps, like a new security information and event management system, a new justice system, well and sewage disposal inspection management, supportive housing software and digital HR documentation.

That foundational layer will push the county forward in a number of critical areas as well, improving cybersecurity, interdepartmental work and business continuity and disaster recovery. The county has been steadily improving its security stance, documenting regular improvements in monthly penetration tests as well as quarterly vulnerability scans.

The county is also uniquely collaborative. On top of putting up its hand to help the state pilot-test a new court e-filing system, Ottawa County helped start a fiber management council in 2018 with local governments in the county. It has also signed on to provide IT support for no fewer than eight local governments within its borders, four of which it has onboarded in the past year.

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Click points on the map above to learn more about each winner. Red indicates 1st place winners, yellow indicates 2nd place winners, green indicates 3rd place winners, and blue indicates winners that placed 4th through 10th.

1st Snohomish County, Wash.

First place Snohomish County, Wash., has prioritized strategic IT planning, with a thoughtful, methodical approach running through all of its efforts. One major component is its Service, Technology, Excellence Program (STEP) Reform initiative. Launched in 2016, the program takes a lean approach to reducing waste and encouraging maximum efficiency. In calendar year 2018, the county reports 4,000 hours of gains in productivity, spread across 12 projects, from STEP. Fifteen key processes were refined, which equals more than $380,000 saved in staff time. Human resources-related tasks like onboarding, offboarding, time reporting and payroll were among those with the greatest gains reported.

Snohomish is diving into data analytics for internal- and external-facing program areas, using Power BI to help bring data to life. One particularly compelling example is its parcel-level information on how county property taxes are distributed to various programs. Visual metrics are also used on the intranet site to bring reports on departmental performance to life and inspire continuous improvement.
 
Cybersecurity also emerges as a clear priority for the county, which calls its approach “defense-in-depth,” with layers of tools from intrusion detection and access control to user device security. All storage environments, in the cloud and onsite, have passed stringent requirements, and every IT employee holds the Criminal Justice Information Systems (CJIS) certification. IT staff have recently reviewed and reduced the number of computers with full administrative rights across the organization. Tightening up access this way keeps IT staff from having to secure machines that are more vulnerable yet don’t need to be. The department also revised the rates it charges to departments to reflect the fact that PCs with elevated rights are more resource-intensive to secure.

2nd Sonoma County, Calif.

In October 2017, wildfires consumed thousands of acres in Sonoma County, destroying homes and killing dozens of people. In March 2019, the county was hit by devastating floods, resulting in an estimated $155 million in property damage. These two disasters forced county officials to put a priority on recovery and resilience policies that are having a major impact on Sonoma’s technology resources, strategies and overall planning. Hoping to accelerate its priorities, the county has established Local Assistance Centers throughout the jurisdiction to provide residents access to Wi-Fi, computers and printers. The county has also expanded its online resources to include GIS maps and data, expedited online permitting for rebuilding, debris removal, health and safety resources, alerts and warning information, and financial and legal assistance.

Sonoma’s other major policy concern that impacts IT is its homeless problem. Almost 3,000 people are homeless in the county on any given night. After years of decline, the number of homeless grew 6 percent last year, triggered in large part by the thousands of homes wiped out by the wildfires. To mitigate the problem, Sonoma’s IT department is managing a multi-agency data sharing effort to identify target populations at risk and in need of services and to measure metrics to see if the county is having success in helping this demographic. Sonoma is partnering with IBM and state entities to use big data, artificial intelligence and analytics in finding solutions to the county’s homeless problem. Given how much of its population has been impacted by floods and fires, the county’s safety-net services have become crucial and that has made IT’s role more important than ever.

2nd County of Ventura, Calif.

This year Ventura County, Calif., moved up two spots in its population category despite experiencing hardship at the end of 2018, including a mass shooting at a bar in November, followed shortly by the devastating Hill and Woolsey fires. The county Board of Supervisors has made recovery from the incidents, particularly the wildfires, a top priority, and the IT department has been integral both during and after times of emergency. Throughout the fires, the county’s emergency mobile communications trailer allowed staff to quickly distribute support where it was needed; emergency communications saw no outages during that time. IT also launched one-stop websites that assisted recovery for those impacted by the fires, such as with housing, food, financial assistance, health services and more.

