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Digital Counties 2023: Top Counties Champion Data and Inclusion

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

This year, the counties that emerged as winners in the Center for Digital Government’s* Digital Counties Survey set themselves apart by championing an array of new technological components, including artificial intelligence, cloud management platforms, advanced data analytics, chatbot natural language processing systems and other cutting-edge tools.

Across the five first-place counties, one common theme rose to the top: Collaboration and inclusion were critical factors to their success. Their commitment to equity ensured that the benefits of technological advancements were accessible to all residents, ensuring widespread access to resources and creating a more inclusive digital landscape.

By harnessing innovative technologies, championing new tech adoption strategies and providing a community-centric focus, these five counties propelled themselves to the front of the pack, showcasing their commitment to change management and pushing the boundaries of what is possible.


Calvert County, Md., has propelled itself to the forefront of technological advancement by ensuring its workforce is well-equipped and trained to navigate the digital landscape in order to meet the evolving needs of its citizens.

In just over one year, under the leadership of CIO Stephen Pereira, the county implemented Workday as its new human capital management and enterprise resource planning system. The platform has streamlined numerous county processes such as hiring, onboarding, budgeting, procurement and payroll management, consequently reducing paperwork and cutting workloads.

“Workday allows us to measure things that we couldn’t before, like how long it’s been between a hiring manager saying ‘yes, I want to hire this person’ and them starting their new role,” Pereira told Government Technology. “We can also now track employee engagement. Are people more engaged after going to an employee recognition day? If someone went to the event, are they now going to be more engaged than someone that didn’t go to the event, or if a supervisor did a training course? Are their direct hires going to be more engaged moving forward or less engaged?”

The implementation of this system comes as a much-needed solution amid the staffing challenges that numerous counties, including Calvert, have been experiencing.

As a new ChatGPT tool was introduced more widely in the last few months, Pereira and his team supported quick adoption of generative AI as a starting point for memos, proclamations, press releases and more. But he assured staff that the AI is meant to augment their skills, not replace them.

“Our goal is to build a high-performance culture and deliver maximum value to taxpayers,” he said. “To get 80 percent of the way there in 20 seconds is very impressive. To mitigate any privacy concerns or considerations, we have clear guidelines and guardrails when using ChatGPT or any new technology.”

To prepare its workforce for ChatGPT and similar tools, the county conducts regular trainings like lunch and learns to help with language prompts, and the IT department produces reoccurring newsletters to introduce usage options for the new technology.

The county also has several IT projects in the works to streamline services for citizens, including a new parks and recreation system to make it easier to book activities online, and a new solution that allows residents to submit and pay for permits digitally. A new AI-centered system to handle nonemergency 911 calls is in the county’s plans as well, in addition to a new utility billing system that will enable customers to see their billing account in real time.

“Who knows where the possibilities will go in the future,” Pereira said. “When the Internet was invented, nobody saw Facebook or Twitter coming, but we’re here for the journey and aim to get involved as early as possible so that it doesn’t get ahead of us.”

Click here to view all winners in this population category.


Arlington County, Va., has bolstered its tech efforts through cloud modernization and centralization, creating a successful path toward stronger data resiliency and management. The county has embraced a road map to reduce the total cost of cloud ownership, while still managing to improve efficiency.

“The transition has resulted in faster delivery times and enhanced opportunities for innovation as the county leverages the cloud's capabilities and features,” said Arlington County CIO Norron Lee via email. “Arlington County has enhanced security and compliance by using the cloud's encryption, authentication and auditing tools and provided seamless access from anywhere, on any device, offering flexibility and convenience to county staff and residents.”

Lee said the cloud migration not only created a cohesive and safe method to house and share technology but also boosted the county’s conservation and sustainability efforts.

“By reducing our carbon footprint through cloud services, our county shows its commitment to a greener future,” Lee said. “The multicloud approach has helped address technology debt, enabling the county to modernize its infrastructure and systems, while we continue to evolve our security posture by enhancing reporting functions and using tools that will minimize the risk to the enterprise.”

The county is also focused on expanding its usage of emerging technologies that will transform emergency management response in the future. One system the county is considering is called "Z-coordinate” and allows tracking capability of the elevation of critical incident response staff as they work through buildings that may have dozens of floors.

