January 3, 2013 By Colin Wood
Following the unanimous passage of a bill supporting open government programs, Montgomery County, Md., launched a new Web portal. Called openMontgomery, the portal is the county's hub for open government, and includes an open data website, a virtual town hall designed to garner support for new ideas, a collection of links to county services and miscellaneous information, and a mobile services site. Since the project's launch in December 2012, the open government platform has been well received, CIO Sonny Segal told Government Technology.
According to Segal, the project will cost the county $1 million in the first year and $600,000 annually thereafter. “Getting everyone on the same page is the key to getting a program like this together,” he said, explaining that support from the legislative and executive branches of government was critical to getting the project off the ground.
The county's data clearinghouse, dataMontgomery, offers access to key county data sets including employee salaries, financials, 311 service requests and polling place information. The legislation initially called for more intensive requirements of each major county department, and more specific open data standards, but according to the Sunlight Foundation, a less ambitious program was deemed likelier to yield success.
The virtual town hall, called engageMontgomery, provides a crowd-sourcing platform that allows people to discuss ideas that can potentially be implemented in the future. The county has tentative plans to transform this platform into a more permanent institution within 12 months. The county's mobile services hub, mobileMontgomery, showcases the county's mobile applications such as ParkNOW!, a mobile app used to pay for parking, or MC311 Mobile, the county's mobile 311 offering. The accessMontgomery platform serves as a central location for all online services offered by the county.
There are two major benefits the county expects to derive from openMontgomery, Segal said. First, opening data is the first step toward the deployment of mobile applications. “Open data leads to mobile applications, which lead to entrepreneurial activity and academic research,” he said. “Our residents clearly benefit from these applications.” The county develops its own mobile applications, but making open data broadly available will allow outside entities to contribute to government processes and add beneficial services for the public.
The program is also intended to make the county government run more efficiently, Segal said. The county receives thousands of requests for information from other government agencies, the public and private enterprise that the county is required to make available under the Maryland Public Information Act. OpenMontgomery will make these requests public, publishing all associated information. Segal is hopeful that making this information open will reduce the number of redundant requests and further support a culture of transparent government.
The county's digital government strategy document proves that the launch of openMontgomery is the foundation for much of the county's technology future. Dozens of activities are planned to launch over the next few months and years in Montgomery County.
Within six months, the county plans to convene a digital summit to continue promotion of the county's open government initiatives and draft a policy for a bring your own device (BYOD) program. Within 12 months, the county plans to make use of data analytics on the county's Web portal to improve the website's effectiveness and help develop the county's long-term strategy for improving citizen connectivity to government services.