Ventura County continues to make strong tech gains on all fronts. This includes its participation in the Broadband Consortium of the Pacific Coast, along with Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, a regional effort to bring broadband to underserved areas. The consortium has also established a playbook of best practices for local government broadband efforts and is now working with housing developments to bring higher speeds to new construction areas. Citizen engagement is also a strong suit for Ventura, and includes a new website featuring Amazon Alexa skills as well as a chatbot, and the ability to use text messaging to register to vote, find a polling place, get election results and more.

To attract a younger and tech-savvy workforce, Ventura County’s IT agency operates out of a modern office, which along with its new website is designed to attract millennials to county work. They also offer LinkedIn Learning opportunities for workers across the county, which they’re using as an incentive to lure and ultimately retain talent.

3rd Gwinnett County, Ga.

Information technology in Gwinnett County, Ga., is a multi-faceted operation with impacts across all government departments. The regional government’s goals of deploying better, faster and more cost-effective services are represented in how its IT division works. The county’s location — just northeast of Atlanta — gave it a front-row seat to that city’s 2018 ransomware attack and highlighted the necessity of a strong cybersecurity program. Monthly phishing simulations — complete with recognizable sources and urgent language — are used to ensure that county staff are on top of the evolving threat, and an expanded mandatory training program is scheduled to begin later this year.

Where resilience is concerned, IT personnel are working to inventory and align mission-critical systems to ensure that all departments are on the same page and prepared to respond to incidents that threaten IT continuity. Innovative and emerging technologies like artificial intelligence have also found a place in Gwinnett County. AI is used to root out fraud, improve cybersecurity, inspect IT infrastructure, and enable speech and language processing.

Beyond the nitty-gritty of keeping the regional government running and protected, providing better services to constituents is a key priority. One example of using technology to complete this goal is video conferencing between judges and jail inmates, which not only cuts down on the costs associated with transportation and logistics, but also improves safety in courthouses. A collaborative effort between IT, elections and communications divisions helped to create a website that allows voters to check wait times at their polling places. Similarly, a new Tax Office offering allows 24/7/365 registrations through six self-serve kiosks, and residents can also submit paperless billing applications, among other services.

4th Prince George's County, Md.

Prince George’s County has been, and will remain, busy with some of the most foundational work local government must do. It is in the midst of a long push to centralize IT work, and toward that goal the IT agency has developed or updated its service-level agreement timeframes for every kind of service request on the books. Pairing that with new SLA dashboards, the agency has increased its on-time percentage for requests. It is also in the midst of phased laptop and infrastructure replacement programs that have retired potentially risky out-of-date technology, and it has been adding much new functionality to its SAP enterprise system, allowing departments to better share information and work together.

One area the county has really blazed a trail in is GIS. Using the latest ArcGIS platform, the county has built out an impressive fleet of inward- and outward-facing maps and tools that touch many areas of government work ranging from emergency response to urban planning. The newest maps in 2019 include tools to compare property data, outline FEMA floodplains, identify hard-to-survey areas for the upcoming census, inventory public lands, and explore information about a proposed new light rail line. Perhaps none of these is higher-profile, however, than the work done in collaboration with the state and neighboring jurisdictions to delineate the emergency response boundary in Maryland’s new Next-Generation 911 project. Future projects include new cloud storage, cybersecurity risk detection, automated payment audits, contract management and other types of software.

5th County of San Mateo, Calif.

San Mateo County, which ranked third by population in its category in 2018, holds strong in fifth place this year. Its Information Services Department (ISD) meets the growing needs of around 7,600 county employees and 884,000 residents by focusing on its mission of enabling connections between residents and government, amid an IT reorganization to improve customer response.

The agency has connected priority, policy and IT initiatives, using technology to meet citizens digitally where they are. A disaster response plan underway will empower the goal of a healthy, safe community; an Internet platform for job searches and services information, and an open data initiative will help support a prosperous community. An open government initiative helps foster collaboration; and online reporting features let residents report streetscape issues like potholes and full storm drains.

