September 1, 2009 By Andy Opsahl
Utah; Virginia Beach, Va.; and Fairfax County, Va., took top honors in the 2009 Best of the Web awards competition, the Center for Digital Government announced Tuesday, Sept. 1. The awards are a joint project of Government Technology and the Center for Digital Government.
The annual Best of the Web awards rank state, county and city portals and are judged by a panel of experts on a wide range of categories, including site accessibility, innovation, cost-savings, ease of use and exceptional service to public. Finalists will collect their awards on Sept. 18 in Hollywood, Calif. The award winners were grouped into state, city and county categories. They finished as follows:
1st Place: Utah
2nd Place: California
3rd Place: Arkansas
4th Place: Maine
5th Place: Colorado
1st Place: Virginia Beach, Va.
2nd Place: Riverside, Calif.
3rd Place: Louisville, Ky.
4th Place: Rocklin, Calif.
1st Place: Fairfax County, Va.
2nd Place: Miami-Dade County, Fla.
3rd Place: King County, Wash.
4th Place: Monroe County, N.Y.
5th Place: Collin County, Texas
Given that the year's economic downswing forced some state and local governments to shorten workweeks and reduce staff, a repackaging of online government services was especially important to governments that competed in 2009.
A common thread among the finalists was prominent links on the home page to e-government services and their high placement in search engines. Enabling citizens to pay a department of motor vehicles bill or water bill without the trouble of sleuthing for the individual agency's Web page also was a key this year. Including links on the home page to social networking platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, appeared to be a common goal of the finalists. Culture-savvy Web design teams also showcased podcasts, YouTube videos and RSS feeds.
Nearly all portals based their changes on citizen preferences derived from systematically collected data. Here's a look at the 2009 winners and what propelled them to honors on the red carpet.
While numerous portals aimed to make it easier for citizens to find relevant information, Utah gave the strategy a twist. Utah.gov uses GeoIP technology, which identifies a user's physical location by his or her IP address. This information triggers a display of services located nearby. GIS supplies the data for each IP address that accesses the portal. Usable online services are particularly important in Utah because the state switched to a four-day workweek in the summer of 2008. Citizens indicated approval of this schedule, but only with strong online services, said state CIO Steve Fletcher.
"It was all trying to get as many services online as we could because we were not accessible so much on Friday anymore," Fletcher explained.
All over the country, community leaders are looking to boost economic development through various initiatives. One key element in many of those initiatives is the use of information technology. When local governments build IT infrastructure, create e-government applications, assist high-tech startups or otherwise focus on technology, they create conditions that draw businesses to their communities and help retain skilled workers. This paper discusses and provides examples of these various ways local government can use technology to ultimately make a community more attractive to businesses, visitors and residents.