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Digital Counties 2024: 150,000 to 249,999 Population Category

The first-place finishers in this year's Digital Counties Survey from the Center for Digital Government are those that have focused on modernizing major systems while also championing innovation.

Click here to see our full coverage of the 2024 Digital Counties Survey.

1st Arlington  County, Va.

Arlington County retains the top spot in its population category this year and has emphasized preparing for disruptions, both cyber and physical. The need came into sharp focus when a subcontractor accidentally shut off power to the county’s primary data center and the resulting outage disrupted more systems than expected. Since then, the county has begun regularly reviewing continuity of operations plans and systems, as well as conducting more frequent failover tests.

The county is also attuned to cyber attacks’ quick evolution: It updated its staffwide awareness training to reflect new threats and looks to acquire automated response tools to keep pace as attacks become more automated. The county also conducted tabletop exercises with each department, testing their continuity of operations plans. Afterward, many more staff reported feeling confident in their own and the organization’s readiness to handle a significant ransomware attack. Keeping an eye on other growing challenges, the county is exploring how to reach carbon neutrality, minimize its electronic waste and be more energy efficient. One idea includes considering more environmentally conscious tech procurement policies.

Tapping newer tech, Arlington deployed AI to help handle nonemergency public safety calls, freeing dispatchers for emergencies. Plus, the county released its first policy to guide staff on acceptable uses of AI and machine learning, and it built an AI-powered document search tool for helping users explore county records, including PDFs and images.

The county hired its first customer experience officer to support the IT department and reorganized teams to create an overarching customer experience division. Arlington introduced its first customer relationship manager to improve resident outreach and launched a common resident-facing payment portal that’s been adopted by a growing number of services. Modernizing to a new electronic agenda management solution also helps smooth processes around public meetings and livestream the meetings themselves.

2nd Cabarrus County, N.C.

One of the most significant developments in IT infrastructure in Cabarrus County, in south central North Carolina, has been the opening of a new 12,000-square-foot facility, a noticeable upgrade from the cramped basement offices the department had been occupying for more than 30 years. The new office’s design is intended to facilitate interaction and collaboration among IT staff.

Cabarrus County is turning to video conferencing and Yealink phones to better serve residents relying on the county’s social services. “Video visits” by social welfare staff, made available by Microsoft Teams and video-enabled phones, have been used for more than 2,000 visits since October 2023, cutting down on travel time and other inefficiencies. These same technologies are being piloted by the Child Welfare and Child Support divisions.

To clear up confusion among the public, ITS developed a stand-alone website for the Cabarrus County Sherrif’s Office. Separating the sheriff's office’s online presence from the rest of the county helped constituents to locate services offered by the sheriff's office. The county will also implement Granicus EngagementHQ, allowing officials to solicit feedback from residents related to projects or other areas, rather than turning to social media. Other digital service platforms include PayIt, which supports online tax payments.

The county is deploying numerous bots, so much so that IT officials are calling this “the year of the bot.” Bots now upload GIS data on a nightly basis to support the next-gen 911 system. This level of automation saves 10 hours of staff time a week. Another effort to automate processes has reduced the need to print and scan documents, amounting to more than 10,000 pages a year. In Child Support Services alone, efforts like these save eight hours of work a week.

3rd Stafford County, Va.

Stafford County, Va., took third place in its population category this year in large part due to its use of artificial intelligence. The county launched an AI chatbot on its website to help constituents access both information and necessary services. The chatbot is only one part of the county’s AskBlu brand, which also includes a 311 system, newsletters and the recently implemented Blu’s Academy, an online digital education platform targeting constituents who want to learn more about the county.

The county’s digital experience is measurable, too, using specific key performance indicators for its various digital channels — mobile apps, social media, website, chatbot and 311. By using data collected through the chatbot and 311 system, the county can make continued improvements, such as the recent launch of a second version of AskBlu. The county has also created a custom GIS integration that allows visualization of requests made through the 311 system; this allows elected representatives to see the issues their specific constituents are facing.