Since the debut of innovation center SMC Labs in May 2018, the county has rolled out an air quality monitoring network to document particulate levels following the 2018 Camp Fire; and stood up an Esri GeoEvent Server to provide alerts, analytics, big data storage and business intelligence. A recently redesigned website and Alexa skills help the county reach residents, connecting them to services through initiatives like Get Food San Mateo, a new anonymous screening site for food assistance. The portal also offers regional data on groundwater and GIS, electric vehicle charging, and a community vulnerability index.

Officials are also enhancing cybersecurity, mandating multifactor authentication on county resources, 60-day password resets and department head approval for changes to admin and auditor accounts. Implementation of a secure county texting platform is underway, as are in-depth reviews of networks to spot unauthorized connections, unsecured servers and unprotected PCs.

6th DeKalb County, Ga.

With a population in excess of 750,000, DeKalb County is Georgia’s fourth most populous, with a workforce of about 6,000 and an annual budget of more than $1 billion. As far as IT, the county is moving aggressively to a cloud-first, mobile-first approach for applications and services. This will call for upgrades in equipment like routers, as well network redundancy.

Efforts to use common tools that serve multiple functions are evident throughout DeKalb County.  
The county’s website offers a common payment menu which helps serve resident needs across jurisdictions and departments. And a new internal Jail Information System designed for use by the various county courts — superior, state magistrate, etc. — can be used for everything from case management to tracking prisoners as they move through the system. The JIS provides electronic management of case records and a range of search features, all increasing efficiencies while cutting down on staff resources, paperwork and travel time. The system also sends text messages to defendants about upcoming court dates.

Future projects in DeKalb County include the development of Oracle Hyperion, a financial forecasting and budgeting tool, as well as an e-procurement system to streamline processes for both county officials and the vendor community.

7th Douglas County, Neb.

Nebraska’s most populous county and home to the city of Omaha, Douglas County’s dedication to improving efficiency, investing in innovation and expanding services for its more than half a million residents resulted in its ranking rising this year from eighth to seventh place in its population category.  

One of the most impressive feats by the county's IT staff has been to create a truly citizen-centric approach to service delivery, with an eye toward increasing transparency and access to government data through a diversity of programs and initiatives. These efforts have included the launch of a Google Analytics portal that directs residents to online services for both the county and the city of Omaha, allowing officials to better understand how citizens access and use these services. 

Similarly, the county has launched open data portals to increase transparency, offering citizens a look at everything from publicly available geospatial data sets to county expenses through an online expense dashboard from the County Clerk’s Office.

At the same time, the county has also partnered with state officials to work on modernizing its transportation systems. Together with the Nebraska Department of Roads, the county has embarked on a multi-year project to install smart lighting, sensors and video feeds that will help to streamline both vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

8th San Joaquin County, Calif.

This year, San Joaquin County, Calif., — home to cities like Stockton and Lodi—has moved up to eighth place in its population category, making progress in the past year with a wide range of work, from expanding its open data efforts to digitizing its county budgeting procedures, just in time for the fiscal year 2019-2020 process. Modernizing the budget in this way enabled the county to replace several labor-intensive manual processes. There are the usual cost and efficiency benefits of workflow automation as a result, including a new normal in which the county administrator’s office has more time to perform thorough audits of submitted budgets. 

This sort of project is perhaps an excellent encapsulation of the IT work that took place in San Joaquin this past year: It’s steady and productive, if not as flashy or outward-facing as some of the larger jurisdictions in this year’s survey. There is also much cause to be optimistic about IT work in San Joaquin moving forward. In the spring, the county found a new CIO in veteran California state technologist Chris Cruz. Cruz’s resume includes nearly three decades of experience in government and business IT. Before coming to San Joaquin, his most recent role was deputy CIO for California. Taken altogether, San Joaquin is on an upward trajectory when it comes to its IT posture.

9th County of Chester, Pa.

