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Digital Counties 2024: 500,000 to 999,999 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 Jefferson County, Colo.

Jefferson County’s Business Innovation and Technology department embraces a philosophy of partnership, seeking to support and advance the government enterprise not just in technology, but in process as well. This is evident in much of its work in the past year, but nowhere more clearly than in its new Business Relationship Management program: The department sent out business analysts to other offices, enlisting most county departments and engaging them in the creation of 80 ideas that are now progressing into strategic initiatives. Similarly, the Jeffco Innovation Lab has worked to educate county staff on methods to eliminate process pain points, saving time and resources while improving service delivery. Meanwhile, specialized teams work with other departments to assist in the creation of data dashboards, applications and chatbots.

One major undertaking in the past year was the upgrade of the Amanda case management platform, which enabled the creation of the new Amanda Citizen Portal. The portal allows for information lookup — for building permits, planning and zoning, environment health data and retail food inspections — as well as direct service for permitting activity such as inspection scheduling, fee estimation and complaint filing. The project allowed for the retirement of a custom application, migrated services from on-premises to cloud and logs about 29,000 sessions per month.

On top of this core IT work and partnership philosophy, BIT has dedicated time toward understanding the future, using internships, fellowships and resources to establish AI safe usage protocols for county employees, holding learning sessions for more than 200 employees to learn about generative AI and conducting a pilot project to demonstrate the feasibility of biometric logins.

2nd Snohomish County, Wash.

Snohomish County, Wash., rises to second place in its population category this year on the strength of key best practices and future planning, using technology to reach residents where they are and simplify complex processes. Leaders launched an initiative that will evaluate and analyze residents’ digital experience across environments, from web pages to social media, to generate a more holistic approach to services. The IT strategic plan has been updated to reflect this, with a goal set around resident experience via an omni-channel approach. Work is underway on a ground-up redesign for all four county websites.

Officials prioritized innovation, securing $300,000 in special funding to drive development of modern solutions. Launched in June 2023, the pilot Innovation Fund logged 17 requests for funding in nine months, with more than half yielding new solutions for critical business needs as officials work to make the organization familiar with emerging tech like Azure data lakes, mobile device management, and the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions.

The county is working with the state IT agency to stand up a Security Operations Center. Officials also reconfigured Snohomish’s security information and event management tool, freed up resources, and are mirroring the state in adopting a new solution for extended threat detection and response.

Snohomish created and filled a data stewardship and privacy supervisor post with oversight of all forms of data. Officials have also reinvigorated their Data Governance Steering Committee, infusing it with three layers of oversight that includes representation from all departments. Execs allocated $5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding toward improving digital equity by enhancing broadband infrastructure. Plus, a broadband service gap analysis is underway, and a Public Development Authority is being created to spearhead coverage development.

3rd New Castle County, Del.

New Castle County once again took third place in its population category for its continued excellence in using technology to improve government services. Upgrades to the county website improved accessibility, usability and performance, achieving WCAG2.2 compliance and an accessibility score of 96 percent. The county also implemented SeeClickFix for residents to report maintenance issues at county parks. And in an effort to increase transparency and centralize services, the county launched the Community Association Portal as a one-stop shop for governing documents and resources for common interest communities.

New Castle County also earned its place among the top finishers for efforts to improve its cybersecurity posture. Multifactor authentication was implemented countywide in just two months for all employees, contractors and vendors. Additionally, a new assessment toolkit led to revised security settings that improved endpoint lockdown on thousands of telework devices from 36 percent to 90 percent. The county also conducted tabletop exercises that resulted in improved plans and playbooks for incident response, as well as building credibility and awareness with leadership about how to collaborate during a cyber attack.

Like many jurisdictions, New Castle County has recognized the growing interest in artificial intelligence and the need for government to consider how to use it appropriately. The county is planning to work with stakeholders and county leadership to develop policies to ensure responsible use of AI. It is also looking for a high-value, low-risk opportunity for an AI pilot project to demonstrate the possibilities of this emerging technology.

3rd Westchester County, N.Y.

Westchester County, N.Y., climbed the ranks to third place in its population category this year thanks to the Department of Information Technology’s (DoIT) continued commitment to improving digital equity and exploring emerging technologies.