"Knowing this piece of information may be a matter of life or death for constituents and staff,” Lee said. “We expect localization to be transformative in years to come as a life safety measure that will better secure the Arlington community. Today, in the outdoor environment and with devices such as phones and body-worn cameras, determining the general location of a first responder is possible and often close enough. However, there are still several challenges that we hope technology such as the Z-coordinate can help overcome by providing more accurate localization data to protect the lives of first responders and citizens in need of assistance.”

The hope is that the standardization and integration of localization data into dashboards used for incident response and situational awareness will ultimately benefit the entire Washington metropolitan area.

ChatGPT and similar chatbot systems are also on the county’s radar as essential emerging resources, but in some cases customers’ service expectations for those tools are evolving faster than the resources to support them.

“We believe chatbots will become a pervasive and ubiquitous form of engagement that will leverage technology’s promise to deliver more with less,” Lee explained. “If we continuously educate our workforce to leverage tools like chatbots, OpenAI and ChatGPT to enhance and optimize our internal and constituent-facing services, the county will be in a good place to meet or exceed expectations.”

Overall, the central aspects that have contributed to Arlington's success are the county staff and their dedication to exploring the potential they see throughout the organization, Lee said.

“Problems and solutions are fluid and come and go, while the culture of our broader technology team builds upon itself through collaboration and a commitment to service,” he said. “More than ever before, the organization commits to providing exceptional customer service, both internally and externally. A shared willingness to tackle tough problems helps us build toward a better future by everyone putting one foot in front of another until we have surprised ourselves with the distance we have traveled together.”

Click here to view all winners in this population category.


Prince William County’s modernization efforts started from the ground up, with a total overhaul of the jurisdiction’s technology, infrastructure and communications tools, from the data center to the county network.

“We’ve completely redesigned and rebuilt the system to operate on a high-speed, 400 GB backbone on par with Comcast and Verizon’s software,” Rob Mancini, CIO of Prince William County, told Government Technology. “The updated system cleared the way for enhanced network security never before seen in our county.”

The county considers its mission successful when it fully embodies an IT department that is valued by colleagues and customers for being as thoughtful as it is dedicated, and as innovative as it is reliable, Mancini said. This could only be accomplished by ensuring that the county is inclusive of every person that lives in its diverse community.

“Being the only minority-majority community in the state of Virginia, we realized that this was a community just brimming with potential opportunities for greater inclusion efforts,” Mancini said.

Enter the Technology Inclusion Initiative (TII), which came into focus in 2020 while county leaders were creating programming for community vaccines and realized there was an opportunity to connect better with the community directly, broadening trust between the government and its constituents.

“Through the TII program, we partnered with schools and libraries, and using CARES Act federal funding, we were able to purchase $1.2 million worth of hot spots that were disseminated to students during the pandemic with the help of school officials and our local libraries,” Mancini explained. “And we didn’t stop there because technology inclusion is comprised of three things: access, literacy/education and affordability. So we partnered with local business Future Kings to teach digital literacy classes, starting with the aging population, that would fill up the same day using the Northstar Digital Navigator platform.”

The county was also recently awarded the largest Affordable Connectivity Program grant in the state to assist with broadband affordability for residents, helping meet one of the county’s central goals: eliminating the digital divide.

Prince William County has also utilized collaborations with other jurisdictions in the region to maintain interoperable emergency communications infrastructure, share threat information, and leverage cybersecurity resources and expertise to protect data. In the past year, the county’s IT department has performed a deep-dive analysis of cybersecurity insurance coverage and created a tool to help procurement teams across jurisdictions determine the amount of cyber insurance required for IT vendors and service providers.

“As a team, we have a great relationship across our departments and agencies, so that we can bring a ‘how can we help you today’ mindset to our citizens throughout the year,” Mancini said.

Click here to view all winners in this population category.


Prince George’s County has been very active over the past 12 to 18 months, successfully implementing 72 projects and initiatives.

Digitalization of processes was a key component during this time. By converting paper records into a digital format, officials were able to quickly access information and make faster decisions.

“The digitization initiative has essentially transformed government operations and accelerated our efforts toward being a truly digital government,” Prince George’s County IT Director and CIO Wanda Gibson told Government Technology via email.