Chester County, Pa., spent the past year evolving its website to facilitate increased access to services and information. The website is built on a responsive-design content management system, and several forms and applications have been digitized, such as those needed for family court, park events, foster parent reimbursement and more. Earlier this year, e-filing became available on the website with the goal of saving money and benefiting taxpayers, attorneys and government staff. This service takes advantage of the Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System, which saves Chester County from spending more than $100,000 to store court documents in its own cloud.

The website also keeps residents and 16,000 monthly visitors up to date on emergencies by providing real-time GIS mapping. Fire and medical calls and road closures are listed with GPS locations and map views, and first responders can see which fire engines and ambulances are responding to calls. There are 34 searchable core GIS data layers available for users to browse and download.

The county’s communications team worked with a translation organization in 2018 to translate 100 key webpages for Hispanic residents. A menu option was added to the homepage that listed available information in Spanish. The option to use people rather than software for translation was chosen to make the website more accessible to the cultural language of the local community. Funds have been allocated to continue translation efforts. Going forward, the Department of Computing and Information Services is looking to create a chatbot for the website to interact with users within the next two years.

10th Polk County, Fla.

For Polk County, Fla., IT progress in 2018 was about cybersecurity, optimizing the time and knowledge of its staff and making new technology work for the county’s 686,483 citizens. Internally the county has been making steady upgrades, implementing Accela Civic Platform last year to improve service and communication with local stakeholders, speed up the process for citizens to obtain documents such as permits or certificates of occupancy, and also automate zoning requests, code enforcement and plan reviews. County staff also worked with local organizations to identify ways to improve information access for citizens with disabilities.

Investing in operational infrastructure, Polk County has started to implement NextGen LTE for remote connected devices and made a shared fiber connection between the sheriff’s office and waste management division, cutting costs while boosting efficiency and helping both projects get done faster. County IT staff were also active in the Polk County Vision initiative that incorporates smart communities, and they’re working on a cloud strategy to decide priority applications in the event of a disaster.

Much of Polk County’s focus has been on security, establishing an information security program based on the National Institute of Standards and Technology Cybersecurity Framework (NIST-CSF), with programs for security awareness and vulnerability management that have resulted in more staff reporting spam and zero instances of malware outbreak due to poor email practices.

Last year the county hosted a cybersecurity “lunch and learn” with more than 20 employees from various departments, its IT staff from all departments meet every month, and talks are underway for a combined call center with new security technology. The county’s new security administrator has also established more communicative relationships with nearby government departments.

Looking ahead, the county is planning an upgrade in enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and a micro-segmented network environment. Part of the ERP upgrade will involve new infrastructure that will make both ERP and non-ERP environments virtual, redundant and immediately available, reducing risk and recovery time if it goes down.

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Click points on the map above to learn more about each winner. Red indicates 1st place winners, yellow indicates 2nd place winners, green indicates 3rd place winners, and blue indicates winners that placed 4th through 10th.

1st Montgomery County, Md.

Montgomery County, Md., is no stranger to taking high honors in the Digital Counties Survey, and it’s not hard to see why. The county has a strong structure in place to encourage the effective use of technology, including a standing obligation for the central IT department as well as the Office of Management and Budget to vet all IT investments and make sure they align with larger goals. What this leads to, time and again, is technology systems that serve many purposes and help many people.

For example, Montgomery County publishes roughly 50 data sets a year to its open data portal, and on top of providing transparency to citizens and information to third-party apps, these also serve government purposes. The county is piloting programs to create Amazon Alexa skills that let users figure out when their leaf collection service is scheduled, and there will soon be new ones available in the areas of procurement, public works and environmental protection — all by tapping into open data.

Five years ago, the county retired its mainframe and began virtualizing its servers, saving tens of millions in taxpayer dollars. It has set up a modern, highly used 311 center, put in place new enterprise resource planning with business intelligence capabilities, and marked the various ways that departments are using it to work more efficiently and effectively. Performance measurement tools mean the county has ways of quantifying these efforts: New endpoint management and other cybersecurity measures reduced enterprise vulnerabilities by 75 percent. Enhancements to the Office of Consumer Protection’s case management system cut down the time to investigate and close cases of less than $100 in value by 28 percent. Improved liquor inventory control and tracking cut inventory costs as a percentage of revenue by 8 percent.