The county’s approach to budget management has also shifted since the November 2022 appointment of Andrew Spence to the CIO role. Coming into the 2023 fiscal year, there was waste in the IT budget due to contracts and expenses that had not been reviewed, and the county was still investing in services that were not needed. Cutting outdated services and applications and moving to Microsoft 365 demonstrated a more efficient budget approach. And a May 2023 power outage forced the county to evaluate its resilience strategy for data. Now the county IT department is undertaking disaster recovery and business continuity as two strategic initiatives in its business plan for fiscal year 2024.

4th Barnstable County, Mass.

On Cape Cod, Barnstable County, Mass., uses technology to promote unity, which in turn is helping officials better secure their digital properties. The county, after acquiring the domain, launched a website that combined a half-dozen departmental sites while also bringing fresh harmony to the county’s communication work. Branding guidelines and streamlined management of social media accounts were other rewards of the effort. So was cybersecurity. By adopting that top-level domain, reserved for government entities, county officials said they reinforced the security of Barnstable’s digital communications.

That wasn’t the county’s only streamlining work. Barnstable’s IT professionals recently turned their attention to public meetings, and introduced what they call consistent graphics for different meetings, along with more scheduling information and scrolling agenda items, which amount to better customer service for constituents. The payoff? More public engagement, according to the county.

Social media engagement stands as another area that has benefited from unification. The county about two years ago moved its social media communications to the Loomly platform, bringing central management to 12 accounts. Since then, public engagement has increased, with more than 4,500 posts made.

5th Onslow County, N.C.

Information Technology Services (ITS) in Onslow County, N.C., takes a people-centered approach to its work, both with the technology the agency offers the county and the team culture it strives to create. Staff who want to grow into leadership positions are given appropriate mentorship and training, and the goal is to eventually be able to fill any vacant leadership openings with well-qualified internal candidates. ITS has also kept up its “Tech Tuesdays,” when staff are sent to work in other county agencies to learn about their processes and issues and try to create improvements. Externally, 2023 saw the launch of a redesigned county website with a focus on mobile optimization. A top priority in the next year is to incorporate unified branding across all public-facing county platforms to create a trusted experience for residents accessing services.

ITS supervises an application support specialist in the Health Department to help with data-driven decision-making, and a dashboard of vital statistics allows them to visualize county data and identify areas of need. A goal going forward is to better present data from across the county in dashboards that allow agencies to quickly see how they are performing, as well as to tell the story of the county’s effectiveness to the community.

To shore up its cyber posture, ITS used funding from a State and Local Cybersecurity Grant to upgrade its firewall, a project that they anticipate will save $50,000 over five years. In addition, they upgraded its multifactor authentication and improved VPN access. Many of Onslow County’s cyber tools use AI on the back end to detect threats, and ITS is looking into an AI-driven security operations center that would be even more alert to threats than a traditional SOC, allowing staff to spend time more efficiently.

6th Union County, N.C.

In a booming region of North Carolina near Charlotte, Union County is experiencing rapid growth that strains its IT resources. With a modest IT budget of $20 per resident annually, the county's IT department has embraced creative solutions to meet rising demands, securing it a No. 6 spot in this year’s Digital Counties Survey.

By streamlining invoice processing, the county identified and eliminated outdated charges, saving a substantial six-figure sum. Adoption of the eCivis grants management platform has streamlined grant identification and applications, maximizing opportunities for crucial funding.

Collaboration with the state has yielded significant results, such as securing an additional $10 million in grant funding for the expansion of high-speed broadband to nearly 2,000 underserved homes and businesses. An additional $50,000 grant has enabled a firewall upgrade, alleviating the tax burden on residents. Internal network infrastructure and broadband services have also seen improvements, including the strategic installation of cellphone boosters in key county buildings to enhance connectivity.

To address connectivity challenges in remote areas, Union County has deployed Cradlepoint routers, providing reliable failover capabilities and ensuring uninterrupted access to critical applications and services. These portable routers are also valuable for rapid deployment in disaster scenarios.

Data-driven decision-making is a key focus for Union County's IT team. They published an AI guide for county staff, one of the first such documents in the state, demonstrating a balanced approach that embraces AI's potential while establishing clear guidelines for responsible use.

7th Pitt County, N.C.

