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2022 Digital Counties Winners Learn, Invest, Collaborate

The 52 top jurisdictions in this year's Digital Counties Survey from the Center for Digital Government are using new strategies for cybersecurity, workforce and digital services to move toward the future.


This year, the winning counties in the Digital Counties Survey from the Center for Digital Government* are those that have used the challenges that have emerged since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as opportunities to learn, to invest and to collaborate.

The shift to remote work fueled a need to examine and improve upon the strength of county workforces and cybersecurity. Federal funding opportunities that emerged in response to the pandemic have boosted investment in broadband. And the need to innovate quickly has driven the creation of new partnerships — both interdepartmental and those that involve public-private collaboration.

What sets apart the winning counties this year is their ability to leverage the challenging times to reimagine traditional strategies and propel their technology approaches forward.

Nevada County, Calif., 1st Place, Up to 150,000 Population Category


Nevada County, Calif.'s small population did not stop it from making major strides in technology across the board this year. These advances start with having a well-running, mature IT organization as the foundation for innovation — something the county will continue going forward, according to CIO Steve Monaghan.

Woven together through all the county’s efforts is a collaborative enterprise technology governance model that allows interdepartmental collaboration, such as between the public records requests system and lobby management and queuing systems.

“That’s what an IT governance structure will do for us is provide that forum, that place to gather everybody and have those conversations,” Monaghan said.

For Nevada County, technology innovations range from security to digital equity. And to improve collaboration and connectivity, the county is working to position itself as a desirable county for Internet service providers to invest.

To do so, the county has streamlined the time-consuming environmental review process through a programmatic broadband environmental impact study. Monaghan explained that because of the California Environmental Quality Act, projects must meet a high threshold for environmental responsiveness. The study that Nevada County has conducted lays out the mitigation strategies providers can implement, which speeds the process and enables small local providers with fewer resources to participate in projects. In addition, by working with the Public Works department, IT has simplified the process of acquiring road encroachment permits for providers.

“We’re trying to make that barrier to entry very low so they can come in and do these projects and do them quickly," Monaghan said.

On the security side, a significant project was a countywide cybersecurity IT risk assessment, which involved interviewing county stakeholders. In addition, the county has created the position of an IT security manager. As Monaghan explained, this position will be the interface between customers and IT staff, focusing primarily on high-level security issues like risk, policies and procedures.

Monaghan also underlined the expected impact of the High Performing Organization initiative that the county has been working on for several years and is continually moving forward. Its aim is to decentralize process improvement, and it allows departments to re-envision how they do work. Not only will it improve productivity and the customer experience, but Monaghan expects it to reduce service demand reliance on employees through automation, ultimately increasing financial sustainability.

Click here to view all winners in this population category.

Arlington County, Va., 1st Place, 150,000-249,999 Population Category


For Arlington County, the biggest shift in the past year has been an operational one. As CIO Jack Belcher explained, the county is moving from a model of building to a model of buying, creating a cloud-smart strategy, and relying more heavily on partners to enable the county to move forward quickly to keep up with the rate of technology advances.

While capital improvement plans typically look forward to the next decade, Belcher cited the pace of change and the challenge of planning for technologies that are still emerging. He stated that the IT strategic plan should be a framework that is flexible enough to adapt as needed.

The type of foresight that can help government keep up with these rapid changes is something that has set the county up for success in digital equity, as it has been over a decade since the decision was made to build a fiber-optic network for government agencies. Although the county cannot provide services to homeowners without authorization from the Virginia Legislature, Belcher said the county is leveraging its fiber optics to create competition among other service providers and lower costs. In addition, Belcher noted that a recent partnership with real estate developer JBG Smith has enabled an expansion that better serves digital equity by expanding coverage in some affordable housing units.

All of this is part of the biggest change the county has been preparing for: Amazon’s second headquarters (HQ2), a project that has been in the works for several years. Belcher says this requires creating a collaborative ecosystem, from the creation of cloud edge data centers to reliance on public-private partnerships.

“The synergies will create solutions," Belcher said. "In many ways, I don’t think we’ve imagined what might be possible."

And when it comes to securing the county’s data in this new ecosystem, Belcher explained, “It starts with staff.”

