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Potent Portals


September 30, 2005 By

The Center for Digital Government's 2005 Best of the Web winners raise the bar for government Web portals. This year's top five -- Delaware, Tennessee, Indiana, Washington and Virginia -- balance innovation and customer service to create portals with plenty of bells and whistles without compromising ease of use.

Judging criteria was organized into categories: innovation, functionality, efficiency and economy. At the forefront was Delaware.gov, advancing from fourth place last year.

Top-Notch Portal

With more than 30 years in the customer service industry, Delaware CIO Thomas Jarrett believes in the power of good communication. Delaware's Department of Technology and Information (DTI) pairs with the state's Government Information Center -- considered the keeper of content -- to offer citizens a first-rate Web portal.

Jarrett said this combined venture is a leading factor in the Web portal's success. "I'm most proud of the people involved because it's been a real team effort," he said.

Delaware.gov is maintained in-house by the DTI, which requires agencies to use a template that gives the entire site a unified look.

"I think a lot of people feel that common look and feel can be boring," Jarrett said, acknowledging that promoting a standard appearance for the site can be a challenge.

"Agencies want to come up with their own way of doing things to differentiate themselves. We aren't trying to stop that, but we also believe that if a portal is going to be useful to citizens, they have to be able to navigate. No matter where they go, it ought to generally be the same so the navigation is the same," he said.

This does not mean Web sites must be dull, Jarrett said.

"My department took an effort to redesign our Web site and keep it in the confines for the common look and feel, but push the envelope," he said. "Coming from the private sector, I believe that Web sites need to be not only constantly changed and updated, but they need to be catchy if you're going to get people to use them and come to your site."

Delaware's Web portal features several innovations. The most recent, called Really Simple Syndication (RSS) audio podcasting, was piloted in March 2005, and offers an audio history of Delaware. To use the service, citizens install a podcast aggregator program on their computers or MP3 players, and then locate the RSS feeds they wish to subscribe to on the state portal. The aggregator software issues an alert when new podcast sound files are available, and can distribute the files to users. Future RSS podcasting will offer an events calendar and updates on road conditions.

Delaware also offers an e-mail subscription service that enables citizens to choose what information they'd like to receive.

"People want to be informed, and we ought to give them that ability by not just pushing information on them, but allowing them to select the information they want on the basis they want it," Jarrett said about Delaware.gov's e-mail subscription service. Some of the available subscriptions include school closings, legislative actions, traffic conditions, environmental discharges, public education and sex offender notifications.

Lynn Hersey-Miller, chief program officer of the DTI, explained that Delaware's e-government program relies on input from key representatives of major state agencies.

"We've set up a core group of representatives to talk about things like building a solid infrastructure that will not only provide security, but also will meet business needs," said Hersey-Miller.

Surveys help provide clear direction for the state, she said. "Just by getting some of these key people together with the technical people at DTI, we're coming up with great ideas for future initiatives."


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