Best of Breed - TampaGovMichelle Gamble-Risley
Center for Digital Government
HOW DO YOU CREATE AN AWARD-WINNING PORTAL?
The creation of TampaGov represents the culmination of a major effort to pull together 40 diverse agencies under the umbrella of a single website. The portal provides a uniform view of a wide variety of features, services and capabilities, from the ability to pay parking tickets online to a service that allows prospective employees to apply for a city job and monitor the application's progress online.
"What we've tried to do is ensure the site is citizen-centric, which is an overused buzzword, but we've taken it to heart," said Steve Cantler, MIS project leader with Management Information Systems. "Citizen-centric is a significant message we try to ensure is done. We've received 10,000 e-mails regarding the portal and we pay attention to what they're asking for. For example, we had a high demand for maps to hospitals and government facilities, so we made sure to accommodate those requests.
"We also felt strongly that a citizen should not have to understand what agency provides what service, whether it's provided at the state, city, county or federal levels," he continued. "So we really tried to build a comprehensive service to make it easier for businesses or citizens to navigate the site and find what they're looking for fast. This is why we looked at popular search requests and put them at the forefront of our search facilities. The result: Citizens get access to information quickly."
Cantler noted that three major challenges came up while building the site. "I would say there were three substantial challenges: First, we had to ensure the website represented 40 diverse agencies where each had its own perspective and business interests; we had to confront managing the diversity of agencies and handling their market slants; and finally we had to ensure that each stakeholder and citizens saw us as one big entity. Part of the solution meant we had to work toward a common goal and get buy-in from all parties involved."
It boiled down to getting everyone to pull together and not focus on their own unique business qualities. "We were dealing with multiple business types and each one wanted a separate identity," explained Rick Smith, director of the Department of Planning and Management. "We decided to work with them to standardize our look and feel to make the site more convenient and easy to use.
Standards and attention to accessibility were key factors in shaping the site's look and feel. Officials, who were challenged with closing the digital divide, avoided creating a site that would be difficult to download. "You won't see a lot of flash, dynamic stuff and eye candy on our site," said Smith. "We opted for a very straightforward approach using cascading style sheets and special technology to enforce a standard look and feel that crossed the 40 agencies. We also created a common header so citizens regardless of the page have a certain comfort level."
Next, officials tackled the issue of getting the word out via marketing and public-relations programs. "Once we got a number of e-business applications into production, we faced marketing them," he explained. "We don't seem to market real well in government, because there are not a lot of dollars for that purpose; but once we got six or seven applications into production, I went to the mayor and said it's time to be aggressive to get the word out and get people using the portal. We announced a press conference in 2002 and discussed an annual report where we identified branding requirements, came up with a logo for the site, and handled basic stuff such as standardizing things like letterhead and mandating everyone use that letterhead and logo."
Once the strategic direction was shaped, leaders then set out to develop a promotional campaign. "We produced public-service announcements that played on our local government channel and produced a feature that gave people an orientation to the site," said Smith. "Then we produced brochures and went out to speak at professional and neighborhood organizations to promote it. We customized our presentations to show groups the features that mattered to them. For example, when we presented to the home-builder's association, we showed a module that featured information on permitting. The point is we took a very aggressive marketing approach using limited resources and finding outlets where we could."
Now that citizens are using it and the team met their initial goals, they are looking to expand and integrate all of the Internet-based communications and create a comprehensive management component. "We're going to be working on these applications over the next six to nine months," added Cantler. "We're also working on improved real-time customer service. Right now we have numerous analysts answering the phones for questions about things like utility bills, etc. We want to enable citizens to use the Internet and get their answers via online chat sessions with analysts."
Smith added that they also intend to look at re-engineering standard business processes and streamlining back-end operations to change workflow patterns. "We believe we will be able to realize additional benefits in terms of providing better service through streamlined processes," he concluded.