But like the county’s overall approach to tech advancement, collaboration is a crucial piece. As a member of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the county was able to leverage that collective buying power to acquire federal funding and create a baseline for how cybersecurity testing and response should be done.

“I think that’s one of the most significant things we’ve done," Belcher said, "to recognize that we’re not alone."

The county’s current undertaking is reschooling and retooling a workforce that will help the county prepare for ever-evolving technology needs. To meet this challenge, Belcher underlined the county’s agile approach: allowing for remote work where possible, hiring young people with new ideas and increasing process automation to simplify tasks.

Click here to view all winners in this population category.

Future Ready
This year's Future Ready Award, which aims to recognize the work of a jurisdiction that has laid the foundation for future technology advancements, goes to Orange County, Fla. The county’s work, largely centered around the idea of keeping community members protected against the continually changing COVID-19 virus, ranges from the launch of various web resources to improved communications.
Orange County has centered public health in the past year through resources like mobile tablets to support EMS teams and websites that aid employees in improving their mental and physical health. On the education side, a virtual platform from Orange County Public Schools enables remote learning – bolstered by distribution of devices, hot spots and even robotic cameras. In addition, the county’s online Emergency Rental Assistant Program System helps guide citizens through that application process.

But the county’s response and recovery efforts in the county also focus on the local economy. BizLink Orange is the county’s online collection of resources for local businesses. The Information Systems and Services Division has also implemented an eProcurement System to make it easier for collaboration between the county and businesses.

Protecting citizens goes beyond the public health space, which the county has demonstrated with an increased focus on cybersecurity. The county has implemented several new cybersecurity policies that focus on awareness, zero trust and supply chain management. The Orange County Supervisor of Elections Office has implemented identity-bound biometrics, which will help protect user data in future elections. In addition, the county expanded its Cybersecurity Awareness Month in 2021 with bulletins and seminars to improve defense and awareness in an ever-evolving cybersecurity landscape.r


Placer County, Calif., 1st Place, 250,000-499,999 Population Category


Placer County, Calif., has centered its technology advancements during the past year around crisis response, and appropriately so, as governments shift from response and recovery to resilience against future crises.

One of the biggest developments in this area is Ready Placer, a county website that features critical information about disaster events like wildfires. Its GIS dashboard provides real-time data about current incidents and conditions. With increasing wildfire threats, like the 2021 Caldor Fire, this website has helped to reduce the burden on the county's offices and 211 system.

Placer County’s Information Technology Department’s submission of a Cyber Annex document to the Office of Emergency Services this year will enhance the county’s Emergency Operations Plan, outlining procedures for a cyber incident. In addition, the implementation of the ServiceNow Business Continuity module will help maintain security in a time of disaster recovery.

2021 also marked the launch of the Placer County Broadband Equity Program, which will help to increase digital accessibility, with six broadband expansion projects being awarded in 2021. One broadband project in the county is expected to be complete by October 2022.

“That’s a big focus of ours right now and it’s going to be a big focus for the next several years, expanding broadband throughout the county,” CIO Jarrett Thiessen told Industry Insider — California* in November 2021.

Like other winning counties, Placer County is working to expand access to government services. To do so, the county has adopted a virtual agent and subscribed to Zencity for community engagement. The county also conducted its first remote mobile court hearing from a camp of unhoused people in March 2022. But as Thiessen explained to Industry Insider — California, digital services will continue to evolve as technology does.

“What new channels become available in the future and how can we leverage them to make more county services available?” he asked. “I think that’s an ongoing process.”

The county has adopted digital solutions to streamline workflow processes, like using smart online forms with automated notifications to boost productivity. Placer also implemented a workflow software called Just Appraised in 2021, which enhances the change-of-property-ownership process using AI technology, reducing human error.

And looking forward, the county’s employees have an incentive to continue innovating. The Idea Accelerator program, which provides grants to support employee ideas for service improvement solutions, was rebranded as the Idea Innovator program in March 2022 and will continue to provide grants to deploy such solutions.

Click here to view all winners in this population category.

