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1/27/2005
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Small-Business Approach Leads to E-Government Portal Success

Washington County, VA, taps private sector expertise.

A key component of the E-Government Act of 2002 outlined the sponsorship of on-going dialogue between state and local governments, the general public, and the private and non-profit sectors in order to collaborate on the use of information technology to improve the delivery of government services.

However, a recent e-government update from Brown University’s Center for Public Policy reports that government Web sites have a number of quality control issues, such as broken links, missing titles, missing keywords, and warnings and redirects to new pages within e-government portals. Notably, this data ranked among the top five most important findings of the research.

And while it is almost universally acknowledged that e-government needs to move at the speed of the private sector in order to truly fulfill citizens’ needs and the law’s requirements, the reality is that progress has been slower than expected.

This is not to say that great strides haven’t been made in e-government portals. However, in order to realize their full potential, municipalities should take a page from the private sector and manage e-government initiatives in the same manner that a business is managed. Hiring experts from the private sector will accelerate e-government portal development and allow it to catch up with the online experiences we’ve come to know from commercial industry.

To fully exploit the power of e-government portals, Washington County, Virginia, leveraged private sector experience to completely revamp its e-government portal to better serve its citizens.

The e-Government Challenge

Based in Abingdon, Virginia, the Washington County government provides more than 51,000 citizens and 1,200 full time employees with a wide variety of diverse services. These services include everything from providing private citizens with online tax assessment information to providing county schools with online access to critical budget reports. Additionally, emergency personnel rely on the county for geographic information services, such as mapping.

Like many government entities, Washington County was constantly seeking to provide up-to-date services. Accordingly, when citizens and county employees began asking for easier access to information, the county knew it had to act quickly.

At issue were Washington County’s outdated business processes, which were creating bottlenecks for citizens, driving down the productivity of county staff, and generally preventing the county from becoming a more responsive government. Some examples include tax attorneys having to drive to a county building just to view home-owner tax assessment data, and the county’s 15 schools having to rely on monthly printouts to balance their budgets.

As technology advanced in the private sector and e-Government deadlines loomed, Washington County knew they needed to develop a more sophisticated portal to address citizens’ and employees’ needs. Unfortunately, an earlier attempt at an e-government portal for Washington County didn’t result in much more than a website consisting primarily of static forms and schedules.

The Strategy

The first order of business by Washington County’s IT staff was to outline an efficient way to:

  • Quickly Web-enable and extend existing core applications,
  • Provide Internet access to the content housed in the county’s internal systems,
  • Create an IT environment that would support the portal’s continued evolution.

Essentially, to provide a higher standard of service, Washington County needed to transform its core business processes while operating on a limited public budget.

Washington County’s strategy included five critical success factors:

  • Not adhering to the lowest bid methodology ; instead choosing the IT solution best suited to the county’s e-government needs,
  • Approaching the e-government portal like a small business, not a nice-to-have offering,
  • Tapping into the private sector’s proven skills in portal development and deployment,
  • Measuring and managing each phase of the implementation against budget,
  • Holding each team member accountable.

The Solution

One of the most critical business decisions that the county made regarding its e-government portal was the selection of technology to best meet its business needs today and in the future. This strategy is somewhat counter to many e-government selection processes that rely on a traditional approach of choosing the lowest bid, regardless of the future financial and productivity losses that selection may incur.

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