Going forward, the county is toying around more and more with pilot runs of pragmatic implementations of AI for use cases such as triaging easy-to-answer 311 calls and advanced cybersecurity threat protection.

2nd Los Angeles County, Calif.

The nation’s most populous county, Los Angeles improved its ranking from fourth to second place this year through key practices and implementations that emphasize leading-edge technologies and initiatives designed to make life easier for more than 110,000 employees — and more than 10 million residents.

The IT agency has streamlined data access through implementation of a Countywide Master Data Management platform, aimed at better informing departments about their client needs. Similarly, a County Healthcare Integration Priority brings together all agency health services to provide an enhanced user experience; and Whole Person Care Los Angeles works to ensure that at-risk Medi-Cal recipients get the resources they need. Its homeless initiative, created by the Board of Supervisors, has convened public, private and academic partners. Their collaboration has yielded an RFI and an innovation forum, and now work on an RFP.

A cognitive chatbot implementation by the Registrar Recorder/County Clerk sends text messages to answer FAQs and enables 24/7 automation of online services while cutting operational costs. The District Attorney’s office has begun using robotic process automation to process Notices of Intent to Destroy Exhibits from the court, resulting in a 25 percent time savings and a more than 35 percent increase in the availability of staff to do higher-value work.

The county has also taken significant steps to enhance cybersecurity, including updating enterprise information security policies; decommissioning more than 100 systems with legacy operating systems; deploying a new Information Event Monitoring solution; redesigning the Office of the CIO’s cybersecurity incident response plan; and, in the Assessor’s office, standing up a system to identify and address cryptomining incidents. Officials are also onboarding additional agencies into the county’s enterprise security operations center.

3rd Hennepin County, Minn.

Hennepin County, Minn., home to Minneapolis, ranked eighth for jurisdictions with 500,000 residents or more in 2016. This year, it is back and in a higher position, landing at third for the 100,000 residents or more category. How did the county make such gains? A few things stand out this year in Hennepin, namely the creation of a chief data officer position with an accompanying data analytics team — evidence of its increased commitment to data-driven decision-making. The team works to develop countywide data strategies, and facilitate data sharing, as well as streamline how the county collects and stores data, clearing the way for decision-makers to put information to use. Moving forward, the data team is working to create a countywide policy for sharing data and improve how it handles and shares confidential data, an increasingly vital part of this work. 

Human-centered design also surfaces as a priority for Hennepin County. Human-centered design — or the concept of digitizing services in a way that simplifies governmental interactions for residents — has swept through the government technology sector in recent years, and Hennepin’s grasp on it is a significant contributing factor to its success this year. There are many examples, but one that stands out is the creation of Hennepin Waypoint, which is an easy-to-use online application designed to help residents experiencing homelessness. Waypoint helps service providers direct those they serve to shelters, food resources, public restrooms, legal services, mental health resources, and a number of other assets. 

3rd King County, Wash.

King County, Wash., home to Seattle, has experienced significant population and job growth, prompting upgrades in areas like mass transit, the county’s tax system and animal control. A new Tax Transparency program allows residents to learn how much a particular parcel might be affected by fluctuations in property tax rates. A new website for Regional Animal Services of King County has brought increased engagement from the community, leading to a 20 percent increase in adoptions from last year, as well as increased pet licensing. 

Data governance, cybersecurity and citizen experience rank as the top three technologies and initiatives to be focused on in the future in King County, though there is plentiful evidence that progress is already underway. An integrated data system to track homelessness has led to a better understanding of who is homeless, why they are unhoused and how to engage with those populations. Internally, the county instituted an Automatic Vehicle Locator program to aid managing the fleet. The program led to 10 percent savings in vehicle operations in 2018.