In collaboration with Westchester County’s Office of Economic Development, DoIT launched Connect Westchester, which offers key digital resources, training and education programs, and access to affordable Internet to low-income residents. The program, established in October 2023, partners with various nonprofit organizations like the STEM Alliance and the Westchester Library System to make it all happen. The IT team’s critical role in supporting this initiative brings Westchester County one step closer to making digital equity a reality for its residents.

With direction from the county’s CIO and assistant CIO for governance, a new committee that focuses on all things related to emerging technology was established in June 2023. Made up of DoIT representatives and called the Strategic Technology Architecture Roundtable (STAR), the committee drafted Westchester County’s first policy on appropriate AI usage. This is only one example that reflects the county’s dedication to using new technologies in a responsible and transparent way. STAR also updated user interface standards for the county’s applications and offers best practices in areas like mobile apps and user experience. Beyond creating guidelines, STAR tests and documents use cases of AI. Further, the group explores emerging technology use cases for critical needs like fortifying cybersecurity.

4th DeKalb County, Ga.

DeKalb County, Ga., is making a cloud push, shifting applications like its public safety and judicial systems management to a software-as-a-service solution. This spares IT staff from handling the maintenance and upgrades, makes budgeting more predictable and reduces the need to manage, maintain and replace plenty of servers, databases and the like. The county requires new software to be SaaS or vendor managed. To reduce third-party risks, DeKalb looks for vendors who have FedRAMP or other resiliency certifications, and it also completed a vendor risk diversification assessment to understand where its tools and vendors may rely on the same services or infrastructure.

To better secure employees’ devices against loss or improper access, the county adopted a mobile device management system. All newly purchased devices now require employees to use face-based identification to unlock them and employees must reauthorize themselves after a period of inactivity. Plus, devices can be remotely wiped if lost. This year, the county aims to conduct at least one live disaster recovery scenario with production systems in a cloud environment. It also finished segmenting its networks, an important cybersecurity measure.

DeKalb is using new tech-enabled approaches to entice and retain more IT workers. It adopted a new platform and workflows that accelerate the hiring process and help with conducting internal equity reviews, which often lead to raising existing employees’ salaries.

5th Cobb County, Ga.

To increase their ability to engage with the nearly 772,000 residents of Cobb County, Ga., officials have launched the use of Sprout Social to enhance community engagement abilities. The county also revamped its 911 website to better communicate with citizens, as well as improve its recruitment posture. Faced with staffing shortages, the county’s redesigned website aims to showcase its culture, values and opportunities.

A 30-year-old data center was retired as Cobb County moved into a new facility, complete with new technologies, improving resiliency, computing, storage and security. The new data center will enable the county to grow its IT infrastructure — or shrink it — as more applications migrate to the cloud. Third-party payment processors can now be found across a number of the county’s online service platforms, enabling residents to purchase bus passes, pay their water utility bill and property taxes, and more, saving time for both the residents and staff. Residents can also share footage from their home video security systems with the Cobb County Police Department via the Citizen Camera Registry program, a voluntary program where law enforcement can request footage from residents when a crime occurs in the area.

Vendors hoping to do business with Cobb County have a new procurement system to interact with, known as the EProcurement and Contract Lifecycle Management System, a fully electronic and streamlined platform. An upcoming project includes AI-enabled technology to aid in property assessments, removing a number of manual steps in the valuation process. The county’s cybersecurity structure has been enhanced with added multifactor authentication to include sensitive file and server access.

6th Macomb County, Mich.

Taking sixth place in its population category is Macomb County, Mich., whose strategic plan, created in 2018 and most recently updated earlier this year, aims to prioritize enhancing digital government services and cybersecurity. The county redesigned and launched its website in November using a Drupal 10 platform for improved search and service functionality. Web traffic originating from search engines has increased since the new website launch. And in October, the county started using Workday for hiring; over 5,000 people have applied for positions through the portal since it went live, and more than 200 new employees have been hired using this modernized process.

In 2023, Macomb County finished automating and digitizing its public works online portal, a project begun in 2020. The platform allows a range of people, from land developers to homeowners, to request and manage permits efficiently. This office does not shy away from implementing technology, including the recent implementation of drones and AI.

In cybersecurity, the county launched a phishing awareness campaign in January 2023, aiming to offer educational interactive exercises. Macomb also implemented a new disaster recovery plan in mid-2023.

