June 24, 2009 By Andy Opsahl
California and Michigan on Tuesday launched redesigned Web portals that display prominent links to government activity on social-networking sites and reorganized access to previously available information.
Ca.gov and Michigan.gov feature more than 50 state agencies that are on Facebook and Twitter in order to provide users with agency-specific data. For example, the Michigan Department of Agriculture's Facebook page lists information about food recalls, and followers of the Michigan Department of Transportation's Twitter page receive transportation-related news and updates.
In California, social networking is popular among several state leaders, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Secretary of State Debra Bowen. Users can obtain various information from many state agencies and elected officials in six different mediums in the "Connect With Us" section.
Both state portals highlight links on their home pages that direct users to services based on their individual interests. A comprehensive list of state agencies is also readily available for users to familiarize themselves with each agency's functions. Users seeking professional or personal e-government services, such as permit and license requests, online bill payment, unemployment claims and tourism information, also can easily access those services from the home page.
Michigan calls its new e-government tool on the home page the "Michigan Business One Stop."
"We had 10 different departments that in some way, shape or form, touched business owners. For information gathering, figuring out what the processes were -- were they automated? Were they not automated? How do we automate them so citizens didn't have to fill out the stupid form? They could just go online and do it online. All of that stuff took a year and a half to put together," explained Kurt Weiss, public information officer of the Michigan Department of Information Technology.
Feedback from citizens helped Michigan make the site more visually appealing. In fact, a focus group comprised of college students suggested that the state modify a rotating "carousel" of links at the bottom of the home page.
"When the focus group looked at that, they said, 'That thing is driving us nuts. Stop it. We can't stand it.' Everyone to a T said that. Now we have a static carousel that you click through," said Weiss.
In general, the goal of Michigan's redesign was to make the site easier on the eyes.
"Our site had gotten too rich with words and content. The additional white space and new features make it more pleasing to the eye," said Michigan CIO Ken Theis.
The redesigns in both states also focused on making previously available services more accessible. Michigan's redesign required virtually no extra funds because the state used in-house IT resources, according to Weiss. California mostly used in-house resources, but sought consultation from a company called SimSoft, which cost $50,000.
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.