When it comes to citizen engagement, an integrated multimedia approach helps the county reach its nearly 2.2 million residents. Information is offered in multiple languages, taking into account cultural differences on things like digital literacy. And as far as its IT infrastructure, the county has migrated to cloud-based services where possible, also partnering with departments like Health and Human Services, Transit, Adult and Juvenile Detention and others to modernize their operations as well.

4th County of Alameda, Calif.

The East Bay’s largest county, with a population of 1.7 million and encompassing Oakland and Berkeley, is in the third year of a 10-year strategic plan that not only tries to anticipate the county’s future needs but also stay abreast of dramatic technological change. To that end, the county’s 200+ IT workers and their leaders are focusing on building a safe and secure digital infrastructure and are undertaking numerous projects to meet that goal. At the same time, IT has become involved in one of the county’s most intractable problems: the lack of affordable housing and ever-growing rates of homelessness. To assist with this major policy issue, IT has helped the county launch a portal that provides information on its housing initiatives and has begun development of an app that the homeless can use to find immediate shelter.

The app is indicative of the county’s efforts to make itself more citizen-centric, and is doing this through a variety of efforts that range from a new elections website, social media, hackathons to develop APIs that run off the county’s open data and AC Care Connect, a multi-purpose project enabled by technology to bring together health care, mental health services, housing and other services to support the growing homeless population.

Alameda County is also focused on the nuts and bolts of having a modern IT environment. It has rolled out several enterprise applications, added analytical tools to help officials sift through information more quickly, resulting in better efficiencies and lower costs; it has launched a results-based accountability tool and tapped into cloud computing for new services. Finally, the county has added e-signatures to its operations, resulting in an 80 percent reduction in the time needed to process documents; and, it is researching how blockchain can be used to administer land and property records.

5th Wake County, N.C.

Evidence of a data-driven operation is abundant in the activities of fifth-place Wake County, N.C., a frequent high achiever in the Digital Counties Survey. Last October it launched a transparency portal, which features a performance dashboard, detailed financial data, performance measures, a link to the open data portal and a direct path for residents to make public records requests. Key performance indicators were developed using Power BI from Microsoft, and Wake County reports that about 90 employees from across the organization have completed a related data literacy course. In addition, 2,500 staff people in the past six months have been trained in records management, a practice that is now required of all the county’s new hires. To further support data and performance efforts like this, Wake County now has a strategic performance director and is currently recruiting for a chief data officer. 

Also in the realm of enhanced training, Wake County staff now mandates that all employees take quarterly cybersecurity training, which as of 2019 includes a tool to simulate phishing attacks. Stricter enforcement of this training requirement has pushed compliance to 97 percent.

As far as service improvements, on the heels of a redesign of the employee-facing Web portal, officials are in the midst of an overhaul to their citizen-facing website. In light of lessons learned from last year’s Hurricane Michael, the upgrade will include the ability to add a “storm mode,” in which timely resources for citizens during an emergency are prominently featured.

6th County of Sacramento, Calif.

Home to California’s capital, Sacramento County moved up one place in the largest population category in the Digital Counties Survey as it continues to make strong strides in both IT basics as well as innovative solutions to enhance the citizen experience. In April 2019, the county Board of Supervisors approved a technology improvement plan for 2019-2020 that includes $11 million for updating the ERP systems, the Criminal Justice Jail System, the County Clerk Recording System and more.

In the last year, the Department of Technology (DTech) has implemented new 311 tech and an accompanying mobile app, which helps collect data that allows the Board of Supervisors and executives to make data-driven decisions about funding for initiatives, including the cleanup of illegal campsites. The new system also lets residents monitor the progress of their requests and allows county departments to communicate on those requests as needed. An online portal provides the public with 24/7 online access to more than 50 government services and saw more than 550,000 unique page views in the first quarter of 2019. New Service Center Dashboards completed in March 2019 use business intelligence and analytics to help county staff better access public assistance programs, and they can see all of a customer’s interactions with those services to avoid duplication while helping citizens get what they need more quickly.

Sacramento County cites cybersecurity as its No. 1 focus area for improvement and is formalizing a Strategic Cybersecurity Plan for next year that includes staff training, added a security operations center in late 2018, and is continuing to build out an Information Security Office. The county is putting in place new policies for incident response and more, and ongoing cyber-initiatives are planned through 2022.