Prince George's County, Md., 1st Place, 500,000-999,999 Population Category


COVID-19 pushed government to pivot overnight, and some of these shifts to the way public agencies must operate have been lasting ones. But according to Prince George’s County CIO Wanda Gibson, the county’s leadership does not view a challenge as a negative thing, but rather an opportunity — a perspective that has helped position the county to win first place in its category for the second year in a row.

“Things are still changing in the post-COVID universe,” Gibson said. “From an IT standpoint, that gives us more momentum.”

And a big theme through this county’s work is connectivity. One way the county has achieved that is through the launch of a new 311 application. Gibson said the county understands that people are mobile, and creating mobile capabilities improves the user experience. The county will work to further improve the 311 experience by implementing texting and virtual assistant capabilities.

This connectivity goal is woven throughout other county initiatives as well, like a new website portal to make government services easily accessible to constituents through technology and other apps — for example, PGCLitterTRAK, which assists in litter cleanup — to let residents get information from anywhere.

And in digital equity work, the county has taken a collaborative approach with the 27 municipalities that are part of the county’s footprint. As CIOs of these localities talk and work together, broadband expansion projects can target communities that are underserved, like rural areas. Gibson said that working with industry and community partners helps the county fill gaps.

Like other first place winners, the county has enhanced its cybersecurity approach. For Prince George’s, this starts with the creation of a cybersecurity officer position that will help develop and enforce policy, training and collaboration to ensure safe practices are in place across the county. Like Arlington, the county is leveraging the collective power of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments for cybersecurity preparedness. Gibson said cybersecurity needs to be laced in everything the county is doing, and security is a function the county will continue to prioritize in the future.

“When I say future, I mean now,” Gibson said. “Because the future is now, and this county recognizes that.”

And while she underlined the importance of taking bold risks to achieve technology advances, she also emphasized the need to translate needs and ideas in business language to leadership, because working in line with county executives’ priorities and speaking in a language they understand enables bold action.

Click here to view all winners in this population category.

King County, Wash., 1st Place, 1 Million or More Population Category


King County, Wash., has won first place in the largest population category for the second year running, an achievement that can be credited to the county centering its technology work around the idea of connection.

From transit to communications, the objectives of connected communities, data and government drive the county’s work, according to David Mendel, who was appointed interim CIO in June 2022, after having been with the county since 2005.

“Those things that are hitting our residents and our public that really create value for them, that’s where the wins are,” he said.

On the connected community side, Mendel explained that the county has enabled enrollment for reduced-fare bus passes, allowed community members to obtain protection orders online and performed outreach to increase enrollment in federally subsidized Internet programs.

Connected data work has involved implementing systems to make digital evidence files available to various case management systems and a jail management system to better monitor COVID-19.

“Using a more mature governance structure will foster not only connection of disparate data," Mendel explained, "but it’s going to increase our productivity, [and] it’s going to increase our efficiency, both for our government and for our residents."

And in terms of connected government, the county has implemented remote employee collaboration tools, including a platform that enables employees to reserve space in the office. In addition, first responders throughout the county use a single two-way voice radio communication system for interoperability.

But a large part of connectedness is digital equity. In addition to leveraging federal funding opportunities to connect underserved and unserved areas, the county is matching funds where possible to invest in these areas.

The county is working to address budget constraints, as funding sources have changed and more responsibility for distributing funding is now in county hands. However, as Mendel noted, state law restricts property tax increases, so the county has taken a multi-pronged approach to sustain the same level of service despite inflation’s impact on expenditures: lobbying the state Legislature to change tax laws, increasing efficiencies and reducing redundancies, and building strong relationships with other departments to use that collaborative power to work with policymakers.

Like other counties, Mendel said that cybersecurity work starts with staffing — but it also involves developing best practice frameworks, investing in security platforms and tools and adopting multifactor authentication.

The county has come a long way from being the site of the first COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, and Mendel cites the value of having technology systems in place to enable remote work without missing a beat.
Click here to view all winners in this population category.

To read about all winners in this year’s Digital Counties Survey:
Up to 150,000 Population Category
150,000 to 249,999 Population Category
250,000 to 499,999 Population Category
500,000 to 999,999 Population Category
1 Million or More Population Category


*Government Technology is a sister site to Governing. Both are divisions of e.Republic. The Center for Digital Government and Industry Insider — California are also part of e.Republic.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.
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