While Pitt County, N.C., notes rapid changes in technology as one of the challenges it’s facing, the IT department is using innovative approaches to keep driving digital services forward. Implementation of Ometrics Ochatbot on the county website enables constituents to ask questions or request information in natural language, addresses most frequently asked questions, and has made it quicker and easier for residents to find the information they need. The program provides more details and more accurate information than a routine search using keywords, and it ties in with Google Analytics to help monitor key performance indicators and identify future improvements.

The county has also put a lot of work into its public safety systems, including a new countywide emergency alert system featuring geographically targeted calls, emails and text messages to 911. A partnership with the city of Greenville has consolidated municipal and county police, fire and EMS radio systems. And to tackle the nationwide shortage of volunteer firefighters, Pitt launched a campaign that saw 25,983 views on YouTube and 300,000 views on Facebook, yielding 105 completed applications.

Pitt County is also deploying a comprehensive cybersecurity platform that uses AI to monitor and mitigate cyber threats. New asset management software ties each asset with specific projects and helps track the life cycle of major IT systems. And Pitt participates in the state’s Completing Access to Broadband initiative and is accepting bids of up to $11 million to help get high-speed Internet access to rural areas that currently do not have a provider.

8th Charlotte County, Fla.

Major data work in Charlotte County, Fla., has streamlined workloads and marked what the county calls a “transformative milestone.” The 2023 completion of the Power BI Dashboards Program in 2023 for the Community Development Department reduced manual processes by 35 percent, increased decision-making accuracy by 20 percent, and resulted in a 15 percent reduction in operational costs. Resident engagement also improved thanks to the dashboard system, increasing transparency and trust.

Charlotte County has upgraded firewalls and VPN sites to meet NIST standards, enhancing cybersecurity infrastructure. Advanced firewall technologies and encryption protocols were integrated to strengthen defenses against evolving cyber threats, ensuring the integrity and confidentiality of sensitive data transmissions while complying with industry standards.

Additionally, the county completed a comprehensive infrastructure upgrade by deploying hyperconverged systems and replacing the entire storage network array. This combined effort aimed to enhance server storage capabilities for key offices such as the Sheriff's Office, Tax Collector, Property Appraiser and Supervisor of Elections. The upgrade improved speed and reliability, while security measures like firewalls and two-factor authentication were implemented across internal devices.

9th Davidson County, N.C.

Technology initiatives that earned Davidson County, N.C., a slot on the list again this year represented a mix of security and citizen-focused projects. To improve network security, IT staff implemented new policies, login restrictions and security systems, including managed security services for the county’s servers and computers, and created a new enterprise backup system in an isolated environment so that the county could fully recover from a cyber attack within minutes if need be. IT staff also worked with the county manager’s office on an annual budgetary plan for replacing old computers, allowing the county to save thousands of dollars by buying in bulk.

For citizen engagement, IT developed Laserfiche forms and worked with the county manager’s office and legal department to improve the process for filling public records requests and ensuring it complied with state law.

Other departments that did their part included the 911 center, which completed infrastructure renovations and the implementation of a new Motorola CAD system, as well as records management and jail management software; libraries obtained “Mi-Fi” mobile hot spots for people to check out and use in underserved areas of the county; and the fire marshal’s office started using a Matterport 3D camera to more accurately determine the causes of fires.

10th Berkeley County, S.C.

In an ongoing quest to improve citizen interactions with every department, Berkeley County, S.C., has deployed several solutions in the past year. Perhaps the most consequential is an AI application that diverts nonemergency calls — specifically those regarding stray or injured animals — to a chatbot that creates a CAD ticket, freeing up 911 dispatchers for other calls.

The implementation of a new resident portal holds much promise. Early on, it offers submission and management of forms related to real property, as well as notifications. However, the county is already working on several expansions for the portal, including permits, information on political leaders and the creation of a mobile app. Other projects include an application that speeds up water department disconnections and reconnections and a probate solution that allows lawyers to access information they would have previously needed to gather in person. Behind the scenes, IT staff has improved vulnerability scanning by better managing weekly data and continues to make progress with optical character recognition to digitize historical documents the county is required to maintain across all departments.

Going forward, the county plans to add a multilingual chatbot to its website, set up a contract management application and add AI support to more phone calls.

Click here to see our full coverage of the 2024 Digital Counties Survey.