7th Oakland County, Mich.

Oakland, Michigan’s second most populous county, has leveraged innovative IT to create compatible solutions in the fields of public health and economic welfare. Oakland County officials have sought to mitigate the effects of the local opioid crisis by leveraging GIS to distribute important public health information to county residents. A recent partnership between the Oakland County Information Technology Department and the state’s health division, for example, has created a public website that uses GIS maps to show where opioid treatment facilities and other resources are located. The website also gives residents catalogued information on everything from opioid prescriptions to statistics on opioid-related deaths, as well as the location of drug disposal sites. 

At the same time, the county has deployed mapping systems in aid of other public health and safety areas. A recently launched GIS platform allows health-care workers to share information about the prevalence of lead exposure risks geographically, while another county partnership with a local fire department maps information and infrastructure critical to that community’s emergency response.

Additionally, Oakland County has also utilized IT services to help county residents transition from a more traditional, manufacturing-based economy to a knowledge-based one. Home to large car manufacturers like Fiat Chrysler, Meritor and Valeo, Oakland County is an economic hub of the state, and county officials have sought to keep it that way. Focusing in on job creation through its Emerging Sectors initiative, the county has generated $4.6 billion in private investment and has also created or retained over 81,000 jobs.

7th Palm Beach County, Fla.

Palm Beach County, Fla., rose in the ranks from 10th place in 2018 to seventh place this year. The county owns the largest fiber-optic network in the state and serves as the primary cloud services provider to more than 40 public agencies, including schools, cities and nonprofit organizations. The Information Systems Services (ISS) Department added to its ever-expanding network within the past year, installing 445 strand miles of fiber-optic network cable and adding several municipalities, including Belle Glade, Fla.

The extension to Belle Glade is a part of the Digital Inclusion Program sponsored by the Board of County Commissioners and the School Board of Palm Beach County. The goal is to provide public Wi-Fi zones surrounding a neighborhood school where people can have access to free Internet and qualified families with school-age children receive refurbished desktop computers, training and Internet access. And in addition to providing Internet access to more of the county’s approximately 1.5 million residents, the build-out helps achieve more resilient and scalable infrastructure in the hurricane-prone region of southern Florida. 

Besides delivering data, ISS also oversees video and voice services on the network, which totals up to 1,000 concurrent video streams from sources like surveillance systems, traffic control cameras, video conferencing and more. A $10 million Unified Communications Project was completed within the past year. The project, which uses VoIP, allowed the county to phase out leased voice and data circuits to reduce costs by more than $360,000 annually. ISS is now capable of adding phone lines rapidly and creating conference calls throughout the network to help in day-to-day business as well as disaster recovery.

8th Tarrant County, Texas

With over 200 IT staff serving the third largest county in Texas, Tarrant County has been juggling the need to streamline and modernize at the same time. The county completed over 100 IT projects in 2018, many related to cost-cutting and process efficiencies involving data, record-keeping, communication and transparency. As part of an infrastructure upgrade that saved over $690,000, Tarrant County IT created a data network that combined on-premise storage with cloud-based cold storage incorporating OnBase, an enterprise content management system by which the county makes sure data is properly indexed, searchable and, optionally, set to expire. The county used OnBase to digitize 326 boxes of paper records, making them more accessible while eliminating more than $23,000 in storage costs.

To reduce labor and simplify other processes, the county also implemented DocuSign with electronic signatures to reduce paperwork; started using new data-replication technology that has led to faster storage and less need for oversight; installed video teleconferencing in court; upgraded election systems to accommodate a growing population and changing demographics, including the ability to add languages and sample ballot files; created “The Loop” as a landing page for county employee communications, and InTouch as the IT department’s internal communications channel; and implemented Project Online, which allows all departments to see information and status of IT projects, resulting in fewer questions and meetings about them.