7th San Mateo County, Calif.

San Mateo County, Calif., is using dashboards to boost its online presence and increase transparency. The county’s tech professionals have collaborated with the Department of Housing to create what officials call a series of interactive dashboards that helps residents keep tabs on local affordable housing — one of the key factors related to poverty avoidance and wealth accumulation. Since early 2023, the dashboard, which resides on the housing department’s website, has attracted more than 10,000 views, helping to bring more transparency to the issue while also identifying the areas with the greatest need for affordable and accessible living quarters.

As that effort continues, the county is using tech to better tie together various departments.

Via its use of the GovDelivery platform, for instance, San Mateo County has boosted communication among its workforce and constituents via email and text message, which in turn helps officials provide quicker updates on services, community events and emergencies. The platform now has more than 274,000 unique subscribers and offers more than 100 topics to an audience spread across all county departments. The interactions conducted via such an effort also provide valuable data and insights to county officials as they continue to propose and work on policy.

8th Polk County, Fla.

In Polk County, Fla., the IT division is using technology to bridge the gap between innovation and solution delivery. For example, in the last 12 months, the county has completed a project to migrate its public-facing website to a cloud provider, allowing IT staff to focus on application development and building an accessible, modern website. Other notable efforts include creating a more transparent, public-facing budget dashboard to improve its overall budget process and piloting a project to replace legacy PBX phone systems with a new call-center-as-a-service platform. The latter project was a migration of all on-premises call centers to a cloud-hosted solution, resulting in a collaboration between the Board of County Commissioners, tax collector’s office, sheriff’s office, state attorney’s office, public defender’s office and the clerk of the courts.

Among its challenges, Polk County cites implementing state-mandated cybersecurity policies and training along with understanding how to govern cloud-based software agreements effectively. To address the former, the county recently met with its current cyber insurance provider, risk management division, attorney’s office and IT leads for other constitutional offices to better understand what roles these groups would play during a potential event and how cyber insurance protects the county altogether. Notable efforts in cloud computing governance include creating a framework to provide a secure, supported operational environment for the county and adding governance to the county’s strategic plan to better execute software agreements.

9th Ventura County, Calif.

Ventura County, Calif., placed ninth in its population category with a number of big-lift IT initiatives. For starters, the Information Technology Services Department migrated from a legacy property tax system to a new, more automated system. The department has also developed a web-based mapping application for the Public Works Agency, called PWA GIS Viewer, which combines more than two decades of spatial data from several departments to track watershed, sanitation, land development and more.

Similarly, the county has also implemented data-driven technology in public safety to identify known drug offenders entering county jails. The update to the Ventura County Integrated Justice Information System (VCIJIS) application allows jail staff to identify inmates that could be smuggling drugs into jail facilities while also helping to stem the possibility of inmate overdoses. In the same spirit, data mining and analytics capabilities built into the VCIJIS now allow officials to notify domestic violence victims of an offender’s address and/or community of residence.

IT Services has also rolled out a solution to enhance security across workstations, servers and email systems, and endpoint protection has been added to all workstations and servers. Efforts to build the first leg of a countywide municipal broadband network are in the grant stages.

10th Chester County, Pa.

In Chester County, Pa., the Department of Computing and Information Services (DCIS) is hard at work overcoming some staffing challenges while continuing to deliver strong digital services for residents. DCIS cites its existing staff struggling to adapt to new technology and difficulty competing with the private sector among its issues. To that end, the agency is updating job descriptions and upskilling existing staff, as well as giving them new opportunities for innovation. They have also started outsourcing some tasks they cannot staff internally, like AI development and cybersecurity monitoring. To bridge some additional workforce gaps, the county courts will be launching AI-powered kiosks in several locations this summer to give users access to court-related information. DCIS also has two chatbot pilots, one for a help desk database and one for the department of human resources, to help employees find information about benefits.

DCIS plays an important role in the budget and procurement process countywide, so they’re involved in any technology decisions, which has helped with better spending oversight and improved cost-effectiveness. An “ambassador” program polls county departments quarterly to identify challenges and where tech solutions can help, and DCIS leadership meets weekly with heads of all other agencies to make sure priorities are aligned. A redesigned county website is planned for 2024 with new branding, and efforts are underway to make sure all electronic forms are ADA-compliant.

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