The county is now looking forward to implementing new projects in the coming months, including what it considers a real game changer: the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Lambda Project. The project will support the county’s “serverless initiative” by decreasing its reliance on aging hardware and increasing productivity, reliability and security, Gibson said.

“This initiative will utilize cloud computing to create a single data lake from various data sources and will reduce the strain on production systems,” she added. “The overall benefits of this project will be more efficient resource utilization and reduced costs.”

At the heart of the county’s mission lies a deep commitment to its citizens and ensuring the delivery of efficient services that cater to their specific needs. The county places a strong emphasis on understanding the diverse requirements of its residents and tailors its services to meet those demands.

“The user experience is at the forefront of all delivered services,” Gibson said. “To that end, the county utilizes surveys to solicit feedback, public forums to ensure two-way communication throughout the life cycle, and town halls to support transparency and focus groups, which include members of the business community.”

The county is also actively engaged in assessing rural areas for promising opportunities to expedite broadband and Internet access. It has formed partnerships with various municipalities, telecom carriers, schools and electric utility companies to foster digital inclusion.

Another priority for the county centers on bolstering its technological resources to support its Safe Neighborhoods initiatives and combat gun violence. To meet this goal, the county is implementing a range of new resources and initiatives aimed at enhancing law enforcement efforts and addressing emerging threats. These include the expansion of the body-worn camera program to cover all patrol officers, implementing Next-Generation 911 technology and plans to introduce a Vision Zero project focused on improving pedestrian safety.

“Strong leadership, our ability to prioritize the user experience, innovation and collaboration is what I’m most proud of,” Gibson said. “IT leadership is in the trenches each day and able to effectively work through the politics that are innate with any processes of change to upgrade the IT culture and structure for today’s digital government in Prince George’s County.”

Click here to view all winners in this population category.


Being awarded first place in the largest population category is no small feat, but Fairfax County’s dedicated approach to adapting and sustaining IT engagement strategies by leveraging digital channels and fostering a customer service culture has set it apart.

The county regularly reaches out to residents via surveys and social media, CTO and Department of Information Technology Director Gregory Scott told GovTech via email. “These engagement tools allow our constituents to be active participants in the delivery of services and help constituents influence the development/advancement of tech innovation to improve citizen services,” he added.

To that end, Fairfax’s customer-centric Planning and Land Use System (PLUS) has received rave feedback from community members since its implementation. Users can create and submit zoning, building or permitting applications online, pay fees, and track their application status.

To actively protect data and mitigate any hacks when using the new technology, the county is also utilizing advanced machine learning algorithms to monitor and analyze user behavior and file activity, and uncover data access patterns. Since deploying security tools such as secure access service edge (SASE), multifactor authentication options, and Azure through zero trust solutions in 2021, Fairfax County has been able to provide fast, secure Internet service for thousands of authenticated remote users. The county expanded its security systems in 2023 through proactive monitoring, response, modern threat detection, and offensive security testing using continuous attack surface testing to locate any areas that were potentially vulnerable to break-ins before hackers can do so.

The county’s approach to data management is even more complex — focusing on a comprehensive blueprint to mine and store data.

“For us, there is not one set of technology we use, but by establishing the right ecosystem and strategy for data, we have a complement of tools that have and will continue to allow us to leverage the most from our data,” Scott said. “Primarily we use the cloud for management and governance of our data and analytic workloads. We continue to scale our modern data estate, with a technical framework that includes infrastructure as code, domain-based data lakes, automation to host prep and serve data, as well as tools that automatically classify and protect our data.”

Through the county’s cohesive approach, business users have been able to train AI models and self-serve on data sets, which has accelerated the time in which the county can gain insights from data, enabling county staff to respond to changing community needs in real time.

“In the future, the county will continue to use data to better drive decisions by partnering with businesses on policy around shared data domains, while continuing to foster growth in county employees’ ability to leverage newer technology,” Scott shared.

Click here to view all winners in this population category.

To read about all winners in this year’s Digital Counties Survey:
Up to 150,000 Population Category
150,000 to 249,999 Population Category
250,000 to 499,999 Population Category
500,000 to 999,999 Population Category
1 Million or More Population Category

*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, Government Technology’s parent company.
Ashley Silver is a staff writer for Government Technology. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Montevallo and a graduate degree in public relations from Kent State University. Silver is also a published author with a wide range of experience in editing, communications and public relations.