Tarrant County has also relied on collaboration for efficiency. It worked with the Tarrant Appraisal District and Tarrant 911 to save over $50,000 a year in aerial photography and mapping, has been working with other counties to develop shareable software, and continues to work with Johns Hopkins University on hospital data sharing and with WAZE on an application to automate repair orders for potholes, dead animals and other road issues.

Going forward, the county plans to replace its telephony infrastructure with a new communications platform, expand use of artificial intelligence in monitoring data storage, transition emergency resources to the FirstNet (First Responder Network Authority) network, and install a chatbot for the county clerk’s office.

9th Maricopa County, Ariz.

Maricopa County is in the Digital County Survey's top 10 this year with its focus on tech tools for government functions — as mentioned in the county strategic plan — such as its geography-based Assessor system, new Treasury accounting and tax systems, case management for Superior Courts and a new jail management system for the Sheriff’s Office. Open data tools let users search data sets like finance, public safety, transportation and maps. The county also formed an Innovation Studio, which helps agencies map and improve their processes. Last year, the studio team realized $1.5 million in projected savings, according to the chairman of the county board of supervisors. Also last year, the county named a business innovation leader in the Office of Enterprise Technology who will help departments improve their processes and provide IT solutions when appropriate. Maricopa’s goals include improved online and mobile services, such as kiosks to let residents remotely submit official documents. By the end of fiscal year 2022, the Office of Enterprise Technology aims to “work toward becoming an all-digital County by delivering online and mobile public access to County services, converting internal work processes to digital workflows and enabling a mobile workforce.”

9th Riverside County, Calif.

Riverside County identified three top priorities for 2019 that it’s IT department is helping to achieve: public safety, fiscal strength and healthy communities. In the realm of public safety, the county is in the process of acquiring a new Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The new EOC will be in its own designated space — unlike the current setup in the basement of another office building — located only a few blocks away from the primary 911 dispatch center. In the interest of healthy communities, Riverside is gathering requirements for a new homeless management system, which it expects to procure in the next 12-18 months.

Riverside County recently implemented not one but two major fiscal management systems. In October 2018, the county went live with a replacement of its <property tax system from 1972. This 10+ year effort, known as the County of Riverside Enterprise Solutions for Property Taxation (CREST) project, required collaboration between the offices of the county Assessor-County Clerk-Recorder, Treasurer-Tax Collector and the Auditor Controller. Also new to Riverside County is RivcoPRO, a modernized procurement system currently in use by half of all county departments. The IT and Purchasing departments plan to roll the system out to the remaining county offices by the end of this year.

2020 marks the first digital census, and the nation’s 10th largest county intends to be ready for it. Riverside County has partnered with neighboring San Bernardino County and the University of California, Riverside in an effort to reach residents and encourage them to participate next year. Additionally, Riverside County GIS is building a Community Asset Mapping and Survey tool, which will give the county a single location where it can look up public gathering places of traditionally hard-to-count community groups as well as ways to reach out to them.

10th Orange County, Fla.

Jerry Demings was sworn in as mayor in December 2018 and began his term with a 37-member transition team that focused its initial efforts on developing Orange County as a global destination, diversifying its economy and improving infrastructure. The team created four task forces, including an Innovation and Technology task force, which seeks to create a culture of innovation by encouraging staff at all levels to think outside the box to enable business areas to pilot new programs, technologies and processes and develop strategies on where to invest in technology to improve the customer experience.

One key in the “Building a Community That Works for Everyone” task force is to pilot a telehealth program to explore the potential of digital health care. Other priorities for the task force are researching tech upgrades for the Department of Corrections; developing an electronic toolkit with social components to address pedestrian and bike safety; and developing a workgroup focused on mapping applications.

The county has made great strides in the last year in data governance, credited to the groundwork that’s been laid in ensuring the availability of consistently accurate data. As far as specific projects, the county points to several, including a new, coordinated mental health case management system; a new patient care and billing system in the fire department; a new false alarm billing system for the Fire Marshal; and a new dashboard system for corrections that helps staff manage inmates.

Lauren Harrison is the managing editor for Government Technology magazine. She has a degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and more than 10 years’ experience in book and magazine publishing.