June 14, 2010 By Russell Nichols
Manatee County, Fla.'s IT team didn't want to spend another year battling the arbitrary limits on the back end of the county's website.
For five years, a patchwork mix of legacy systems turned simple Web IT tasks into time-consuming chores. With only 10 IT staff members working on the project, the county's IT team had to create content and upload files to the content management system (CMS). But there were file size limitations so they had to hold files on a separate server. They couldn't see front-end changes without publishing them, and sometimes edits just disappeared completely.
"You had to have things inserted in a correct order or you could lose your work," said Matthew Arriaga, software designer for the county's Information Services Department. "It was a difficult system to learn."
Two years ago, the county began exploring open source alternatives that would upgrade the site without draining the county's limited budget. The department wanted a website that was more user friendly and offered better services to citizens, Arriaga said. And why not? In recent years, many local governments had improved online services. Shouldn't Manatee County residents be able to pay tickets online or apply for licenses? Shouldn't county employees be able to address the government with real-time concerns?
After sending out an RFP to solicit vendor solutions, Manatee County found Magnolia CMS and now plans to launch a new-and-improved Internet portal for all county departments this summer. The county paid $30,600 for the new system.
"We wanted something we could get up and running quickly and maintain without a lot of help," Arriaga said. "We can build on what we have as opposed to starting from scratch."
Because of the recession, the Information Services Department realized open standards and an open source solution could help reduce costs and prevent being locked into one vendor and one system, Arriaga said. Magnolia CMS, he added, frees the IT team up to handle IT tasks rather than content creation.
With Magnolia CMS, he said, information services can bring more local government functions directly to the Web:
The transition from the old system to the new one has been tricky, Arriaga said, but the long-term potential diminishes the learning curve: For example, the new system will allow the IT team to put more data on the website, such as interactive maps embedded directly into the Web page.
This Digital Communities white paper highlights discussions with IT officials in four counties that have adopted shared services models. Our aim was to learn about the obstacles these governments have faced when it comes to shared services and what it takes to overcome those roadblocks. We also spoke with several members of the IT industry who have thought long and hard about these issues. The paper offers some best practices for shared government-to-government services, but also points out challenges that government and industry still must overcome before this model gains widespread adoption.